Identifying and Overcoming Eating Disorders

Too many athletes, males and females alike, struggle with food and weight. Their common belief is, "the lighter I am then the better my performance." This is not true, if the cost of attaining the perfect body is poorly fueled muscles, overuse injuries, and a dysfunctional relationship with food.

If you are an athlete who struggles with losing those last few pounds, take note. Weight issues may have little to do with body fat and more to do with feelings of inadequacy and insecurities. Haven't we all, as athletes, had these thoughts? Some athletes struggle with these thoughts more than others. They are the ones who can easily cross the line into having an eating disorder.

More: When Food is the Foe

An eating disorder distracts the athlete from the feelings that come with being "not good enough." After all, if you are always thinking about whether or not to eat, and how much to exercise, you are not thinking about feeling imperfect or inadequate. Unfortunately, using food to distract from those feelings can end up hurting your performance.

The following information, presented at a conference in Boston organized by the Multiservice Eating Disorders Association (MEDA), offers food for thought for athletes who struggle with finding the right balance of food, weight, and exercise. For additional information, check out MEDA's website, www. It's filled with helpful resources for teammates, friends and family members, as well as athletes with anorexia, bulimia, and food obsessions.

More: Athletes with Eating Disorders

Food for Thought

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Whether death is from heart arrhythmias or suicide, we need to pay attention when athletes struggle with food.  Athletes with anorexia not only lose arm and leg muscle but also simultaneously lose heart muscle.  The resulting arrhythmias can be a cause of death.

Athletes with anorexia may complain about "feeling full" despite a small food intake, and food that just "sits in the stomach." The solution is to gradually increase the caloric intake. Even though they may not feel hungry, their body is starving and needs fuel.

The purging associated with bulimia takes its toll in terms of not only electrolyte imbalance associated with vomiting, but also gray teeth (due to erosion of tooth enamel on the inside of the mouth), and dental caries. The person may also suffer from acid reflux, difficulty swallowing, and chronic constipation (if purging includes laxative abuse).

Thankfully, many medical issues are reversible but there are two issues that may remain cognitive dysfunction due to the brain shrinking and bone health. The bones (particularly in the spine, hip, and wrist) lose density. This increases the risk of stress fractures today and osteoporosis in later years.

More: Nutrition Tips for Better Bone Health

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