Help for Gymnasts with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are especially common among athletes and are often associated with the pressure of the sport environment. There are three primary types of eating disorders, including:

  • Anorexia nervosa – This disorder is characterized by an unusually extreme and unhealthy desire to be thin and the refusal to eat food.
  • Bulimia nervosa – This disorder is characterized by the extreme pattern of overindulging in food (binging) and then violently releasing the food (purging).
  • Binge eating – This disorder is characterized by overindulging in food, then avoiding food for long periods of time.

For athletes, certain compulsive behaviors such as excessive exercise and restricted eating patterns are seen as acceptable. While this competitive environment might be at the root of the problem, it is reinforced by peer pressure from coaches and fellow athletes to maintain a certain body size and shape. When you combine the environmental and social pressures, an athlete can readily succumb to the emotional and psychological effects of negative self-evaluation and anxiety.

Which Athletes Are at Risk for Eating Disorders?

The following are three variables that affect the likelihood of an athlete developing an eating disorder:

  • Does the sport require rigid weight control behaviors?
  • Is the sport judged subjectively or objectively?
  • What is the gender of the athlete?

Being a female in a subjectively judged sport that has a weight control requirement can make you more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Eating Disorders and Gymnasts

During the last two decades, the image of the world-class gymnast as a very thin prepubescent girl has become more alarming. For example, the average size of the U.S. team alone has declined from 5’3″, 105 pounds in 1976 to 4’9″, 88 pounds in 1992. Even more alarming is the all-around gold medalist of the 1993 world championships: 16-year-old Shannon Miller who at the time was only 4’10”, 79 pounds.

Anorexia is often associated with a person who is willing to use excessive measures to maintain a thin figure. Gymnasts may fear their maturing bodies and developing hips or breasts may change their appearance and actually require them to alter their performances. In addition, since many gymnasts first enter the sport at a very young age, it is difficult for them to know a lifestyle outside that targeted training. Often, these young children have a regimen that they simply follow without giving thought to whether it is healthy for them or not. As they mature, their focus is more on maintaining a weight and shape that supports their competitive drive than it is on staying nutritionally healthy.

Get Help for Eating Disorders

Having your entire lifestyle driven by an unrealistic and unhealthy body image and eating disorder could literally kill you. If you are struggling with disordered eating or pressure to be thin, call our toll-free helpline today to learn about eating disorder treatment options that are right for you. While recovery is difficult, it is possible and we can help, so please call today. We are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about eating disorder treatment programs. We are here to help.