Statistics show that athletes are more likely to develop eating disorders than people who are not regularly engaged in sports.
According to a Norwegian study, athletes are three times more susceptible to eating disorders, with 14% of 1, 620 athletes evaluated as having such. This is a stark difference from the 5% recorded estimate of people affected with an eating disorder among the general population.
Dr. James Greenblatt confirms that these findings truly reflect the experience of athletes today. Greenblatt is the chief medical officer and vice president of medical services at Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, Massachusetts.
According to an Everyday Health article written by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers and medically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD, anorexia and bulimia are the two main kinds of eating disorders, both among the general population and among athletes. Individuals with anorexia restrict themselves from eating due to food obsessions, while those with bulimia eat food in large quantities (or binge, as it is commonly called) then purge to trigger vomiting. Bulimia is also associated with excessive exercise.
Ron Thompson, PhD of the Indiana University Athletic Department, athletes of 'lean' sports are at a greater risk in developing these eating disorders. Lean sports are those with a weight-class requirement, wherein having a low body weight is seen as more advantageous in the competition. Such sports include diving, ballet, gymnastics, rowing, jockeying, cycling, running, martial arts, and wrestling.
Athletes playing judged sports are also more likely to have eating disorders, compared to athletes of refereed sports. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders have found that 13% of judged sport athletes suffer from eating disorders, compared to 3% of refereed sports.
It also matters that high-performance athletes have perfectionist personalities. According to Dr. Greenblatt, traits common among anorexia patients are also common among high-performance athletes- competitiveness, hyperactivity, preoccupation with weight and dieting, high self-expectations, and depressive tendencies.