Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 611–628 | Cite as

Behavioral frequency and psychological commitment: Necessary concepts in the study of excessive exercising

  • Caroline Davis
  • Howard Brewer
  • Dorothy Ratusny


Efforts to understand the associations among exercising, personality factors, and disordered eating have been the focus of much debate. However, research has been plagued by inconsistent findings, and there is evidence that classification and measurement differences are fundamental to these problems. To date, there are no studies which have defined exercise as a multifaceted construct. The purposes of this study were to establish the factor structure of a questionnaire developed to assess the core features believed to characterize excessive exercisers and to assess relationships between exercise (operationally defined as a function of behaviors and attitudes) and a number of putative risk factors. Results indicated that exercise was strongly related to weight preoccupation among women and men and that, among men, obsessive-compulsiveness was also positively related—findings which support claims that exercising and dieting tend to coexist, and they are associated with an obsessive-compulsive personality profile.

Key words

excessive exercise obsessive-compulsiveness addictiveness weight preoccupation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Blumenthal, J. A., O'Toole, L. C., and Chang, J. L. (1984). Is running an analogue of anorexia nervosa? An empirical study of obligatory running and anorexia nervosa.JAMA 252(4): 520–523.Google Scholar
  2. Boer, D. P., Epling, W. F., Pierce, W. D., and Russell, J. C. (1990). Suppression of food deprivation-induced high-rate wheel running in rats.Physiol. Behav. 48: 339–342.Google Scholar
  3. Bouchard, C., Shephard, R. J., Stephens, T., Sutton, J. R., and McPherson, B. D. (eds.) (1990).Exercise, Fitness, and Health, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.Google Scholar
  4. Crossman, J., Jamieson, J., and Henderson, L. (1987). Responses of competitive athletes to layoffs in training: Exercise addiction or psychological relief?J. Sport Behav. 10: 123–136.Google Scholar
  5. Davis, C. (1990). Weight and diet preoccupation and addictiveness: The role of exercise.Personal. Indiv. Diff. 11: 823–827.Google Scholar
  6. Davis, C., and Fox, J. (1993). Excessive exercise and weight preoccupation in women.Addict. Behav. 18: 201–211.Google Scholar
  7. Davis, C., Fox, J., Cowles, M. P., Hastings, P., and Schwass, K. (1990). The functional role of exercise in the development of weight and diet concerns in women.J. Psychosom. Res. 34(5): 563–574.Google Scholar
  8. Davis, C., Shapiro, C. M., Elliott, S., and Dionne, M. (1993). Personality and other correlates of dietary restraint: An age by sex comparison.Personal. Indiv. Diff. 14: 297–305.Google Scholar
  9. De Coverley Veale, D. (1987). Exercise dependence.Br. J. Addict. 82: 735–740.Google Scholar
  10. Dishman, R. K. (1990). Determinants of participation in physical activity. In Bouchard, C., Shephard, R. J., Stephens, T., Sutton, J. R., and McPherson, B. D. (eds.),Exercise, Fitness, and Health, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 75–101.Google Scholar
  11. Durnin, J. V. G. A., and Womersley, J. (1974). Body fat assessed from total body density and its estimation from skinfold thickness: Measurements on 481 men and women aged from 16 to 72 years.Br. J. Nutr. 32: 77–96.Google Scholar
  12. Durnin, J. V. G. A., McKay, F. C., and Webster, C. I. (1985).A New Method of Assessing Fatness and Desirable Weight, A report prepared for the Army Department, Ministry of Defense, Glasgow.Google Scholar
  13. Eisler, I., and le Grange, D. (1990). Excessive exercise and anorexia nervosa.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 9(4): 377–386.Google Scholar
