The Risks of Eating Disorders in Athletes


The Risks of Eating Disorders in Athletes  


Sports, at any level, emphasize physical appearance in some form or another. Whether it be sports that openly involve weight classes like bodybuilding, gymnastics, and wrestling, or other sports like football, soccer, baseball and more, endurance and a healthy lifestyle are extremely important to an athlete.

When athletes try extreme measures to get their bodies into great physical appearance, there are some truly scary side effects. Low self-esteem, physical and emotional strain, and constant feelings of tiredness are just some of the problems associated with athletic eating disorders.

According to The Washington Post, athletes across the country are attempting to spread awareness to the dangerous practice of limited eating within athletics.

"Sports itself does not cause eating disorders," said Riley Nickols, director of the Victory Program at the McCallum Place eating disorder treatment center in St. Louis. "But certain aspects of a sport can heighten vulnerability and an individual's risk."

Nickols adds that weight is only one of roughly 40 factors that attribute to sports performance, but is commonly listed as priority number one for athletes trying to gain on-the-field advantages. Adhering to a healthy diet and arbitrary weight loss goals can have plenty of positive effects on an individual's health, but when extreme measures are taken, the risk factors are significantly amplified.

Here are a few great ways that athletes can prevent eating disorder issues from occurring and negatively impacting their health and their on-the-field abilities:

  • Talk to coaches and parents about supporting body styles of all kinds.

  • Deal with positive, person-oriented coaches who emphasize factors that contribute to personal success such as motivation and enthusiasm rather than body weight.

  • Collaborate with supportive teammates with healthy attitudes toward size and shape.

Additionally, it's important to not only prevent eating disorder issues pertaining to athletes, but to know how to identify other issues associated with unhealthy living both on and off the field. Here are 12 signs that athletes or fitness enthusiast are actually close to injury and illness issues that overall health and wellness:

  • No pleasure or joy from participation in sport or exercise routine.

  • Inability to concentrate, in turn causing a decrease in psychological or physical performance.

  • Conflict with teammates and coaches.

  • Raid or extreme change in body weight or shape, as well as obsession about losing (or gaining) weight.

  • Chronic injuries or overusing an injured body part.

  • Exercise-induced interruption in the menstrual cycle due to stress, Amenorrhea, and low body fat.

  • Preferring to exercise rather than spend time with family and friends.

  • Training while injured or unwilling to skip an exercise session while sick.

  • Changes in eating habits or isolation during meal times.

  • Changes in behavior around coaches and teammates.

  • Irritability and moodiness all of the time.

  • Obsessing when it comes to eating, training, or exercising.

Similarly, as far as coaches and parents are concerned, if you’re working with athletes at any level, it’s important to encourage them to not only remain active, but to do so in a safe, responsible, and healthy manner. Here are some great tips for athletic trainers, coaches, parents, and even friends to implement so their athletes can remain at the top of their game in terms of both on-field competition and general health:

  • Take the above warning signs seriously -- Individuals suffering from eating disorders specifically have a 25% suicide rate and a 10% to 15% mortality rate.

  • Establish a list of healthy referrals and resources -- Be sure the athlete utilities these referrals and nutritional resources if they are struggling with any unhealthy practices.

  • Communicate healthy values and promote positive self-image -- Make sure to discuss with any athlete (or athletes) the importance of positive attitudes pertaining to body image, weight, and dieting.

  • Emphasize the health risks -- Don't threaten anyone, but simply discuss the health risks involved with eating disorders and other unhealthy athletic habits.

Keep in mind, it's not recorded to immediately stop athletic participation if an athlete is found to have eating problems or other unhealthy issues. Talk to them and consult with a professional who can assist them with their condition and get them back on the right track.

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EDCare provides treatment for eating disorders in Denver, Kansas City, Colorado Springs, and Lincoln. We offer patients, their families, and health care professionals over 15 years of eating disorder treatment experience. Visit the website.