Athletes & Eating Disorders: The Warning Signs, Risks & What to Do

em>New England Cable News (NECN)
August 2016

Athletes are 2-3 times more susceptible to eating disorders than the average population. Detecting warning signs and knowing where to turn to help can be challenging. But there are more options for specialized attention today.

Emily Slager, a clinician on Walden’s GOALS Program – Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Competitive Athletes – joined NECN to talk about the issue and offer some suggestions for those faced with eating disorders.

GOALS is the only program of its kind in New England  – equipping athletes of all ages and levels with the mental and nutritional skills to achieve their full athletic potential and sustain a positive mindset. Click here for more information.

Eating Disorders & Athletes: The Statistics
• 30 million Americans will experience eating disorders during their lifetime.
• Athletes are two to three times more likely than the general population to have an eating disorder.
• The prevalence of DE is about 20% and 13% among adult and adolescent female elite athletes, and 8% and 3% in adult and adolescent male elite athletes
• One in four female athletes and one in 10 male athletes are at higher risk for anorexia than the general population
• A study of Division 1 National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes shows that an alarming 33 percent of female athletes have symptoms and attitudes that place them in a high-risk category for anorexia

Common Warning Signs of Athletes with Eating Disorders
• Significant weight loss or gain
• Sudden changes in eating behavior: quantity and types of foods
• Increased fatigue
• Isolation with team members, others
• Preoccupation with food
• Decrease in performance
• Rigid training patterns/over training
• Lack of focus/concentration
• Increased focus on appearance
• Injury (strains, stress fractures, etc.)

Risks of Eating Disorders Among Athletes
• Decrease in performance levels
• Increased proneness to injury
• Permanent physical damage
• Social isolation and/or depression
• Difficulty managing school, work, relationships
• Severe nutritional deficiencies
• In extreme cases, potential loss of life

Sports where athletes are most susceptible to eating disorders include:
• Sports that emphasize appearance, weight requirements or muscularity (gymnastics, diving, bodybuilding, wrestling).
• Sports that focus on the individual (gymnastics, running, figure skating, dance, diving).
• Endurance sports (running, swimming, track and field)

Eating disorders can occur in ANY sport – individual or team – though.