Athletes & Eating Disorders
Being a college athlete requires a tremendous amount of personal commitment. There are unique pressures and demands placed on college athletes. Both you and others expect you to "always do your best." Your coach and teammates depend on you. Often hundreds of people are watching your performance at athletic competitions. Practices and sporting events take a great deal of time, yet you are also expected and required to successfully handle the same rigorous academic schedule as other Middlebury students. The intensity of the demand of this combination, of both academic and athletic performances, is very significant and stressful. Sometimes these demands can result in self doubt, a troubling sense of inadequacy and/or heightened anxiety and the decision to "do whatever it takes" to be successful. Too frequently, "whatever it takes" may include an unrealistic goal regarding weight control, weight loss, or achieving a percentage of body fat that is lower than what your body can realistically maintain.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
1) Repeated disappearances immediately after meals, especially if a substantial amount of food was eaten. Often people who are bulimic will excuse themselves near the end of a meal and retreat to a bathroom in order to purge and rid themselves of what they consider to be an over consumption of food.
2) Agitation, irritability or nervousness if something or someone prevents the person from being alone shortly after eating. If a person coping with bulimia is prevented from purging after eating, they will often appear distracted and agitated.
3) Consumption of large amounts of food not consistent with an athlete's weight. The act of purging can reduce the amount of calories being absorbed by the body.
4) Bloodshot eyes after being in a bathroom or any other place where vomiting could have occurred. The act of forcing oneself to vomit creates pressure on the blood vessels in the face and eyes. This can result in the inflammation and rupture of blood vessels that is often most obvious in the sclera or whites of the eyes.
5) Vomit or the odor of vomit in the bathroom, toilet, sink, or wastebasket.
6) Extreme fluctuations in weight over a relatively short period of time. For example, weight fluctuation of + or -10 pounds.
7) Continuing concerns about "being overweight" or "being fat" even when the person's weight is below average. People with eating disorders do not have an accurate perception of their body size and shape.
8) Expressions of concern about "becoming fat" or "being fat" that do not diminish as weight loss continues. People with eating disorders have a distorted body image.
9) Eating in secret, hoarding food or stealing food. Evidence suggesting this behavior may include, friends or teammates noticing that their "snack food" is disappearing, finding many candy wrappers or food containers that appear to have been "hidden" by a person.
10) Complaints of lightheadedness or disturbance of equilibrium not accounted for by other medical causes.
11) Purposeless, excessive physical activity that goes beyond the expected training regime.
12) Avoidance of social or "typical" eating situations. For example, constantly refusing to eat in the dining halls.
13) Heart irregularities, palpitation, or arrhythmia's.
14) Loss of one's regular menstrual cycle, i.e., missing three periods in a row.
Any of these behaviors is cause for concern. However, the diagnosis of an eating disorder is best left to a trained professional. If you are concerned about your own relationship with food or the behavior of a friend or teammate, you are encouraged to speak with a health or mental health professional.
Because a young adult athlete's body is youthful and therefore somewhat forgiving, an athlete with anorexia or bulimia may continue to perform athletically quite well for longer periods of time than one might initially expect. However, it is just a matter of time before depriving the body of the needed energy supply and the needed nutrients will have an impact. Eating disorders, such as bulimia, have medical complications that effect virtually every organ system in the body to some degree.
Taking in an inadequate supply of vitamins can also have a negative impact on the body. For example, B complex vitamins help regulate important enzyme and metabolic functions. The heart, liver, thyroid, pancreas, skin, spleen, muscle tissue and kidneys can be affected by Vitamin B deficiencies. Vitamin A deficiency reduces the body's resistance to disease. Inadequate levels of Vitamin C in the body can contribute to anemia, reduced resistance to disease, and over-stimulation of the adrenal gland.
Health Consequences for Athletes
- loss of muscular strength
- loss of endurance
- decreased oxygen utilization
- decreased aerobic power
- decreased speed
- loss of coordination
- impaired judgment
- reduced blood volume
- less blood flow to the kidneys
- loss of muscle glycogen
- reduced heart function
- increased heart rate
- electrolyte loss
- inability to regulate body temperature