Eating Disorders and Young Athletes
In high school and college, sports are usually taken very seriously for those that want to participate. While the advantages are numerous, it’s important to be aware of the pressures placed on these young adults.
One of the top concerns of parents, teachers, and coaches, are athletes and eating disorders. As an attempt to remain within the criteria of their activity, eating disorders in sports is far too common.
Being a Young Athlete Is Often Demanding
Everyone thinks the star player, starting quarterback, or lead wrestler, is someone that has it all. Certainly, outperforming their peers comes with attention and some bragging rights. But, there is often more going on behind the scenes, including a massive amount of pressure to maintain their status.
Individuals who are participating in programs that revolve around academic performance, take on scholastic pressure as well. Usually, there are terms in place, such as having to maintain grade averages, to play.
This desire to achieve can cause the young adult to suffer the onset of mental illness in response to overwhelming requirements. Of the mental illnesses that athletes are susceptible to, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders are most often diagnosed.
An Eating Disorder Is A Mental Illness
An eating disorder is a mental illness that can be maintained with proper treatment and therapy. Using an eating disorder as a means of coping or maintaining control is unfortunately very common. This is especially true in the world of sports.
As the bar for best performance continues to rise, so does the pressure to be the best. Unfortunately, the exceedingly stressful nature of the high school and college sports can wreak havoc on the mental health of youth athletes. Young athletes and eating disorders are the product of dealing with unhealthy levels of stress in their busy lifestyles.
Although it may seem as though this is a voluntary behavioral issue, athletes’ eating disorders are in fact, psychological illnesses. Worst of all, many mental illnesses in young adults tend to go undiagnosed and are instead chalked up to hormones.
Eating Disorders And Sports Are Observed Together
Sometimes, athletes resort to eating disorders to focus their energy elsewhere. Other times, challenging and unhealthy eating habits are based on an intense obsession with the accelerated achievement of goals. Regardless, maintaining weight classes or physical size is sometimes a requirement of youth athletics.
Along with putting excessive strain on themselves to quickly see results, altering nutrition can also affect. Yet, instead of pouring energy into a wellness-promoting diet and fitness regimen, youth athletes quickly cross that dangerous line. Athletes that have eating disorders may be able to continue to perform at first, but this does not last long.
Soon there will be a decline in functional success or even cognitive deterioration. As unfortunate as this is, eating disorders in sports often go untreated, especially if it’s benefiting their performance. This makes it especially important to raise awareness of athletes’ eating disorders, including how to get professional help.
Types of Eating Disorders Affecting Athletes
Athletes that suffer from eating disorders will need effective treatment to regain and maintain overall health. Different treatment methods will be useful to promote a well-rounded recovery that benefits the individual’s needs. Some of the most commonly reported and treated eating disorders in sports include:
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorders
Different types of athletes and eating disorders require different therapeutic approaches and methods. This is to ensure that all-around health is being cared for and that proper habits are reinforced. Because sports and eating disorders are often accompanied by other psychological illnesses, a full evaluation establishes where efforts are focused.
Bulimia Nerviosa: Athletes And Eating Disorders
Bulimia Nervosa is an illness that involves the process of eating and purging. Often, eating involves the intake of large quantities of food within a short period. Then, immediately following, the individual will force themselves to become physically sick, thereby purging the contents of their stomach.
Typically, the act of purging takes place within a short amount of time after consuming any quantity of food. Not only does this ensure that the individual will not process excessive calories, but void of nutrition as well. Individual therapy is often the starting point to treat bulimia. However, it may take time to establish healthy eating habits.
Anorexia Nervosa: Athletes and Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed when an individual is severely neglecting their need for calories and nutrients, by denying themselves food. By not maintaining proper nourishment, athletes with this eating disorder often drop weight dramatically. Often both, very quickly and in large amounts.
Athletes and eating disorders, such as anorexia, will mask their illness by explaining their reasoning as fasting. However, because changes in appearance and health are so obvious, the condition is certainly noticeable.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to a healthy recovery. This often requires cognitive behavioral therapy to reinforce the importance of providing proper nutrition regularly.
Binge Eating Disorder: Athletes and Eating Disorders
A binge eating disorder is common in sports that require weight minimums to maintain status or position. With binge eating, an athlete’s eating disorder may serve one of two reasons. One, to bulk up fast, short and sweet. Or, more commonly, to cope with stress.
The lack of control that’s seen with athletes and eating disorders that binge, may be associated with a traumatic event. Such an event may even be the reason that they are no longer able to perform, such as an injury. Dealing with PTSD or trauma experienced during sports may be an effective approach to instilling self-control.
Best Treatment of Eating Disorders in Sports of The Youth
To effectively treat athletes with eating disorders, an individualized inpatient program is the most beneficial course of action. During this time the young athlete will be required to remain on-site, with lessons and therapy available. Many times, the individual will require a certain level of medical care before they can begin.
