Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a severe eating disorder affecting around 1 per 100 persons. However, the knowledge about its underlying pathophysiology is limited. To address the need for a better understanding of AN, an animal model was established early on in the late 1960's: the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model in which rats have access to a running wheel combined with restricted food access leading to self-starving/body weight loss and hyperactivity. Both symptoms, separately or combined, can also be found in patients with AN. The aim of this systematic review was to compile the current knowledge about this animal model as well as to address gaps in knowledge. Using the data bases of PubMed, Embase and Web of science 102 publications were identified meeting the search criteria. Here, we show that the ABA model mimics core features of human AN and has been characterized with regards to brain alterations, hormonal changes as well as adaptations of the immune system. Moreover, pharmacological interventions in ABA animals and new developments, such as a chronic adaptation of the ABA model, will be highlighted. The chronic model might be well suited to display AN characteristics but should be further characterized. Lastly, limitations of the model will be discussed.