Incredibly talented, but also massively vulnerable to eating disorders, athletes are a large group of people who often seem to succumb to these disorders. Perhaps it is the pressure of always trying to impress others that lead to this.

Many high- profile athletes, including swimmer Amanda Beard, gymnast Shawn Johnson and swimming legend Dara Torres, have all admitted to having eating disorders at some point in their careers. Torres has written about her struggle with bulimia while in college. ‘Pretty much all I thought about during college was what I ate, what I wanted to eat, what other people ate, what I’d need to do to get rid of the calories I’d ingested, how much exercise I got, and how I would look in my swimsuit when I mounted the blocks.’

It is easy to spot signs of an eating disorder here, in particular through the obsessive manners around food that Torres was displaying.

Sports with Higher Risks

Research has shown that women athletes that compete in weight-dependent sports that have a big push on appearance, such as gymnastics, running and swimming, are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Around 38% of female athletes were at high risk of developing bulimia and 35% for anorexia.’ CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, Claire Mysko, said, ‘Athletes in endurance sports, and sports that focus on the performance of the individual rather than a team- track and field, running, swimming, for example, are also at increased risk.’

The athletes that participate in these particular sports can feel more pressured into looking good, especially those that are involved in an individual sport as the spotlight is on them and them alone.

Hiding an Eating Disorder

Athletes are often on strict diets, which are used to change their nutrition and appearance for the particular event in which they will be competing. This makes it easy to develop an eating disorder but harder to diagnose and treat it. It is easier for these athletes to hide an eating disorder, as the extreme nature of the competitive sports is used as a motive to be number one in that area. According to Jennifer Carter, PhD, Director of Sports Psychology at Ohio State University, this extremism is a key factor in eating disorders being hidden from family, friends and even coaches. She went on to say that the symptoms of eating disorders, displayed in athletes, can look quite different to that of a non-athlete.

Athletes are more likely to try to burn calories through compulsive and excessive exercise, rather than to starve themselves, which is usually common in eating disorders.

Perfectionism or Eating Disorder?

Jennifer Beck, MD, a UCLA sports medicine specialist, has highlighted the fact that the difference between perfectionism and eating disorders can be difficult to spot. Beck went on to say, ‘We see a lot of competitive, obsessive-compulsive, extremist, type A personalities out there gunning for gold. While the drive is internal, there may be an external stimulus ‘ like a coach pointing out a cheeseburger that athlete ‘shouldn’t have eaten.”

With coaches pushing the athletes to extremes for the sake of a winner’s medal, it is having a devastating backlash on the athletes’ overall wellbeing. These athletes are depriving themselves of anything that can be seen as remotely ‘bad’ for them, not even having the occasional treat in fear that their coach will tell them they should not have done that.

Is this really the kind of obsessive life these young athletes should be leading?

Source: What Drives the Connection Between Eating Disorders and Certain Sports? (Yahoo!)