Sports offer many benefits: a sense of competence, an outlet for stress, a means of maintaining physical health, and a source of community. However, there is a heightened risk of developing an eating disorder in competitive sports, particularly sports that emphasize athletes’ weight, diet, appearance, and performance. Research has found a link between eating disorders and sports such as running, cycling, wrestling, gymnastics, diving, weightlifting, and dancing.

Risk factors related to eating disorders in athletes

  • Low self-esteem
  • Performance anxiety
  • A false belief that weight loss will lead to better athletic performance
  • A genetic disposition for eating disorders
  • An overemphasis of competition/success by one’s coach, family, and/or peers
  • A history of trauma such as physical or sexual abuse
  • A societal focus of thinness

Warning signs that an athlete may be experiencing an eating disorder

  • Preoccupation with food, calories, exercise, weight, and shape
  • Weight changes
  • Changes in skin, hair, or nails as a result of malnutrition
  • Irregular menstruation in females
  • Calcium and bone loss, increasing likelihood of fractures
  • Exercising/training more than recommended
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Reduced concentration and energy

Eating disorder recovery for athletes is possible.

For successful outcomes, it is typically recommended that you work with a mental health professional, nutritionist, and eating disorder-informed physician. More severe symptoms may be better treated in higher levels of care, such as an intensive outpatient program, residential program, or partial/full hospitalization. Group therapy is also an excellent form of support in eating disorder recovery.

To strive for continuous improvement while also accepting yourself as you are can be a challenging balance to maintain. At The Chesnut Group, we understand the pressure and unique challenges of athletes experiencing eating disorders, and are here to support you in your recovery. In addition to individual and group therapy, we will also be offering an Athlete Track within our Bridge Program for college athletes reintegrating into school after eating disorder treatment.

If you or someone you know are an athlete with an eating disorder, please contact us today to discuss how we may be able to help.