It is common for athletes to be very disciplined and competitive because these qualities help them excel in their chosen sport. However, these same qualities, along with expectations from coaches, teammates, and fans, might increase their risk of developing eating disorders.
In addition, athletes whose sports require speed, agility, and lightness are more susceptible to developing eating disorders than those whose sports require bulk and muscle mass.
Common Eating Disorders That Affect Athletes
While eating disorders impact all kinds of genders, women are more susceptible to developing them. In athletes specifically, the most commonly found eating disorders include the compulsive exercise or exercise bulimia, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa.
The real danger to athletes struggling with eating disorders is all the negative health effects and massive stress they place on the body. Compulsive exercise, purging, and self-starvation could lead to reduced strength and performance in the long run.
Also, the entire process of binging and then over-exercising or purging could result in dehydration and dangerously low potassium levels. This, in turn, could lead to extreme weakness and fatigue, and potentially fatal heart issues.
The Red Flags
The most common warning signs that an individual is suffering from an eating disorder are the following.
- Constant complaints of being fat
- Being very preoccupied or obsessed with weight and food
- Excessive and obsessive exercising
- Constant drinking of water or diet drinks
- Going to the bathroom after every meal, most likely to purge
- Abusing laxatives
The Female Triad
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, women athletes who have eating disorders usually also suffer from the condition known as the female triad. This condition is characterized by having low energy, weak bones, and reproductive health issues such as amenorrhea.
Aside from causing reduced performance, it could also result in serious complications. Electrolyte and fluid imbalance, as well as nutrient deficiencies, could result in an increased risk of illnesses, fractures, starvation, dehydration, and even fertility.
The health consequences of this condition cover almost all bodily functions, including the endocrine, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, skeletal, reproductive, central nervous, and renal systems. Not to mention an increased risk of negative mental health effects.
Additionally, lots of athletes erroneously think that they will not be susceptible to osteoporosis since they exercise and play sports, which are known to make bones stronger. But studies show that exercising is not enough to prevent bone loss.
Seeking Professional Help
Figuring out if an athlete has an eating disorder is not really easy because they will undoubtedly keep their symptoms a secret and then blame their exercise and eating program due to training. That being said, athletes who have eating disorders are typically identified by their families, friends, teammates, and coaches who might notice the warning signs mentioned above.
Eating disorders in the average person are extremely serious, but more so in athletes. These could be fatal if not addressed and treated properly. Identifying what kind of eating disorder a person has, whether anorexia or bulimia is vital to getting the right treatment plan.