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Eating Disorders in Athletes

By Hilary Schafer--Being an athlete has given my life meaning. Being part of a team sport is extremely fulfilling and can bring a lot of happiness, especially in a time like high school where it feels like everyone is judging you for something.

In many sports though, how you look affects how you perform and that, combined with lower self-esteem, can lead to dangerous eating disorders in athletes.

When you’re a young adult, the pressure for your body to look a certain way and match societal norms is incredibly high. You are made to feel like you are less of a person if you do not measure up. This can become even more stressful as a competitive athlete. In many sports there is a pressure  to have a specific appearance for performance.  I found this to be true when I competed as a figure skater and then again as a swimmer.

When I started swimming my freshman year of high school, my body didn’t match those of the fastest girls. As I started to improve and my body started to conform, I got more and more attention from coaches for my new abilities. I knew that how my body looked affected how I performed. As my talents rose, my body image declined. I was obsessed with what and how much I was putting in my body so that I could stay as lean and as, what I considered, “healthy” as possible to be faster in the water.

Many people begin to obsess about their body image so that they can be the best in their sport. In sports, such as gymnastics, men’s wrestling, and figure skating, there is a significant focus on how the body looks and if you don’t look that way, you may not be able to compete or get the attention from a coach that you want or need.  It is easy to begin to focus a lot of your energy on how you look and take that to dangerous levels so that you may succeed. This focus can become intensified when your body is under scrutiny from a coach that you are seeking the approval of.

Eating disorders are rampant among competitive athletes. Bringing extremely dedicated people into a sport where there is a need to control your body can lead to devastating consequences. The need to succeed and get approval for your successes and minimize your failures can lead many athletes into eating disorders of one kind or another.

There are resources for coaches and trainers, as well as resources to help athletes in need of support. You can use the help-line through the National Eating Disorder Association to speak to someone about how you are feeling or additional resources.  There's also a Click-to-Chat function! You can also use the free screening tool to see if you or someone you love might have an eating disorder. There is always someone there to help you. You are not alone. To be the best athlete and you that you can be, your health is required!

About this blogger: Hilary is a graduate of the university of Florida where she received a B.A. in sociology. She is currently applying for her master’s degree in clinical social work programs. She is hoping to focus on eating disorders and body image. She is also co-coordinating the 3rd Annual NEDA walk in Gainesville, FL! 

For more on fitness, athletics, body image, and EDs:

A History of Triggers and My Journey to Recovery

Stepping Off the Treadmill: How I Discovered What Healthy Exercise Really Feels Like

Twirlgate: Women Athletes Deserve Better

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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