It’s helpful to make a smooth transition from physical care to psychological care, which inpatient treatment can offer. During this time, the individual will be away from stressful and demanding requirements that may have worsened their condition. While their basic needs are provided readily, the young adult will have the opportunity to focus on their health.
Female Athletes And Eating Disorders
Influenced by society’s standards, women are more likely to suffer from an eating disorder statistically. However, when it comes to athletes and eating disorders, men are catching up in the numbers. Nonetheless, women’s mental health treatment is an important concern when it comes to eating disorders in sports. This could be due to the types of sports dominated by female competitors where specific weight is a requirement.
Some sports with specific or suggested weight classes include:
- Figure skating
- Distance running
Many female athletes’ eating disorders are developed to maintain appearance while boosting performance. Considering some sports are unisex, establishing rank may be easier for one sex over the other, depending on the sport. Eating disorders in sports may even be used as a means to level the playing field between biological gender differences. Again, because many activities are not gendered specific, eating disorders in sports are commonly diagnosed in male competitors too.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders and Athletes
Sports can demand a lot of any person, and are especially exhausting for a young adult. Yet, when it stops being about the love of the game, parents and guardians should be on the lookout. When certain areas of a young athlete’s life begin to shift negatively, a change may need to be made.
For example, some warning signs of teens suffering from mental illness or an eating disorder include:
- Abrupt or dramatic changes in sleep and eating routines
- Decline in performance in school or athletic capabilities
- Obsessing with meeting weight goals within an unreasonable time frame
- Mood changes that could be associated with low blood sugar from lack of nourishment
- Dramatic changes in appearance
- Being overly conscious of calories or quantities of food
- Reluctance to eat with a group or during family meals
- Excessive exercise and monitoring of body measurements
- Becoming frequently ill, weak, or fatigued, especially without allowing proper downtime to heal.
No doubt many teens will go through changes as they figure out who they are and set goals for themselves. However, it is better to question and take interest in their mental health throughout this time of development. Striving teen athletes and eating disorders are common together, but the outlook is significantly better if caught early on.
Young Adults And Increased Stress To Succeed
From high school on, the opportunities available from over performing in sports could help to shape the future of a young athlete. Scholarships are offered to further many sport careers, yet performance is key. Especially when there is assistance with the financial burden of college, many will strive to overachieve.
However, it’s at the college level, where athletes and eating disorders can go unnoticed for an extended period. The independence of college life eludes those closest to them of any dangerous eating habits and mental disorders.
The pressure to maintain an adequate GPA, combined with making fitness a priority, can have negative physical and emotional effects. Mental health resources for college athletes and eating disorder awareness can provide the necessary support. Parents should be sure to become aware of how to contact these resources, should the need arise.
Risk Factors for Developing Eating Disorders in Sports
Certain factors can increase the likelihood of young adults developing eating disorders in sports communities. Peer support is a powerful means of suggestion and is utilized in group therapy. However, as a negative influence, peer relationships in the athletic community have leverage. Healthy athletic competition versus dangerous expectations that can lead to an eating disorder may be difficult to avoid. Maintaining communication and openness can help to avoid missing the signs of athletes and developing eating disorders.
Some characteristics that are cause for parental concern include:
- The nature of competition and expectations provided by staff or coaching team and the emphasis on weight.
- Expressing beliefs that size determines the value of the player.
- The experience of trauma or abuse is physical, sexual, or emotional.
- A diminished sense of self-worth or self-esteem.
- An unhealthy relationship with food at an early age.
- Urge from family members, partners, or peers to maintain a specific weight.
- Expressing specific and unreasonable dietary needs.
- Having a family member that suffers from an eating disorder.
If you are having a hard time talking to your teen about being an athlete and eating disorders, family therapy can help. Most importantly, an eating disorder should never be ignored. If left untreated, serious physical and psychological illnesses could develop as a result.
Co-Occurring Mental Illness: Athletes and Eating Disorders
Athletes and eating disorders may come with additional concerns. Professional care can rule out underlying mental illnesses that may contribute to athletes developing eating disorders. If left undiagnosed, an individual that has received treatment for an eating disorder is more likely to relapse. When an individual requires treatment for one or more mental or behavioral conditions, it’s referred to as a dual diagnosis.
How Can Parents Help
The best thing any parent can do for their children is to stay involved and educated. Raising awareness about eating disorders in sports communities helps to ensure that our youth are being cared for. Most importantly, if you have concerns about your young adult athlete and eating disorders, ask. Get yourself familiar with eating disorders and mental illness resources for tips on how to approach your loved one. This way, if they come forward about needing help, you’re ready to get them set up on the right track.
Athletes And Eating Disorders: Getting Help
When it comes to athletes and eating disorders, it’s important to be aware of the pressures placed on young adults. The drive to improve, if taken too far, can lead to serious consequences such as the development of an eating disorder.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder as a response to athletic goals, know that there’s a better way; A healthier way. Get in touch with professionals that put your needs first to get more information. Commit today and work toward a healthier tomorrow.