Increased number of athletes plagued by eating disorders
Eating disorders are a serious psychological condition that can have long-term implications for an individual.
Eating disorders are not gender specific, however, they are more prevalent in women and particularly adolescent girls. Most recently, an increasing number of athletes - those facing peer, societal, and personal, pressure to run faster, swim harder and jump higher - have been plagued by this disease.
It is estimated that eating disorders affect a whopping 62 percent of athletes involved in organized sports. Athletes at greatest risk are those involved in “appearance sports” such as cheerleading, gymnastics, swimming, diving and dance. However, incidence of eating disorders also occur in endurance sports that emphasize low body weights such as running and cycling and sports that have weight classifications such as wrestling, and crew.
Due to the secretiveness and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases go unnoticed or unreported. In fact, in some cases, where parental pressure to succeed is so strong, disordered eating is actually condoned.
Many people regard anorexia nervosa, a disorder in which people refuse to maintain a minimally normal weight, coupled with an intense fear of gaining weight, despite being underweight, as the standard for eating disorders. There are, however, much more prevalent and far less obvious disorders that regularly plague athletes. These include bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder and overtraining.
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While these disorders are often so well concealed and the symptoms are mistaken as athletic burnout, it is prudent to be alert and aware to key indicators of a problem. Warning signs include restrictive dieting, purging through vomiting, diuretics or laxatives, withdrawal from teammates, chronic fatigue, excessive exercise outside of training, inability to complete workouts, weight loss, loss of concentration, mood changes, fainting, dizziness, light-headedness and decreased stamina.
Serious health consequences are associated with eating disorders and are especially detrimental in an athlete. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, elevated triglycerides, diabetes, gallbladder disease, electrolyte imbalances, ulcers, pancreatitis, tooth decay, muscle loss, dry hair and skin, and loss of bone density.
Athletes face an even greater risk of disordered eating than the regular lay person due the heightened stress and pressure they place on their bodies on a daily basis. The strenuous nature and physical demands of their training, coupled with the stress of an unhealthy diet, puts them at an elevated risk for sudden death from cardiac arrest or organ failure.
Prevention of eating disorders is the key to success and that starts at home. Adopting and committing to a healthy lifestyle is first and foremost. This means eating a regular well-balanced diet, exercising and embracing a ‘fitness is fun’ attitude rather than emphasizing body size, shape or weight.
-- Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist from Fort Myers. She is a USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, Ironman Certified coach, Slowtwitch Certified coach, USA Cycling coach and has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification. For more training tips, read her blog at www.triathlontrainingisfun.com or contact her at www.gearedup.biz.