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Preventing Eating Disorders in Teen Athletes

Posted by UFMC Pueblo in Uncategorized | 0 comments

ScreenHunter_878 Feb. 04 10.41In 2020, there is a high awareness of healthy eating and its positive impacts on health. More and more people are generally trying to eat better and exercise in order to improve their quality of life.

Despite that, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are still quite prevalent in the United States. According to the Eating Disorder Association, 10 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder.

There is plenty of debate about the core causes of eating disorders, whether it’s psychological issues like depression or social impacts from media and advertisements. Often overlooked, though, are the specific factors that impact young athletes. Sometimes, there are no obvious signs that a teen athlete is struggling with an eating disorder. Any signs displayed are often hidden by a teen’s presentation as supremely healthy. Knowing which signs to look for, though, can help parents guide their children to building positive health habits.

Why young athletes are susceptible to eating disorders

Athletics are a great way to build self-esteem, promote physical conditioning, and demonstrate the value of teamwork, but not all athletic stressors are positive. The pressure to win and an emphasis on body weight and shape can create a toxic combination.

One study found that over one-third of NCAA Division I female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms that placed them at risk for anorexia nervosa.

Male athletes aren’t immune, though, as many sports lend to a higher prevalence of eating disorders. The stringent weight and size requirements in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding and running push some men to develop unhealthy habits that lead to eating disorders.

Know the signs of eating disorders

Just because your teen athlete seems to be in good shape and focused on health, it’s important to keep an eye on them daily to make sure they are not developing unhealthy habits.

  • Exercising and training too hard: With such a focus on regimented eating habits to create peak physical performance, athletes can become vulnerable to overtraining. Monitor your child’s training habits, paying focus on whether or not they are eating enough to fuel that training.
  • Underweight or notable weight loss: As a culture, we are taught that anybody who is not “overweight” and “obese” is considered “healthy.” Often times, it’s true. But being “underweight” is of significant concern, especially for young athletes and doubly so for female athletes. Enter your child’s height and weight into a body mass index (BMI) calculator online. Any BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
  • Stress fractures and injuries due to overuse: A trend among athletes with eating disorders is a focus on excessive exercise. Another trend among athletes is to “play through pain.” It’s a toxic combination that together can be a very telling sign of an eating disorder. If your child gets diagnosed with a stress fracture, it could be a first sign that you should evaluate whether your child is showing other signs of an eating disorder.

Resources available

If you have concerns that your teen athlete may have an eating disorder, it’s worth giving the school’s athletic trainer a call. Athletic trainers are required to monitor athletes and make sure they are healthy enough to compete. Additionally, share your concerns with a primary care physician. Together with them, you can create a team that be a winning combination for your child’s health.

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