Eating Disorders


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

highest level.

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?

Barnett, Nancy, and Priscilla Wright, Ph.D., “Psychological

Considerations for Women in Sports,” Clinics in Sports Medicine, April

1994, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 297-313.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, IV, Washington

DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

French, Simone, Ph.D., et al., “Food Preferences, Eating Patterns, and

Physical Activity Among Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Health, June

1994, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 286-294.

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.

Yurth, Elizabeth, M.D., “Female Athlete Triad,” Western Journal of

Medicine, February 1995, Vol. 162, No. 2, pp. 149-150.

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