Athletes and eating disorders, when the two worlds collide.

Most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility that these two worlds would even be mentioned in the same sentence. When people think of athletes, they think of a person that is in their prime full of life and full of health. People think of athletes as the epitome of perfection.

Herein lies the issue; certain sports require a certain look, an expectation within certain sports to maintain a certain body image. All too often, the pressure to remain in peak performance, to maintain the image required within a certain sport, begins as innocently enough as a little diet or an added exercise routine in order to “stay in the game.”

Athletes who are often in the figure conscious sports, are under enormous amounts of pressure to maintain their sports ideal, most often the in the sports of figure skating, gymnastics, and dancing, such as ballet. Eating disorders are very common within these fields.

Sports that require muscle mass and bulk, such as, football or weight lifting, eating disorders are not as common, with the exception to wrestlers who tend to binge. Often wrestlers will binge on carbohydrates, in order to load them up into their system and then purge in order to make the lower weight class.

Men also seem to be naturally protected somewhat, due to their basic biology. In general men have more lean muscle and less overall body fat tissue than women. And men tend to have a higher metabolic rates and it is easier for them to burn calories faster.

Wrestler seem to be in a higher risk due to their mentality, that parallels those with eating disorders in general, as they chronically push themselves to improve, to be stronger, to weigh less, and they have an unwavering to desire to excel.

The female athlete is not only subject to constant social pressure to be thin by general society, but she’s also under the demands of an athletic subculture, which overvalues performance, size and weight. Everything is gauged upon her appearance, as well as her performance. Often this puts them at a higher risk for seeking unhealthy ways to achieve weight loss.

Compulsive exercising is one of the most common ways of weight loss, along with calorie restriction amongst female athletes. Stress fractures and other injuries are prevalent, when these two factors are practiced. For female athletes who practice calorie restriction and excessive exercising, are often left without a menstrual cycle due to lowered estrogen levels from restriction of calories. If this is carried on, over an extensive period of time, it can lead to other complications such as cardiac issues or kidney failure.

Is there an end in sight? It’s hard to say, although awareness about eating disorders in general is more out in the open now, than they ever have been. As with any eating disorder, it is up to the individual and their desire to recover. Athletic departments taking a stand about unrealistic body image and industry standards may help in the long run, but in the world of athletics, for which all of its participants strive for perfection, stamina, and on the never ending quest for an idealized body shape, it looks like it may take awhile.