Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex expressions of emotional distress that typically involve a person’s relationship with food and weight.

The main types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa (AN) - Deliberate weight loss, fear of weight gain and fat and body image disturbance.
  • Bulimia Nervosa (BN) - A pattern of deliberate weight loss, interspersed with binges (uncontrolled over eating) and subsequent compensatory behaviours (induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, over-exercising).
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED) - Recurrent episodes of binge eating resulting in weight gain.
  • Other Specified Eating Disorders - Related difficulties that do not fully meet the criteria for either AN, BN or BED.

Eating disorders occur more commonly in females than in males. Eating disorders have wide-ranging health consequences, including one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health condition.

Eating disorder symptoms include:

  • Marked weight loss, gain or fluctuations
  • Fatigue dizziness or fainting
  • Oral and dental abnormalities (e.g. perimolysis, parotoid enlargement)
  • Cardiorespiratory difficulties (e.g. arrhythmias, oedema)
  • Gastrointestinal difficulties (reflux, haemorrhoids)
  • Endocrine difficulties (amenorrhea, low bone mineral density)
  • Neurological / neuropsychological (e.g. seizures, memory loss, poor concentration)
  • Dermatologic (e.g. hair loss, calluses on back of hand)
  • Other comorbid mental health problems

Eating Disorders – Considerations for Elite Athletes

Athletes are more at risk for disordered eating if they believe it is possible to enhance their sports performance through weight regulation. Three key periods have been identified as representing increased risk for people involved in competitive physical activity: the development stage, noncompetition periods, and retirement or cessation of intense physical activity.

Certain personality attributes seen more frequently in elite athletes (e.g. perfectionism, tendency towards unrelenting standards, high self-discipline to the point of over-control) can be expressed in their relationship with food, body image or exercise and may cross a line into dysfunctional.

Peer groups influence social norms and valuations of self-worth and athletes may find themselves in an environment where their peers also hold many of the same personality attributes and where restricting or amending food intake, exercise and over controlled behaviours are seen as important and the norm.