Eating Disorders Essay, Research Paper
I sit here writing, with my heart the heaviest that it?s been in a very long time. A
million emotions plummet through my body, yet I know nothing of the struggle of a eating
disorder. And it seems the more I try to understand, the less I know and the less I
I played college volleyball for two years for Florida A&M University. Those two
years I lost and gain 45 pounds. I now sit and reminisce. I saw my teammates going
thought rigorous diets and fads. I think about similar friends and teammates trying to be
the best, but who are going through another trauma in itself. I want to break down in tears
when I think, not so much of their circumstances, but that I can do nothing to help.
Sometimes, I?m bound by secrecy, never to reveal anything. Why to you think I am being
secretive only models are supposed to have eating disorders not athletes.
Why are eating disorders so common in female athletes? I know that the
prevalence of disordered eating is high among athletes in swimming, gymnastics, dance
and figure skating are at higher risk for development of eating disorders. But, why my
friends? Why people I know and care about?
I sit and I wonder how to help. There are many athletes I know who have eating
disorders. I wish there was a foolproof guide to helping so I could quickly refer to a
specific page. I never experienced an eating disorder. I lost weight by eating right, and
exercising. I didn?t work hard during the off-season and pay the price during two-a-day
Moreover, I wish people who knew about it would intervene. Why didn?t my
former coach do something? Why don?t her parents do something? Why doesn?t she have
more support? As I find out the number of girls I know with eating disorders increases,
the frequency and complexity of my questions increase as well.
Sometimes I think. I think about the girls with eating disorders that don?t make it.
I wonder if one of the girls I know is going to kill herself because judges, coaches,
boyfriends and society is rewarding her for doing it.
But, when I think of the unfair reinforcement by these people I remember whose
fault it really is. And I become sad again and wonder why so much value is placed on
looks. Even despite performance, despite scoring a perfect 10, despite swimming
excellence, despite dancing in a national performance group, despite skating with Nancy
Kerrigan, if you don?t have ?the look,? you lose.
It disgusts me. And the people that perpetuate this unfairness disgust me. But, I
can do nothing. I just sit, just think. I just hold back tears for these girls who are victims.
British Olympic Association, UK Athletics, and the Eating Disorders Association.
They hope to raise awareness of the growing problem of eating disorders. Coaches,
family, friends and athletes are to be targeted with details of the early warning signs and
risks of anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
The campaign coincides with news that problems in both male and female athletes
are running out of control. Research at the University of Leeds by Angie Hulley, the
former English cross-country champion and marathon international, reveals ?that one in
ten of Britain’s female distance runners has some kind of eating disorders?. They are
obsessively convinced that less fat equals more fitness.
Eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in the adolescent population and
especially among athletes. Every coach and physician must be on the lookout for anorexia
nervosa and bulimia. The mortality rate is particularly high at lO-15%, with death
occurring primarily due to cardiovascular failure, endocrine disturbances or suicide,
according to Priscilla Wright.
Bulimia is a morbid fear of becoming obese, with uncontrolled bingeing followed
by purging. This is accomplished by vomiting, laxative use, ipecac, or even excessive
exercise. Anorexia is the relentless pursuit of thinness characterized by the intake of very
few calories accompanied by excessive exercise. The anorectic gets down to 80 pounds
and then 75 pounds looks better to them; at 75 pounds, 70 looks better. If this athlete is
truly an anorexic, she will continue to get thinner until she reaches a point when she
cannot compete. The disorders overlap, with bulimia being the more common of the two.
The frightening aspect of these disorders is the high mortality and morbidity rate. Forty to
50 percent of bulimics make a major suicide attempt. Anorexics do not attempt suicide as
often, but a high percentage have episodes of major depression. It can happen at the
Overeating is a symptom of both bulimia and binge eating disorders. Recent
findings have shown that eating disorders are more commong among athletes than other
people. Parents have been giving their children Barbie dolls for decades, not realizing the
subconscious impact it might have on their body images as they grow older, said Dr. Jerry
Maurath, a psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services at Hudson Health
Recent findings have shown athletes in certain sports are at an even higher risk
than others to develop negative body images, according to a research report released by
Nancy Ann Rudd, a body-image researcher at The Ohio State University. Athletes
participating in sports emphasizing leanness are more likely to practice risky behaviors,
such as eating disorders, in order to control weight and improve athletic performance.
Janet Ames, M.D. states obviously, the first step in treating this disease is
recognizing the athlete with an eating disorder. This requires a team approach, as does the
treatment. The team is made up of the coach, parent, physician and teammates. The more
people who are aware of the seriousness of the problem, the greater chance the athlete has
of setting help. One of the main characteristics of the disorder is self denial, resulting in the
athlete refusing to believe she has a problem. Given this fact, it becomes imperative that
the individual who recognizes the problem follows it through. Do not be satisfied with the
athlete’s assurance that she is under treatment; check with her parents.
