Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

eating disorder; anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; affect; exercise dependence


Eating disorders (EDs) have been proven to be life-threatening, yet these disorders are still prominent in Western society. The current study focuses on exercise dependence, negative affect, positive affect, and ED symptoms in individuals discharged from ED treatment. While ED recovery varies at the individual level, exercise dependence and affect are particularly important to analyze due to the complex and interconnected relationships with each other and ED symptoms. For example, routine exercise can be used to lessen negative affect, but exercise dependence can lead to an increase in negative affect. As patients in recovery begin to add exercise back into their lives, it is important to identify and understand healthy versus dependent (excessive) exercise. The current study (N = 168 participants) utilized MANOVA and path analysis to a) test if there were changes in exercise dependence, affect, and ED symptoms across the two months post discharge and b) to examine how these symptoms relate to each other across this time period. Results revealed that there were no significant changes in variables across the time period and that all variables predicted themselves between each time frame. In addition to these predictive relationships, negative affect in T2 predicted ED symptoms in T3. Our findings suggest that addressing exercise dependence, negative affect, positive affect, and ED symptoms in the first critical two months post treatment discharge can promote higher and more sustainable recovery outcomes.

Lay Summary

Eating disorders (EDs) have been proven to be life-threatening psychological disorders yet are still common in current society. Due to the complexity of EDs, recovery may look different for each individual. The average recovery process can take up to nine years, but the first two months post-discharge are some of the most crucial time periods for sustainable recovery. Different factors (unhealthy exercise, emotions, body shape and weight concerns, and ED symptoms) can be analyzed in order to predict future outcomes involving the evolution of an ED.

The study tested how unhealthy exercise, emotion, and ED symptoms relate to each other after treatment discharge. Our results revealed no significant relationship across the two months after treatment discharge. Unhealthy exercise, emotions, and ED symptoms all predicted themselves for the next month. Besides this relationship, one other significant realtionship was found between negative emotion during the first month and ED symptoms for the following (second) month. Targeting negative emotions earlier on in the recovery process may help prevent ED symptoms in upcoming months. Further research should address other influential factors (e.g., societal standards, body image, healthy exercise) and their relationship to ED recovery in order to identify ways to improve treatment for EDs.