Understanding the Connection: Eating Disorders & Athletes
Eating concerns among athletes are both common and complicated, according to Center for Change expert Dr. Melissa Smith. Why? Because while athletes focus on taking care of their bodies and work hard to increase performance levels, the pressure of competition poses risks, both emotionally and physically. As athletes conform to the strict parameters required to enhance performance, dietary concerns feel exaggerated and exercise can become unbalanced or obsessive. To understand whether you or the athlete in your life might benefit from treatment, there are specific questions to ask.
How do I know if I am an unbalanced exerciser?
- Do I exercise at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings?
- Does exercise negatively impact my relationships?
- Do I exercise despite illness or injury?
- Does exercise negatively impact my psychological or physical health?
- Does exercise interfere with everyday activities such as work or school?
- Do I exercise in order to create an energy deficit despite normal or low weight?
Unbalanced exercise presents a wide range of characteristics and risk factors:
- Decreased bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis, depending on severity)
- Stress fractures
- Hormonal changes: loss of menstrual period for females, low testosterone level for males
- Recurrent injuries (soft tissue strains)
- Decreased immunity (intense exercise for extended periods of time)
- Overtraining syndrome or staleness (failure to make expected training gains)
- Female athlete triad: low energy availability, menstrual irregularities and bone loss
- Dehydration, heat stroke, hyponatremia
- Potentially lethal cardiac events (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, prolonged QT interval)
- Added stress when responsibilities and relationships are sacrificed for exercise
- Depression, anxiety, irritability when exercise is sole coping behavior
- Isolation or withdrawal due to exercise compulsion
- Depression due to overtraining syndrome
- Exercise to compensate for or legitimize eating
- Exercise to maintain negative energy balance (despite hunger, intentionally eat less if unable to exercise)
Our Unique Approach
Here at Center for Change, we take a comprehensive team approach — involving coaches, trainers, therapists, physicians, and dietitians — to provide athletes the support and skills necessary to return to competition after eating disorder treatment with renewed energy, pursuing their sport in a healthy, balanced way.
For more information on this subject, read Dr. Smith’s article “Athletes & Eating Concerns.”