Relations among exercise, coping, disordered eating, and psychological health among college students

Jennifer Thome, Dorothy L. Espelage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers have long been interested in the coping styles of individuals who display disordered eating characteristics. Recently, exercise has been recognized as both a behavior and coping strategy that might be present among individuals with disordered eating. The present study evaluates the role of exercise as both a coping mechanism and as a health behavior in relation to eating pathology and other measures of psychological health in a nonclinical university population. Female (n=235) and male (n=86) undergraduate students completed questionnaires that assessed exercise behavior, coping strategies, eating attitudes, self-esteem, life satisfaction, affect, depression, and anxiety. The results indicate that the relations among exercise, coping, and eating pathology is complex. Exercise was related to positive psychological health in males, whereas exercise in females was associated with both positive and negative psychological health. For women with high Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) scores, exercise was significantly associated with negative affect, and a trend existed in this group such that exercise was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Conversely, for women with low EAT scores, exercise was associated with positive affect. This suggests that exercise might be differentially associated with mental health based on the presence or absence of eating pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-351
Number of pages15
JournalEating Behaviors
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Coping
  • Eating
  • Exercise
  • Gender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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