Eating concerns among athletes are both common and complicated. While sport can be a protective factor in motivating the athlete in caring well for the body, there are also sport-related risk factors that must be considered. These include felt pressure to conform the body to strict and narrow parameters in order to enhance performance. When a concern about proper nutrition occurs, a comprehensive team approach, including coaches, trainers, therapists, physicians, and dietitians provides the athlete with the best opportunity to retain activity safely, or return to sport strengthened and renewed when withdrawal and/or treatment is necessary.

Sport Related Risk Factors Name Image Likeness

Many in sport believe that weight or body fat reduction enhances sport performance, and so there can often be pressure to lose weight. Unfortunately, sometimes unhealthy and risky eating behaviors may be encouraged for weight loss. These behaviors more typically damage performance rather than enhance it. Due to the focus on leanness in many sports, athletes may develop competitive thinness with peers, and may feel added pressure to lose weight. This is known as the contagion effect and may include subcultural expectations to look a certain way, known as the “sport body ideal.” Another concern, especially common among female athletes, is the revealing nature of sport uniforms, which in turn increases body image concerns. Individuals who participate in the Aesthetic/Lean/Judged sports, such as gymnastics, diving, and figure skating, are at the highest risk for unhealthy body image and eating difficulties. Further, there seems to be a parallel between “good athlete” traits and eating disorder characteristics, so that coachable, perfectionist, and compliant athletes may be at greater risk for the development of eating concerns. Finally, identification of eating concerns in sport is more challenging and may delay early intervention and treatment.

Determining Unbalanced Exercise

There are many indicators that “unbalanced”, “unhealthy”, “compulsive” or “damaging” exercise is occurring. Excessiveness can show up in frequency, duration, or intensity of exercise. Exercise should be considered unbalanced if: Exercise continues despite illness or injury, Exercise interferes with balanced activities and relationships, Exercise is rigid: must exercise in a narrowly defined way or at a certain time, Exercise is a rigid obligation: must happen regardless of any life circumstance of higher importance, Exercise is the primary and only means of coping with stress, Exercise reduction leads to withdrawal symptoms such as: agitation, anxiety, anger, insomnia, appetite changes, feelings of guilt, etc.

Unbalanced exercise can be observed in patterns of activity and in patterns of exercise versus appropriate nourishment to sustain the activity level. Asking specific questions about exercise can reveal patterns and asking specific questions about the physical, social, mental, and emotional consequences of exercise or not exercising can also shed light on unbalanced exercise. It is not only external or behavioral patterns which indicate “unbalanced” exercise, but also “internal” responses and motives which illuminate the depth of potential problems with exercise.

How Does One Know if an Athlete is Struggling With an Eating Disorder?

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