In 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.
Finding the right weight for you. When it comes to weight loss, it’s important to pick the right plan for you, not just the plan that’s popular at the time. There are no lack of fad diets promising fast results. But such diets limit your nutritional intake, can be unhealthy, and tend to fail in the long run. Lifestyle Changes are Key Short term diets generally fail. Short term diets do not help you to change your habits for the long run. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is about the lifestyle changes you decide to make. Healthy eating, regular physical activity, and balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses, are all key to changing your lifestyle. Staying in control of your weight contributes to good health now and as you age. Balancing Diet and Activity to Lose and Maintain Weight If your body weight has not changed for several months, you are in caloric balance. If you need to gain or lose weight, you’ll need to balance your diet and activity level to achieve your goal. Your doctor can help you decide how many calories you should have in a day to achieve and maintain your recommended weight. Keep track. To learn how many calories you are taking in, write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day. By writing down what you eat and drink, you become more aware of what you are consuming. Also, begin writing down your physical activity each day and the length of time you do it. Need more tips to help you get on track to a healthy weight? Talk to your doctor to discuss the best track for you and how you can set goals that are achievable.