Eating Disorders in Athletes

By Kaitlyn Johns

Sports have many benefits to athletes including: improvements in physical health, social connections, and improved self-esteem. Sports can also end up creating a negative body image for young athletes once they begin entering the competition world. Society has such a skewed image of thinness and the pressure of competition on athletes, leading athletes to move towards eating disorders. Most athletes with eating disorders tend to be female, but that does not mean males don’t suffer from this disease as well. Most male athletes suffering from an eating disorder are usually in a sport where there’s a heavy emphasis on diet and physical appearance.

There was a study done on Division I NCAA athletes and over ⅓ of female athletes developed attitudes and symptoms that put them at risk for anorexia nervosa. There are three risk factors that are the main contributors to female eating disorders. This includes: the social emphasis on being thin, performance anxiety and negative self appraisal. These disorders tend to be focused more on sports that are centered around individual performance. Gymnastics is a major sport that suffers from eating disorders. Being a retiree of the sport, I have witnessed first hand on how the pressures of “wanting to be the best” effects the mind and body of young girls. Individual based sports emphasize a single person’s performance rather than looking at the team as a whole. This puts more pressure on the athlete to perform and look their best.

While there is no definitive way to eliminate eating disorders from competitive sports, there are some ways to improve an athlete’s environment to steer them away from believing an eating disorder is their only choice. Ways to help include education from the coaches about positive, healthy lifestyles and communication improvements and focusing more on motivation and enthusiasm for the sport rather than on performance and body weight.