Disordered eating in collegiate athletics is more prevalent than it may appear to the naked eye. Symptoms of disordered eating have been reported in 25% of female collegiate athletes and in 20% of male athletes with these athletes participating in a variety of different sports. Disordered eating is defined as problematic attitudes and behaviors towards eating as well as body image distortions that have negative impacts on physical and psychological health. Sports that place a greater emphasis on aesthetics such as gymnastics, or sports that a grouped by weight class tend to have the highest prevalence of disordered eating. Problems such as disordered eating can lead to adverse performance effects as well as adverse effects on overall health. These effects can range from mild such as daily fatigue, to severe such as passing out, temporary loss of vision, and permanent damage to bodily organs or functions.
There are many factors that can influence the presence of disordered eating such as heritable characteristics, the student athlete’s environment such as peer groups and family relationships, the athlete’s own view of self, such as body image, perfectionism, and possibly a low self-confidence. Behavioral factors such as dietary restraints can also play a role in disordered eating. Media images of athletes as well as societal stereotypes can be important contributors in some of the areas mentioned above such as the athlete’s view of themselves. Technical performance requirements within their sport can also require weight management in order to maintain speed and agility but can lead to detrimental habits to maintain that optimal weight. Coaches, more commonly older generation coaches, have been recognized as negative influences on their athletes by making comments that might affect the athlete psychologically even if the intent is not there.
The good news is there are prevention tactics for eating disorders within collegiate athletics. Awareness of healthy eating habits can be shared through other athletes displaying their healthy habits to set a good example within the athletic department. Education is an important aspect not only for athletes but for coaches as well with a majority of coaches not being adequately trained in proper nutrition practices. The culture of the athletic department plays a huge role in preventing disordered eating. If the department places an importance on athlete health and nutrition the athletes will in turn place more of an importance on healthy practices. If the culture of an athletic department needs to be changed, athletes with initiative can strive to make changes for the good of the athletes. It is a difficult task, but one that not only benefits themselves but the lives of their fellow teammates.
Here are some resources if you feel you are at risk:
By Cailyn Schroeder