The current European cross-country champion, Sara Wedlund, is a self-confessed
anorexic, while Lucy Hassell, the British international runner, became so thin that she was
forced to use a wheelchair. In a article, Liz McColgan revealed that in 1988, in the run-up
to the Olympics, her weight fell to seven stone. She was out-kicked for gold in Seoul. It is
not just running. There are problems in the worlds of ballet, figure-skating, gymnastics,
rowing and horse riding.
In the United States, wrestlers often binge-eat before a match after starving
themselves before the weigh-in. The deaths of three college wrestlers late in 1997
triggered panic and it was revealed that they often exercise in saunas or run or cycle in
plastic or rubber clothing to sweat off weight.
Other athletes have been known to use such high-risk techniques as jogging in hot
showers while wrapped in plastic bags, swallowing diuretics, laxatives or amphetamines,
and self-induced vomiting. All this will make alarming reading for thousands of parents
who will see it as yet another reason why they should not encourage their children to take
part in sports already tarnished by drug and financial scandals. Unfortunately just as drugs
and eating disorders distort the body, so too, poisoned attitudes to competition and
rewards for winning have distorted the very body of sport itself.
There is evidence, however, that male athletes are at least equally at risk as female
athletes for certain types of eating pathology. Because of their unique role in patient care,
primary physicians especially need to be aware of what to look for and what questions to
ask in diagnosing this often insidious syndrome. They also need to work with other
members of the healthcare team as they make a diagnosis that will lead to appropriate
treatment of all underlying problems.
A study of NCAA athletes found that binge eating occurred more often in male
athletes than in female athletes. More than three times as many male athletes as female
athletes used saunas or steam baths to lose weight. The same percentage of males and
females used steroids to improve athletic performance. Female athletes were four times
more likely than males to use vomiting to lose weight. Athletes at risk for eating disorders
are often those who are particularly anxious and critical of their own athletic performance
and who express these concerns by dissatisfaction with their bodies.
Eating disorders may result in symptoms which interfere with athletic performance.
Examples of symptoms include, fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, broken bones, leg
cramps, and irregular heart rate are among the symptoms which may impair athletic
capacity. These symptoms are the result of various physiological complications of eating
disorders, including low thyroid hormones, poor heart and circulatory function,
osteoporosis, and electrolyte imbalance.
Athletes are often aware of the symptoms of eating disorders, but do not want to
acknowledge the symptoms for fear that they will be required to stop their sport. Except
in extreme cases, the athlete can continue the sport while in treatment.Today’s female
gymnast weighs almost 20 lb less than her counterpart of 20 years ago. Examples such as
this of a heightened focus on thinness have been cited as a factor in disordered eating
among female athletes, especially those participating in sports that emphasize appearance
or leanness, or those that involve weight classifications.
The female athlete triad of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis
affects many active women and girls, especially those in sports that emphasize appearance
or leanness. Because of the athlete’s psychological defense mechanisms and the stigma
surrounding disordered eating, physicians may need to ask targeted questions about
nutrition habits when assessing a patient who has a stress fracture or amenorrhea, or
during preparticipation exams. Carefully worded questions can help. Physical signs and
symptoms include unexplained recurrent or stress fracture, dry hair, low body
temperature, lanugo, and fatigue. Targeted lab tests to assess nutritional and hormonal
status are essential in making a diagnosis that will steer treatment, as are optimal
radiologic tests like dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry for assessing bone density.
The American College of Sports Medicine has encouraged all individuals working
with physically active girls and women to be educated about the triad of amenorrhea,
disordered eating, and osteoporosis, and to develop plans to prevent, recognize, treat, and
reduce its risks. Coaches and team physicians are often in a position to identify an eating
disorder early and assist the athlete in seeking appropriate treatment.
Such a distorted view pushes everything else aside. A well balanced athlete will
enjoy home, career, hobbies, friends and intellectual and cultural pursuits. But if sport is
allowed to dominate completely there is dangerous imbalance.
Putting lottery money into pumping children through sporting hothouses of
excellence, with the lure of gold dangling ever before them, is all very well, and of course
coaches and doctors must be on the lookout to pick up the pieces when young people are
physically or psychologically damaged by their sport.
But there will always be too many such victims while the leaders of sport whip up
the appetite for fame and fortune above all else, when what they should be putting back on
the menu is the joy and fun that sport has long lost.
I just sit, and I pray. I pray the people surrounding my friends will stop playing
?the game? and realize what?s at stake. I pray they realize that a life is more important
than a competition. I pray for a paradigm shift in the lives of the girls who have been
unfairly forced into this situation. It is not their fault. But, most of all, I pray that I don?t
have to bury another friend. Is it really worth the big win?
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DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
French, Simone, Ph.D., et al., “Food Preferences, Eating Patterns, and
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Johnson, Mimi, M.D., “Disordered Eating in Active and Athletic Women,”
Clinics in Sports Medicine, April 1994, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 355-369.
Nattiv, Aurelia, M.D., et al., “The Female Athlete Triad,” Clinics in
Sports Medicine, April 1994, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 405-418.
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