Risk of exercise dependence in university students: a subtyping study utilizing latent profile analysis

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Van Landeghem, Chantal
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Exercise dependence (ED) is a maladaptive pattern of exercise that increases risk of physical and psychological harm. There is a need to identify whether individuals symptomatic/at-risk for exercise dependence are a heterogenous group, and if so, to identify risk factors associated with different subtypes. This study sought to determine whether subtypes of individuals symptomatic/at-risk for exercise dependence can be distinguished on their alexithymia profiles, self-reported depressive symptoms, and eating disorder symptomatology. Latent profile analysis revealed two classes. One reported stronger affective than cognitive alexithymic traits, and limited feelings of personal distress in response to others’ suffering. The other reported stronger cognitive than affective alexithymic traits along with elevated eating disorder symptomatology and concomitant mood disturbance. This class also reported heightened signs of personal distress. A follow up mediation analysis demonstrated that cognitive, but not affective, alexithymia mediated the relationship between empathy (personal distress, perspective taking, and empathic concern) and ED, with increased cognitive alexithymia predicting more severe ED. This study is unique as it is the first of its kind to explore the complex dynamics between alexithymic traits, empathy, and ED. Results from this subtyping research provide insights into underlying risk factors that may contribute to the development of ED, and may help to refine existing theories. The results may also inform subsequent research, targeted treatment methods, and psychoeducation programs for use with athletes, parents, and coaches.
Exercise dependence, Alexithymia, Empathy