Obsessionality in Anorexia Nervosa: The Moderating Influence of Exercise

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Abstract

Objective

Research has confirmed substantial links between OCD and AN. Not only are there psychopathological similarities between the two syndromes, but a marked neurochemical correspondence. Extensive exercising is a common feature of AN and also has relevance in its links with OCD. There is evidence from the exercise-induced weight-loss syndrome in animals that exercise and caloric restriction, in combination, tend to increase serotonergic activity in a synergistic manner. This syndrome has been proposed as a valid model of OCD as well as for AN. To date, little research has directly tested this theory in the human condition.

Method

Fifty-three AN patients were categorized as high-level exercisers (N = 22) or moderate/nonexercisers (N = 31) based on the frequency of their physical activity over the year before assessment.

Results

Exercisers scored significantly higher on a measure of OC personality characteristics, OC symptomatology, and perfectionism-a personality factor associated with the development of Obsesssive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. On the other hand, there were no group differences on other salient eating disorder characteristics such as body esteem, self-esteem, or weight preoccupation. There were also no differences in degree of emaciation as indicated by Body Mass Index.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that among AN patients obsessional personality characteristics are linked to high-level exercising, and that exercising is associated with a greater degree of OC symptomatology. Results are discussed in the context of current theories of AN, OCD, and some biological mechanisms.

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