“After a workout …” Beliefs about exercise, eating and appearance in female exercisers with and without eating disorder features

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Objective.This study investigated the relationship between exercise and eating disorder features in a community sample of adult women with and without eating disorder psychopathology. The research focus was on the cognitions of exercisers who scored high and low on eating disorder symptoms. It was hypothesized that women with eating disorder symptoms would have more negative thoughts and beliefs about eating and body appearance but would not differ in cognitions relating to exercise.Design.A cross-sectional comparative study.Method.A community sample of 260 female sports center users completed a measure of eating disorder psychopathology (EDE-Q), the sentence completion test for eating and exercise (SCEE), assessments of depression, exercise commitment and an exercise diary.Results.In the whole sample, EDE-Q global score was positively correlated with commitment to exercise but unrelated to frequency or duration. High EDE-Q scoring women (n=30) had more dysfunctional beliefs and negative thoughts than medium or low scoring comparison groups, particularly concerning body appearance. They exercised with the same frequency as comparison women and were equally positive about exercise, in spite of being more negative about their appearance.Conclusion.The association between commitment to exercise and eating disorder psychopathology is consistent with previous research. The positive cognitions regarding exercise, concurrent with negative thoughts and dysfunctional beliefs about eating and body appearance, suggest a functional value for exercise in eating disorder symptomatic women.

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