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Eating Disorders and Athletes – What You Need to Know

On any given day you can turn on the television and watch college athletes or Olympic hopefuls striving to reach their dream in their desired sport. For the most part, these athletes are in tip-top shape, perfect specimens of the human body, but there is a darker side to achieving that flawless form for a percentage of those athletes, and that is an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Even more somber is that many less celebrated athletes, like high school students or weekend warriors, feel that they need that same physique, and they often find themselves battling an eating disorder to achieve those same results. 

There is a plethora of sports that are dependent on the competitor’s weight. Track and field athletes, wrestlers, gymnasts, and figure skaters, to name a few, all need to be a precise weight in order to achieve their goals. Their weight can impact their performance, so the pressure to monitor their caloric intake becomes a major factor in their lives. Sometimes, they need to drop weight quickly to just to participate. Some of these athletes begin to obsess about food, weight, and body image, and the lines between what’s healthy and what’s not blur, and can sometimes turn into an eating disorder.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder, the risk factor for developing an eating disorder in judged sports, is 13%, compared to 3% in a refereed sport. Sports like gymnastics and figure skating have the highest risk of for eating disorders.  A profile of athletes with anorexia nervosa revealed some common factors among the participants, including the need to be perfect and high self-expectations.

If you are concerned that an athlete in your life may be struggling with an eating disorder, be proactive, but be supportive. You don’t have to go at it alone; for more information, call the professional staff at Rebecca’s House at 1-800-711-2062 to learn about our eating disorder treatment program.


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