Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Monday, January 31, 2011

Recognizing Disordered Eating

As mentioned in previous posts, it is important as a coach, athletic trainer, and teammate you are watching for signs of eating disorders. Most people will not admit they have a problem and will not seek help on their own. Because of the secretive nature of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, it can be difficult to recognize when a student-athlete has a problem. However, if you are aware of some signals of disordered eating, you may be able to help an athlete before it develops into a full blown eating disorder. A short summary of some of the signs of disordered eating that you can watch for are listed below.

What they say: Someone may try to avoid eating a team meal or eating on the road by consistently saying “I already ate”, “I’m not hungry,” or “My stomach hurts.” If this avoidance becomes a pattern, consider talking with the athlete. The athlete may also be constantly talking about how they look or mentioning that they are fat or need to lose weight, even though they are at a normal or below normal weight.

How they act: Mood changes or social isolation can also be a sign of disordered eating. Watch for athletes who start to avoid hanging out with the group or who have gone from being generally happy to sad or seemingly depressed. Also be aware of whether or not student-athletes are skipping meal times or sneaking off right after a meal consistently.

How they look: Changes in weight can be another sign of disordered eating. If an athlete appears much thinner after a summer or winter break you may need to talk with them. Also, be on the lookout for hair loss, dry skin and hair, calluses on the palms of the hand, facial swelling, or brittle nails.

If you have an athlete you suspect has a problem, suggest they talk with health professionals on campus. Remember, disordered eating isn’t just a physical problem; it is a mental and behavioral issue as well. It is not as simple as increasing their caloric intake, they have to deal with their misperceptions about their body and food as well. Please encourage them to get help and use the resources below.

Academy for Eating Disorders
National Eating Disorders Foundation

NIMH Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders and Athletes

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