  14. Epling, W. F., and Pierce, W. D. (1984). Activity-based anorexia in rats as a function of opportunity to run on an activity wheel.Nutr. Behav. 2: 37–49.Google Scholar
  15. Epling, W. F., Pierce, W. D., and Stefan, L. (1983). A theory of activity-based anorexia.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 3(1): 27–43.Google Scholar
  16. Eysenck, H. J., and Eysenck, S. B. G. (1991).Manual of the Eysenck Personality Scales, Hodder and Stoughton, London.Google Scholar
  17. Eysenck, H. J., Nias, D. K. B., and Cox, D. N. (1982). Sport and personality.Adv. Behav. Res. Ther. 4: 1–56.Google Scholar
  18. Fornari, V., Kaplan, M., Sandberg, D. E., Matthews, M., Skolnick, N., and Katz, J. L. (1992). Depressive and anxiety disorders in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 12: 21–29.Google Scholar
  19. Forelicher, V. F. (1990). Exercise, fitness, and coronary heart disease. In Bouchard, C., Shephard, R. J., Stephens, T., Sutton, J. R., and McPherson, B. D. (eds.),Exercise, Fitness, and Health, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 429–450.Google Scholar
  20. Garamoni, G. L., and Schwartz, R. M. (1986). Type A behavior pattern and compulsive personality: Toward a psychodynamic-behavioral integration.Clin. Psychol. Rev. 6: 311–336.Google Scholar
  21. Garner, D. M., Olmsted, M. P., and Polivy, J. (1983). Development and validation of a multidimensional Eating Disorder Inventory for anorexia nervosa and bulimia.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 2(2): 15–34.Google Scholar
  22. Goldfarb, L. A., and Plante, T. G. (1984). Fear of fat in runners: An examination of the connection between anorexia nervosa and distance running.Psychol. Rep. 55: 296.Google Scholar
  23. Harman, H. H. (1976).Modern Factor Analysis, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  24. Hauck, E. R., and Blumenthal, J. A. (1992). Obsessive and compulsive traits in athletes.Sports Med. 14: 215–227.Google Scholar
  25. Kagan, D. M. (1987). Addictive personality factors.J. Psychol. 121(6): 533–538.Google Scholar
  26. Kagan, D. M., and Squires, R. L. (1985). Addictive aspects of physical exercise.J. Sports Med. 25: 227–237.Google Scholar
  27. Katz, J. L. (1986). Long-distance running, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia: A report of two cases.Comp. Psychiat. 27: 74–78.Google Scholar
  28. Krejci, R. C., Sargnet, R., Forand, K. J., Ureda, J. R., Saunders, R. P., and Durstine, J. L. (1992). Psychological and behavioral differences among females classified as bulimic, obligatory exerciser and normal control.Psychiatry 55: 185–193.Google Scholar
  29. Kron, L., Katz, J. L., Gorzynski, G., and Weiner, W. (1978). Hyperactivity in anorexia nervosa: A fundamental clinical feature.Comp. Psychiat. 19: 433–439.Google Scholar
  30. Lazare, A., Klerman, G. L., and Armour, D. J. (1966). Oral obsessive and hysterical personality patterns: An investigation of psychoanalytic concepts by means of factor analysis.Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 14: 624.Google Scholar
  31. Lazare, A., Klerman, G. L., and Armour, D. J. (1970). Oral, obsessive and hysterical personality patterns.J. Psychiat. Res. 7: 275–290.Google Scholar
  32. Long, C., and Smith, J. (1990). Treatment of compulsive over-exercising in anorexia nervosa: A case study.Behav. Psychother. 18: 295–306.Google Scholar
  33. McDonald, K., and Thompson, J. K. (1992). Eating disturbance, body image dissatisfaction, and reasons for exercising: Gender differences and correlational findings.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 11: 289–292.Google Scholar
  34. McNeill, G., Fowler, P. A., Maughan, R. J., McGaw, B. A., Fuller, M. F., Gvozdanovic, D., and Gvozdanovic, S. (1991). Body fat in lean and overweight women estimated by six methods.Br. J. Nutr. 65: 95–103.Google Scholar
  35. Mishkind, M. E., Rodin, J., Silberstein, L. R., and Striegel-Moore, R. H. (1986). The embodiment of masculinity.Am. Behav. Sci. 29(5): 545–562.Google Scholar
