Athletes and Their Increased Risk of Eating Disorders

An eating disorder can begin with the simple good intention of getting healthy, but somewhere along the way it spirals out of control. Athletes are more prone to eating disorders because cutting weight or an excessive amount of exercise can be the start of the disorder. Even just losing a significant amount of weight can trigger an eating disorder in the brain.

To make matters worse for athletes, a determined competitor and a person with an eating disorder have something in common: They both have a really strong focus and can zero in on a goal.

Risk Factors

What puts athletes at a higher risk? These factors can make them more susceptible to an eating disorder:

– Sports that emphasize appearance such as gymnastics, diving and wrestling
– Sports that focus on an individual instead of the team as a whole
– Endurance sports like track/field and swimming
– The belief that a lower body weight will improve his/her performance
– Being an elite athlete or training since an early age
– Low self-esteem, family dysfunction, family member with an eating disorder or any traumatic life experiences
– Coaches who focus on success and not on the athlete as a person

Signs of Eating Disorders in Athletes

If you are seeing any of these signs in your teen athlete, it’s best to seek help right away from a specialized eating disorder treatment facility:

  1. Eating too little or training too hard
  2. Increased focus on weight, shape, size or appearance
  3. Underweight or notable weight loss
  4. Abnormal hormone cycles (ie. missed or irregular menstrual cycle in females)
  5. Stress fractures or overuse injuries

Protecting Your Athlete

The best way to keep your child free from an eating disorder is by taking these precautions before any signs even appear. While most athletes who develop an eating disorder are female, these suggestions work for both male and female competitors:

– Be sure their coaches offer a positive, person-oriented coaching style
– They need support from teammates along with a healthy attitude toward their size and shape
– Have coaches who emphasize personal success through encouragement and motivation and not through their weight or appearance
– Make sure both parents and coaches educate and support the changing female body

Sports are not at Fault

There are many benefits to organized sports including improved self-esteem, good body image and encouragement to stay active as an adult. It’s not your teen’s involvement in sports that causes an eating disorder. Unfortunately, it’s the stress and the importance of thinness in our society that can put them at an increased risk for an eating disorder. By being aware and taking the precautions above, parents can be their child’s best protector and advocate. If you see the signs and decide your teen athlete needs professional help, contact us right away and help your child get back on track through a specialized treatment program.

Get help today. Call Adolescent Growth at 1-888-948-9998.