5 Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
Young athletes usually are concerned about looking good, and they all want to perform well. Most of the time, these factors motivate them to work hard at conditioning their bodies and perfecting their skills. But sometimes, to attain these goals, athletes resort to self-destructive methods that result in serious medical disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
In some thin-build sports (such as figure skating, gymnastics) and in some weight-regulated sports (such as wrestling) the incidence of eating disorders is alarmingly high. Various sports medicine studies report rates of eating disorders as high as 60%, and disorders occurring in athletes as young as 8 or 9 years of age.
It is essential to recognize that such maladies are not restricted to athletes in the sports mentioned above. Athletes in all sports are at risk for eating disorders. Unhealthy weight-control methods can involve the use of:
- Diuretics (substances that cause excess water excretion)
- Self-induced vomiting
- Excessive and compulsive aerobic exercise
- Dieting that approaches self-starvation
The methods above can have devastating effects on the body. Because of the health-related risks, parents and coaches should be alert for the warning signs of a developing eating disorder.
- Excessive preoccupation with being “fat,” especially in an athlete who is normal weight.
- Unusual eating habits, especially signs of excessive (and often, secret) food intake (the first part of the binge-purge pattern of bulimia).
- Evidence of purging with laxatives or by vomiting. One sign of repeated vomiting may be sores at the corner of the mouth or on the tongue caused by stomach acid.
- Food avoidance or severe caloric restriction.
- Alternating periods of lethargy and irritability.
If parents or coaches detect one or more of these signs, they should talk with the youngster in a highly supportive manner. If an eating disorder is suspected or detected, professional counseling should be sought.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach to Coaching DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.
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