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Pathological exercise behavior is pervasive in eating disorder psychopathology, yet minimal treatment guidance exists for extinguishing it as little is known about how to differentiate pathological from healthy exercise. The purpose of this study was to characterize pathological exercise in terms of motivation to increase the specificity with which both pathological and healthy exercise is described and to inform treatment interventions. Latent profile analysis characterized homogenous groups based on exercise motivation in two samples: college women (n = 200) and women with eating psychopathology (n = 211). These profiles were compared on levels of eating and general psychopathology and emotion dysregulation. Three profiles emerged describing sedentary, pathological exercise, and athlete groups in the first sample, and five profiles describing neutral, sedentary, weight loss, athlete, and pathological exercise groups emerged in the second sample. Findings indicate that motivation style is salient in defining pathological exercise and may, therefore, be a clinically useful treatment target.
The authors are with the Department of Psychology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ, USA.