Emotion Dysregulation as a Mediator of the Relationship between Anxiety, Compulsive Exercise and Eating Disorder Symptoms in Adolescents

Children (Basel). 2021 Nov 25;8(12):1088. doi: 10.3390/children8121088.


Anxiety has been suggested to be a key contributing factor for compulsive exercise, however, existing literature has demonstrated contradictory relationships between anxiety and compulsive exercise among adolescents. According to the Emotional Cascade Model (ECM), factors such as rumination and emotional suppression may mediate the association between affect and exercise. The current study therefore aimed to investigate whether rumination and emotional suppression mediate the relationship between anxiety and compulsive exercise in predicting ED symptoms in adolescents. Questionnaires assessing compulsive exercise, anxiety, depressive rumination, emotional suppression, and ED symptoms were completed by 212 adolescent males (Mage = 13.39, SD = 1.22) and 189 adolescent females (Mage = 13.64, SD = 1.29). The structural equation model showed indirect effects between anxiety and compulsive exercise through rumination and emotional suppression in males but not in females. Moreover, anxiety had an indirect effect on eating disorder symptoms through rumination, emotional suppression and compulsive exercise in both males and females. In line with ECM, the results suggest that rumination and emotional suppression may have a key role in the association between anxiety, compulsive exercise and eating disorder symptoms in adolescents. These findings suggest that compulsive exercise may be used as a dysfunctional coping mechanism to escape from a negative emotional cascade generated by the interaction of anxiety, rumination and emotional suppression. Future longitudinal studies to test the role of compulsive exercise as a dysfunctional behaviour in the ECM are needed.

Keywords: adolescents; compulsive exercise; eating disorder symptoms; emotional suppression; rumination.