Young female subjects who engage in exercise to ‘work off’ food they have consumed (‘food related’ exercisers) were compared with other young female subjects who engage in exercise with other objectives (‘non-food related’ exercisers). Assessment of subjects' attitudes and behaviours indicated that the ‘food related’ exercisers exhibited more symptoms of obligatory exercise, eating disturbance, body dissatisfaction, and lower self-esteem, than did the ‘non-food related’ exercisers. A subset of women in the ‘food related’ group who reported exercising for the primary reason of working off food, losing weight, or changing their appearance (the ‘food related/body dissatisfied’ exercisers), indicated even greater disturbance on these measures. The role of exercise in relation to eating disorders is discussed. Copyright © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.