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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of exercise in the treatment and management of eating disorders Quesnel, Danika Audrey


The purpose of this study was to explore health professional’s opinions concerning the role of exercise in the treatment of eating disorders (EDs) and to introduce recommendations for incorporating exercise into ED treatment. Exercise abuse is a behaviour often displayed by those with EDs. Given the low success rates of current treatment methods, exercise has been postulated as a method to help manage exercise abuse and improve overall prognosis, however, little research exists that examines exercise as a supportive treatment for EDs. To explore the role of exercise in ED treatment, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a panel of international health professionals (n=13) with expertise in ED treatment and management. Expertise was determined through educational training specific to the field, published scholarly research on exercise and EDs, and/or by current clinical work and interest in the role of exercise within ED treatment. Verbatim interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis and four main themes emerged, including: 1) Understanding the Current State; highlighted the historical negative views and common practise of abstaining from exercise during treatment, yet also indicated that these views and practises are changing, 2) Gaining Perspectives; outlined the gap in ED research and practice which is compounded by a lack of knowledge surrounding exercise and EDs and a fear of incorporating exercise into ED treatment, 3) Barriers and Benefits; presented attitudinal (e.g., negative views of exercise) and practical (e.g., funding) barriers, yet also identified physical (e.g. increased muscular-skeletal), and psycho-social (e.g., greater self-esteem) benefits, and 4) One size Does Not Fit All; suggested that the exercise prescription must be progressive and tailored to individual needs, include a mix of exercise modalities and be undertaken in a supportive environment not focused on body shape or image. These results provide a foundation for understanding the complex issues and challenges surrounding the utilisation of exercise as an ED treatment method and provides recommendations for moving this topic area forward.

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