Eating Disorders That Affect Athletes
Disordered eating is defined as a group of mental illnesses that have physical, physiological and social consequences
Disordered eating, a phenomenon so unbelievable and unacceptable, is in reality, a truth amongst many athletes. It is an extremely serious condition but whether the social environment is one of its prime causes, is a question which we all have to find an answer to, but it is important nonetheless, to understand what disordered eating is.
Prevalence Of The Disorder
It has been stated that eating disorders are more common in women, especially for those in the adolescent phase because of an abnormal desire to look thin, thanks to the cultural taboo that being fat is ugly! A smaller percentage of men also tall prey to this psychological illness.
In athletes, these disorders are most common in judged sports, where the athlete is scored for certain characteristics. Female athletes pursuing aesthetic sports which include gymnastics, ballet, synchronized swimming, figure skating etc. are found to be at the highest risk for developing eating disorders. Also, professionals are more susceptible to psychological disturbances leading to such complications than beginners or intermediate athletes.
How It Begins
Indulgence in any kind of sport leads to maturation of inherent attributes such as will power, confidence, mental stability, goal establishment, determination etc. Often when the athlete is pushed too hard and made to endure, he/she enters a mental state that heightens most attributes intended to improve performance. Will power becomes obstinacy, confidence becomes stubbornness and mental instability sets in and even winning becomes the only goal of existence.
However, determination soon transforms into over-exertion in physical training with three hours of practice a day, turning to five. Body fat which is assumed to be the culprit behind poor performance becomes the main enemy with adoption of inconsistent dietary practices beginning with inadequate food consumption to reduction in daily calorie intake.
Once the body gets low on energy and presents elevated emotions such as perfectionism, compulsiveness. hyperactivity, over-increased drive, higher self-expectations and competitiveness, the mental capacity deteriorates towards body image distortion and pre-occupation with repetitive exercise routines and weight loss. And this initiates eating disorders.
Disordered eating is the very first sign of developing an eating disorder. But this is a broad term covering three major types including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a third category not yet specified. Hence, disordered eating is defined as a group of mental illnesses that have physical, physiological and social consequences.
Disordered eating is the very first sign of developing an eating disorder. But this is a broad term covering three major types including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a third category not yet specified.
Types Of Eating Disorders
This is a condition wherein there is an intense fear of putting on kilos in spite of being under-weight. Those suffering from anorexia nervosa exhibit complete refusal to maintain normal body weight. There is also negative self-evaluation and absolute denial of the situation one is in. In female athletes, there is development of irregular menses at first, which further aggravates into complete cessation.
It involves a severe degree of obsession with food and there is a lack of control during eating with no sign of satiety. Post this binge eating behaviour, a feeling of guilt towards the action and unacceptable outcome of the same torces one to purge out the food eaten by extreme use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas etc. The third category includes all eating disorders that do not fall under the above categories and hence, it is termed as not yet specified.
- The entire physiological functioning goes for a toss with the digestive system, nervous system, renal functions, cardiac and respiratory system working abnormally.
- One of the major consequences ¡s bone degeneration. Low energy and prevailing eating disorders mark the birth of osteoporosis, a bone degenerative disease that makes the bones porous and weak, further impairing an athlete’s performance due to easy fractures.
- Oestrogen levels also dip as reduced food intake leads to loss of stored tat leading to a reduction in oestrogen levels which further leads to irregular menses and ultimately complete cessation.
Awareness And Remedies
Early diagnosis is the key for maximum reversal through treatment. If the treatment is delayed, a large part of the damage would have already occurred. Following a healthy lifestyle is a start, but it is important to know what triggers such behaviour.
Athletes undergo tremendous pressure – their coaches push them hard and their family pressurises them for not winning awards. Also, some athletes have limited knowledge on body weight regulations and nutrition along with misconceptions about being thin. All these factors serve as breeding environments for eating disorders to develop.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to correctly educate the athlete but what is more essential is to educate his/her social culture.