Many people admire athletes for their talents, physical fitness, and dedication to their crafts. While athletes are certainly a source of inspiration, especially to young people, there can be a darker side to sports that fosters the development of an eating disorder or troubled relationship with food.
Traits that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders
Athletes are competitive in nature; they have to be in order to find the drive to succeed at their chosen sport. However, a constant focus on wanting to be the best can be extremely stressful. When that competitive attitude is combined with an emphasis on weight or body shape and pressure from coaches or parents, the risk of an eating disorder developing is increased.
The type of sport an athlete participates in can also increase their risk of struggling with an eating disorder. Some sports, like gymnastics or wrestling, focus on weight and muscularity requirements. Others, like figure skating or diving, focus on an individual’s performance rather than that of a team, and subsequently increase the amount of pressure a person might feel to succeed.
Who Is At Risk?
Both male and female athletes can be at risk for eating disorders; however, most athletes with eating disorders are female. According to NEDA, over one-third of Division I NCAA athletes reported habits or thought patterns that put them at risk for anorexia nervosa.
What an individual may consider a one-time behavior to help them win can soon become a habit. For example, a wrestler fasting once to rapidly lose weight before a weigh-in may continue to do so or use other additional dangerous weight-loss techniques after he reaches his goal. It’s possible that coaches and teammates might normalize or even encourage this type of behavior.
However, coaches and teammates can also be a source of positivity that relieve the pressure off of high-performing athletes. It’s key for athletes to surround themselves with supporters who maintain a healthy attitude towards body image. Having coaches, teammates, and family members who value the whole person – not just the athlete’s body or physical prowess – can also go a long way towards the prevention of an eating disorder.
If you believe that you or someone you know may be struggling from an eating disorder, contact Seeds of Hope and start getting help today.