Athletes & Eating Disorders: The Increased Risk

Risk factors for eating disorders are the same in most every group: genetics, desire for control, tendency toward the extreme, and societal pressure to live up to certain thin body ideals. In an athlete's world, these all come with the particular pressures to perform and look a certain way for a crowd while representing a team.

The National Eating Disorders Association revealed in a study that more than one-third of Division I NCAA female athletes reported behaviors and attitudes that could put them at risk for anorexia nervosa.

The Impact on Athletes

Any person at risk for anorexia nervosa faces a serious health issue that could have lasting, negative effects on their body and mind. The effects can be even more immediate and identifiable for an athlete.

Athletes already ask a lot of their body, working at intense exercise regimens and practicing feats of strength and flexibility that take mastery to perform. Depriving themselves of energy and nutrients takes away their ability to accomplish these endeavors and increases the chance of injury.

Individuals with disordered eating issues are highly at risk for stress fractures, and anemia, as well as plagued with lack of energy. Female athletes are afflicted with three particular consequences: loss of menstrual cycle, poor bone health, and low energy availability.

For someone whose identity is rooted in the strength and capabilities of their body, the harms of suffering from anorexia nervosa could be devastating.

Healthy athletes can put a different spin on the competitive nature of teammates. As a team, some use competition as an impetus to get and stay healthy, encouraging and supporting each other towards that end. Using competition in this way can help keep the perspective that it’s not about how you look as an athlete, but about the way your fuel your body to achieve fitness.

Vicious Cycle

In a realm so centered on competition and the drive to prove oneself to a team, it can be easy to fall into patterns of competing with fellow teammates for a certain body type along with the other skills and abilities.

The only way to break the cycle, even in a setting where others are struggling with the same issues, is for the person to be aware that disordered eating is a personal problem. He or she must also be willing to ask for help in the fight to recover.

Anorexia nervosa treatment centers can provide professional help from experts who have experience working with athletes. Understanding the pressures and environments that can factor into an eating disorder is key, and receiving treatment in an atmosphere that acknowledges them is the only way to truly begin the path to recovery.

At Eating Disorder Center of Denver, we treat patients from all over the country, who have diverse backgrounds and unique experiences and we welcome and appreciate the diversity among our patients. By matching the skills, passion, and excellence of the interdisciplinary team with the specific needs of each patient, we create an environment where both patients and staff work towards successful eating disorder recovery.