Introduction to Eating Disorders in Female Athletes
Women participation in sporting activities has drastically increased since the 1970s as compared to the early stages when sports were predominantly associated with muscular activity. Sports has not only been profitable to women, but also exposed them to a number of challenges worth exploring. One of the challenges facing women athletes relates to their diet and eating disorders. This exposes them to certain restricted eating habits with the view of increasing their performance in athletics. This paper explores the concept of eating disorders among female athletes. The paper also focuses on the interrelationship between eating habits and athletics and some of the negative impacts of such eating disorders among female athletes. The paper also outlines some recommendations for overcoming the challenges and enhancing women performance in athletics.
Causes of Eating Disorders among Female Athletes. A report given by Greenleaf and Petrie reveals that problems associated with eating disorders are more common among athletes than non- athletes. Furthermore, female athletes are more vulnerable than their male counterparts because of the psychosocial and emotional components of their personality (Greenleaf & Petrie, 2010). This is the explanation that scholars of culinary deviations and disorders advance to explain why eating disorders are more common in female athletes than among their male counterparts.
Despite the fact that female athletes enjoy a number of health benefits such as improvement in cardiovascular health, physical fitness, and self-esteem, a number of factors have exposed them to eating disorders. For instance, the need to limit weight has, to a wide extent, posed women athletes to great diet risks. This is due to the fact that female athletes believe that reduction of weight is likely to improve their performance. Consequently, most female athletes voluntarily avoid food that can increase body weight, despite the fact that such products may be physiologically useful for their health and well-being (Greenleaf & Petrie, 2010).
Eating behaviors of teammates continue to affect many female athletes. It is a natural reality that different human bodies are likely to develop differences in food likes and dislikes. In fact, at one point one’s body may require certain food nutrients that may not be needed by others. Despite this variation in physiological and dietary requirements, female athletes are likely to imitate the eating habits of others without necessarily giving a priority to their personal interests and special dietary requirements (Powers & Johnson, 2007).
Team uniforms fitting as well as coach’s expectation remain a challenge for most female athletes. Female athletes are often expected to fit into their uniforms in a certain universal manner. Those, whose bodies do not comply with the requirements, are likely to adopt eating styles that may not be healthy. Some adopt a bulimic eating style to cope with this challenge.
Powers and Johnson argue that the nature of activity involved in athletics is likely to influence the female athletes` body size. However, this might be not universal for all athletes. Those, who are not satisfied, are thus likely to acquire new eating habits as a quick coping mechanism and strategy (Powers & Johnson, 2007). Most often when female athletes are not pleased with their body shape, they adopt short-term diet regulations that sometimes involve severe reduction in food intake in an attempt to reform the body shape or embrace slimness. As nutritionists report, this binge eating, whether driven by emotional or dietary restrains, is likely to escalate into some negative effects such as anger, guilt and shame, which are socially unhealthy (Powers & Johnson, 2007).
According to Arthur-Cameselle and Quatrimoni (2011), there is an interrelationship between diet and athletics among female athletes. This correlation has both internal and external factors intertwined in it (Arthur-Cameselle & Quatrimoni, 2011). Both internal and external factors are therefore not only attributed to the onset of this challenge, but also result from it. For instance, negative mood is one of the internal challenges associated with the problem. Since many female athletes are widely affected by emotional problems of stress, grief and loneliness, they are likely to begin demonstrating such eating disorders as a way of coping with internal emotional problems (Arthur-Cameselle & Quatrimoni, 2011).
There are claims and assertions that low self-esteem is responsible for eating disorders among female athletes. For instance, when athletes fail to win or achieve the expected results, they become sad and generally develop a self doubts and a sense of self-hate. In such a case, female athletes often begin engaging in negative self-evaluation. Through this, they begin to associate their failures with their body image or eating habits. Even though this might not be the only cause of such defeats, diet becomes one of the affected areas in the life of athletes (Arthur-Cameselle & Quatrimoni, 2011).
Arthur-Cameselle and Quatrimoni (2011) argue that perfectionism and drive for achievement marks the onset of eating disorders among athletes. Most of the reports continue to reveal connection between eating disorders and perfectionism. The struggle to reduce body weight has often led to poor eating habits. Female athletes adopt it despite the physiological, dietary and health risks related to these habits (Arthur-Cameselle & Quatrimoni, 2011).
The desire to exercise self-control is a natural driving force behind eating disorders among women athletes. Such athletes believe that to be powerful, one has to successfully and voluntarily exercise self-control over certain personal areas of life. Since food is a part of daily human needs, they feel proud and count it as an achievement if they control their eating habit. Though this might not be very dangerous at the onset, addiction is likely to affect the athletes` health later (Gresz & Lavine, 2012).
The external factors that are responsible for eating disorders include family dysfunctions. For instance, a number of female athletes are likely to stay away from their parents and spouses for a long time. In such cases, the athletes may turn to physical exercise along with eating disorders as a means of coping up with the family related issues (Gresz & Lavine, 2012).
Poor role modeling is an external factor that causes eating disorders among female athletes. This is mainly common in cases whereby an athlete links up to a model, such as a parent or senior athlete, who has already developed an eating disorder. In such a case, young athletes may blindly associate the success of such a model to their eating habits and tend to imitate such a lifestyle without necessarily weighing the consequences (Gresz & Lavine, 2012). Finally, sports performance can also be attributed to this problem. Certain female athletes can intentionally choose to reduce food intake just as a matter of improving their performance in sports. This is mostly common to runners than other athletes (Gresz & Lavine, 2012).
Negative Consequences of Eating Disorder in Female Athletes. Despite the fact that female athletes often associate eating habits and disorders with success in their sporting career, the reality is that such a lifestyle has very negative effects on health and general physiological development of the individuals involved. For instance, poor eating habits of female athletes often expose them to malnourishment, dehydration, fatigue, depression, obsession, anxiety and other physiological complications (Grengton & Morgan, 2008).
Lack of carbohydrates in the body is likely to cause early glycogen depletion, fatigue and general decrease in performance. In sports, cases of amenorrhea are often reported. Amenorrhea in this case refers to a situation whereby the body experiences low availability of energy to meet the demand for normal body process, growth and development (Grengton & Morgan, 2008).
Overcoming Eating Disorder in Female Athletes. Even though many female athletes engage in eating disorders as a matter of attaining the desired goal, the consequences are more negative than positive. From this argument therefore, there is a great need that necessary measures are taken to overcome, manage and treat this problem. In this process, Powers and Johnson argue that a number of factors need to be considered. First of all, the female athletes must be keen to identify the signs of eating disorders. These include preoccupation with food and weight, frequent drinking of diet water, compulsive and excessive exercises, habitual solitary eating as well as use of laxatives (Powers & Johnson, 2007).
The next procedure involves identifying the specific type of eating disorder. This will then propel the initiative to seek for relevant intervention programs. This process may require a positive initiative of the athlete herself as well as an encouragement by the coaches (Powers & Johnson, 2007). In more severe cases, Gresz and Lavine (2012) suggest that medical attention is necessary in addition to change of eating habits. In such cases, decisions and recommendations of medical officers regarding the need to temporarily withhold further exercise and competition need to be followed (Gresz & Lavine, 2012).
In summary, the issue of eating disorders is more common among female athletes as compared to their male counterparts. Despite the fact that they associate this to success in sports, there are studies indicating that such eating disorders expose female athletes to both internal and external challenges. Therefore, there is a need to manage and address the problem both psychologically and physiologically through medical, social and psychological interventions.