  36. Morgan, W. P. (1979). Negative addiction in runners.Phys. Sportsmed. 7(2): 57–68.Google Scholar
  37. Morris, M., Steinberg, H., Sykes, E. A., and Salmon, P. (1990). Effects of temporary withdrawal from regular running.J. Psychosom. Res. 34(5): 493–500.Google Scholar
  38. Nash, H. L. (1987). Do compulsive runners and anorectic patients share common bonds?Phys. Sportsmed. 15(12): 162–167.Google Scholar
  39. Nudelman, S., Rosen, J. C., and Leitenberg, H. (1988). Dissimilarities in eating attitudes, body image distortion, depression, and self-esteem between high-intensity male runners and women with bulimia nervosa.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 7(5): 625–634.Google Scholar
  40. Ogden, M. E., Dundas, M., and Bhat, A. V. (1988). Personality differences among alcoholic misusers in community treatment.Personal. Ind. Diff. 10: 265–267.Google Scholar
  41. Owens, R. G., and Slade, P. D. (1987). Running and anorexia nervosa: An empirical study.Int. J. Eating Disord. 6(6): 771–775.Google Scholar
  42. Pasman, L., and Thompson, J. K. (1988). Body image and eating disturbance in obligatory runners, obligatory weightlifters, and sedentary individuals.Int. J. Eat. Disord. 7(6): 759–769.Google Scholar
  43. Pollak, J. M. (1979). Obsessive-compulsive personality: A review.Psychol. Bull. 36: 225–241.Google Scholar
  44. Russell, J. C., Epling, W. F., Pierce, W. D., Amy, R. M., and Boer, D. P. (1987). Induction of voluntary prolonged running in rats.J. Appl. Physiol. 63: 2549–2553.Google Scholar
  45. Sacks, M. H. (1987). Eating disorders and long-distance running.Integrat. Psychiat. 5: 201–211.Google Scholar
  46. Silberstein, L. R., Striegel-Moore, R. H., Timko, C., and Rodin, J. (1988). Behavioral and psychological implications of body dissatisfaction: Do men and women differ?Sex Roles 19(3/4): 219–233.Google Scholar
  47. Steinberg, H., and Sykes, E. A. (1985). Introduction to symposium on endorphins and behavioral processes: Review of literature on endorphins and exercise.Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 23: 857–862.Google Scholar
  48. Summerfeldt, L. J. (1991). Obsessive-compulsive personality and anxiety: An application of the multidimensional interaction model, unpublished master's thesis.Google Scholar
  49. Swift, W. J., and Wunderlich, S. A. (1988). Personality factors and diagnosis in eating disorders: Traits, disorders, and structures. In Garner, D. M., and Garfinkel, P. E. (eds.).Diagnostic Issues and Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, Brunner/Mazel, New York.Google Scholar
  50. Walters, E. E., Neale, M. C., Eaves, L. J., Heath, A. C., Kessler, R. C., and Kendler, K. S. (1992). Bulimia nervosa and major depression: A study of common genetic and environmental factors.Psychol. Med. 22: 617–622.Google Scholar
  51. Weight, L. M., and Noakes, T. D. (1987). Is running an analog of anorexia?: A survey of the incidence of eating disorders in female distance runners.Med. Sci. Sports Exer. 19(3): 213–217.Google Scholar
  52. Welch, G., Hall, A., and Walkey, F. (1988). The factor structure of the Eating Disorders Inventory.J. Clin. Psychol. 44(1): 51–56.Google Scholar
  53. Yates, A. (1991).Compulsive Exercise and the Eating Disorders, Brunner/Mazel, New York.Google Scholar
  54. Yates, A., Leehey, K., and Shisslak, C. M. (1983). Running—an analogue of anorexia?N. Engl. J. Med. 308(5): 251–255.Google Scholar
  55. Yates, A., Shisslak, C. M., Allender, J., Crago, M., and Leehey, K. (1992). Comparing obligatory and nonobligatory runners.Psychosomatics 33: 180–189.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Davis
    • 1
  • Howard Brewer
    • 1
  • Dorothy Ratusny
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate Programme in Exercise and Health ScienceYork UniversityNorth YorkCanada

Personalised recommendations