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Eating Disorders in Athletes

Eating Disorders in Athletes

Participating in sports is a great way to maintain your health, manage stress, and build your self-esteem.

However, the physical and mental demands to win and maintain a certain body weight and shape can take their toll if not managed properly. The severe demands of athletics often contribute to severe psychological and behavioral complications. Today, we’re taking a closer look at eating disorders in athletes, including their causes and the signs to look out for.

Athletes and Eating Disorders

Sports often promote physical conditioning, athletic ability, and teamwork, but they can also carry inherent stressors. Many athletes experience the constant pressure to perform well and additional pressures concerning their physique and physical appearance.

Athletes dedicated to their sports often go to extreme lengths to maintain a certain body shape and weight. These behaviors may include restrictive eating, extreme dieting, vomiting (purging), and taking medications, all of which are common signs of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions associated with severe and persistent disturbances in a person’s eating behaviors, which are commonly associated with negative thoughts and emotions. These conditions can affect a person’s physical, psychological, and social functioning.

Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and substance use disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder, a condition in which the person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws in their appearance, is also a common contributor to disturbed eating behaviors.

Common Eating Disorders in Athletes

There are several different types of eating disorders, but those that seem to be most common among athletes include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED). Anorexia nervosa causes people to obsess about their weight and what they eat.

People with bulimia may experience periods of binge eating where they lose control of how much they eat, followed by feelings of guilt and shame. To get rid of the extra calories, they may vomit or purge after binge eating, exercise excessively, or fast.

Other specified feeding or eating disorders, or OSFED, was previously known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) in past editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). OSFED is a category to encompass people who did not meet the specific criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa but still have significant eating disorders.

Signs of Eating Disorders in Athletes

The signs that someone has an eating disorder may vary depending on the specific condition. While eating disorders are generally similar in that the person’s eating behaviors are disturbed, each one has its tell-tale signs that individualize them.

When it comes to recognizing eating disorders in sports, these behaviors may vary depending on the sport and the level of expertise of the athlete (high school versus professional sports, for instance). Generally, some of the most common signs and symptoms of eating disorders in athletes include:

  • Eating too little
  • Restricting their eating
  • Avoiding certain food groups (like carbohydrates or sugars)
  • Training too hard or for too long
  • Obsessing over body weight, shape, size, and appearance
  • Being underweight
  • Noticeable and excessive weight loss
  • Abnormal hormonal levels (can impact menstrual cycles and libido)
  • Stress fractures and overuse injuries (can occur due to a combination of weakened bone health and excessive exercise)

As we mentioned before, eating disorders are often linked to other problems like mental illness or substance abuse, as well. That’s why our center for eating disorder management in Philadelphia offers eating disorder support that includes therapy and holistic treatment methods to address the psychological and social contributing factors of patients’ disorders to better aid them in their recovery.

Eating Disorder Treatment for Athletes

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of people worldwide, and the same percentage of Americans (28.8 million) will have an eating disorder at least once in their life.1,2 Second, only to opioid overdose, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, with anorexia nervosa being the deadliest.1

Banyan Treatment Centers is committed to ensuring that our patients have everything they need to recover from their eating disorders. From nutritional counseling to individual and group sessions with our therapists, we’re here to help.

As a drug rehab in Philly, we also offer different levels of substance abuse treatment to help patients who are struggling with co-occurring addiction. To learn more about our addiction and eating disorder treatment in Philadelphia, call Banyan today at 888-280-4763.

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Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.