Athletes and Eating Disorders

Athletes and Eating Disorders is an article that looks at why athletes may be at a higher risk for having an eating disorder. Read this article to learn about which athletes are most likely to have an eating disorder and what signs you should watch for.

When we think of athletes, we often think of people who are in peak condition, and who are the very picture of health. However, this is not always the case. In fact, some of the traits that make athletes good performers are also the same ones that can make them susceptible to eating disorders. This is because there are some sports that require certain body types. Also, the competition and discipline involved in excelling at sports can lead to a higher incidence of eating disorders in some cases.

Some of the sports that create a higher risk of eating disorders include those that require speed, lightness, quickness and agility. Another issue is that there are some sports that emphasize appearance. All of these issues can lead to eating disorders, since being of a lower weight is of greater importance in some sports, as opposed to sports where bulk and muscle mass are vital. Here are some sports that may result in a higher risk of eating disorders:

  • Wrestling
  • Dance (especially ballet)
  • Running
  • Horse racing
  • Figure skating
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics

As you can tell, these are all sports that require lightness and a certain body type. It can be tempting for some athletes to cut corners with diet in order to maintain what is considered a competitive edge. Ultimately, though, eating disorders can impact one’s health in the long term. Eating disorders can lead to a number of health problems, and athletes, who stress their bodies to perform, can create even more problems.

Female athletes and eating disorders

Men and women are both susceptible to eating disorders. Male athletes may even be more susceptible than their non-athlete counterparts. However, there are some special problems that come with being a woman athlete and having an eating disorder. There is something called the “female athlete triad” that offers these three problems that come when athleticism is combined with an eating disorder:

  1. Menstrual irregularities
  2. Weak bones and increased risk of osteoporosis
  3. Low energy availability

It is important to recognize that both men and women need to be careful to ensure that their quest for athletic performance does not come at the cost of long term health. Athletes should see health care professionals regularly, and make use of nutritionists and dieticians to help them make sure they are eating properly and getting the nutrients that they need.

Warning Signs of an eating disorder

Sometimes it is difficult to identify athletes with eating disorders. However, it is possible. You should watch athletes in your family and among your friends for these signs of an eating disorder:

  • Expressing concerns about being fat and preoccupation with appearance. This includes increasing self-criticism about the way one looks.
  • Preoccupation with one’s weight, and with how much they are eating.
  • Frequently eats alone. Often, someone with an eating disorder will not eat around other people.
  • Regular trips to the bathroom, and continual trips to the bathroom right after eating. This could be a sign that he or she is purging - throwing up - right after finishing a meal.
  • Compulsive and excessive exercise, beyond what is required for athletic training and conditioning.
  • Use of laxatives on a regular basis.
  • Complaints of being cold. Without normal amounts of body fat, athletes can become cold. Eating disorders can cause this.
  • Continuous drinking of calorie-free fluids as an enema. Refusing to drink liquids with calories on occasion. This can be especially dangerous if the athlete insists on avoiding milk, since this can increase the possibility of bone problems.

If you suspect one of your friends or relatives of having an eating disorder, it is important that you encourage him or her to get help. It is vital that you help your friends and family get healthier. An eating disorder can actually be life threatening. Even though it rarely results in immediate death (although it can), the long term health impacts of an eating disorder can be quite severe. It is important that athletes understand the risks associated with eating disorders, and that they take steps to make sure that they remain healthy as the perform. Indeed, maintaining their health is one of the best ways to excel at a sport.

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