Eating Disorders Among Athletes Essay

Eating Disorders Among Athletes Term paper

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8 November 1999 The Growing Problem of Eating Disorders Among Athletes Most people would expect athletes to know the latest fitness and health information. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Eating disorders affect male and female athletes all over the world, causing problems in their performance as well as impairing their health. Moreover, pressure from coaches, who should be the most concerned with the health and performance of their athletes, can be the main cause in the development of eating disorders. Parents and coaches should work together to watch the weight and eating habits of their children and athletes so that they can help prevent these disorders from occurring. There are several types of eating disorders. Anorexia is one of the main ones. Women seem to suffer far more than men do from this disorder. “A person with anorexia does not eat enough to maintain a healthy weight, weighs less than eighty-five percent of normal for her age and height, and usually has irregular or no menstruation” ;(Mayo Clinic 2). Most anorexics consider themselves to be fat, and they feel it is easier to diet than it is to deal with their problems directly. Dr. Lucas, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic says, “Anorexia nervosa occurs in one-half percent to one percent of girls aged thirteen to seventeen, peeking at age fifteen” ;(Mayo Clinic). Anorexic people usually begin their diets with good intentions, but then they get carried away with them. The most common people with anorexia are girls who are often devoted overachievers. They are goal-oriented and usually do exactly what is expected of them. This is probably why most female athletes that suffer from anorexia never realize that they have a problem at all (Mayo Clinic 3). The most common eating disorder is bulimia, also known as bingeing and purging. People who suffer from bulimia usually eat large amounts of food (bingeing) then, before their bodies absorb it, they make themselves vomit (purging). Bingeing is associated with a feeling of guilt and shame, and purging is a form of relieving this shame. Bulimics are usually people who do not feel secure about themselves, and food becomes their only source of comfort. Bulimia occurs in a high percent of older teenage girls and young women. A research of women who suffer from eating disorders showed that “bulimics had the least satisfaction with their bodies and the most strongly held beliefs that society values thinness” ;(Azar 1). People who suffer from this disorder realize that they do have a problem and usually become depressed. Eating disorders have become a huge problem among athletes because of the pressures of the sports they are involved in, and it seems to keep getting worse. For many, thinness equals happiness. Dieting seems to give people a sense of control and achievement. One problem is that athletes seem to think that the less they weigh the better their performance. This is a false statement (Colby 1). Actually, the more weight athletes lose, the more their performance will suffer. Women athletes feel pressured by how the public views them because there are some sports that judge on appearance as well as physical ability. Socially, thin is chic and is associated with sex appeal, popularity, and status. There is pressure on athletes in certain sports to be thin and small. Athletes involved in what they call “lean sports” ;such as diving, dancing, figure skating, wrestling, and gymnastics, have a much higher rate of developing eating disorders than athletes do in other sports (Azar 1). Gymnastics, for example, places a lot of emphasis on thinness and personal appearance. Some female gymnasts are led into dieting so they can maintain perfect weight. More than half of all athletes use unnecessary diets to burn calories. The pursuit of thinness provides identity and a sense of self-esteem. Dr. Morse, an eating disorder coordinator for the Student Counseling Services at Iowa State University says, “an eating disorder can be triggered by excessive dieting, intense training, or negative reinforcement from a peer or coach” ;(Colby 1). Psychologist Donald Williamson says, “several risk factors interact to increase a female athlete’s risk of developing an eating disorder: she perceives pressure from her sport and coach to be thin ;she judges her performance negatively, and she feels anxious about her performance” ;(Azar 2). Some athletes’ ;disorders originate with their coaches. Many coaches even recommend weight loss to their athletes (Colby 1). The emphasis on winning also raises degrees of stress, and is often associated with eating disorders. Other problems are linked to relationship struggles and emotional issues. Most people who develop eating disorders have been abused, criticized heavily, or have a history of family problems (Diehm 1). The number of men developing eating disorders is increasing. The percent would probably be higher if more men would come forward with their problems. The reasons men develop eating disorders are really no different from the reasons a woman would. They experience the same feelings anyone else who was suffering would: low self-esteem and a need for perfection ;they usually hate everything about themselves. Some male athletes involved in sports like wrestling or body-building have been known to use laxatives, jog while wrapped in plastic, fast, and overuse saunas because they feel water loss is the quickest and easiest way for them to lose weight. The number of women who suffer is so much higher because men are not under the same pressure to be thin, but it is difficult for men to reach out for help because eating disorders are still considered a “woman’s disease” so most men turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with their problems. Once society is educated and discovers what eating disorders really are, they will have no trouble accepting that men can suffer too. Eventually, eating disorders can weaken organs, muscle power, and endurance, also impair performance and inhibit the body’s ability to fight illness. Eating disorders also cause “…increased feelings of depression, lack of concentration and trouble sleeping” ;(Colby 2). “By developing eating disorders athletes end up tearing muscle because 80%
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