Alexithymia, reward sensitivity and excessive exercise in non-binge-eaters versus severe binge eaters: Implications for primary and secondary exercise dependence

Michael F. Lyvers, Joseph Truncali, Peta Berenice Stapleton, Fred Thorberg

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Abstract

A distinction has been made between primary and secondary exercise dependence, with the latter defined as excessive exercise secondary to disordered eating and weight concerns. Based on theoretical considerations from research on the roles of trait factors in addictions, the present study used validated scales to assess alexithymia, sensitivity to reward and punishment, emotion regulation and interoception in relation to exercise dependence symptoms in Australian male and female non-binge eaters (n = 228) and severe binge eaters (n = 126) aged 18–30 yr. In both groups, exercise dependence symptoms were significantly positively associated with reward sensitivity and interoceptive awareness, with the latter two variables predicting exercise dependence symptoms in hierarchical regression models; punishment sensitivity was significantly negatively related to such symptoms. Alexithymia was significantly associated with exercise dependence symptoms only in non-binge eaters; in severe binge eaters, alexithymia explained 0% of unique variance. Male sex was associated with more exercise dependence symptoms in severe binge eaters only. Participants in the severe binge group scored significantly higher on measures of exercise dependence, alexithymia, risky alcohol use, and sensitivity to reward and punishment, and significantly lower on emotion regulation, compared to those in the non-binge group. Hierarchical regression models explained 25% of variance in exercise dependence symptoms in non-binge-eaters and 43% in severe binge eaters. Findings are discussed in terms of the distinction between primary and secondary exercise dependence, the role of alexithymia, study limitations including data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, and suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Aug 2022

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