Disordered Eating in the Female Athlete

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Disordered Eating in the Female Athlete

The majority of female athletes foucs on their diets in order for them to fit the shape and build required or expected for their specialisation but they walk a fine line between careful eating habits and obsesive eating habits. Sometimes the drive for pefection can not only hinder their performance but can actually put their lives at risk.

According to the Mayo Clinic Staff 'eating disorders are a group of serious conditions in which you're so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. They say that the main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder'.

HOW ARE ATHLETES WITH EATING DISORDERS HELPED?Many athletes will not have a personal trainer and or health advisor and may be trying to do their exercise and sport by themselves. This can lead to them choosing their own diet or eating pattern. Evidently athletes are choosing the wrong diet plan and are therefore not getting the nutrition they need or are suffering eating disorders.Nutritionists state that athletes are more prone to eating disorders than non athletes. The manner of the sports can also depend on the disorder. For example Sundgot-Borgen (1987) says that sports such as Gymnastics, Dancing, diving, weight lifting (bodybuilding) can encourage athletes to watch their body appearance more than other sports. Especially in women this may encourage them to be losing as much weight as possible or even gain weight for the body building. This is described as being body image orientated.

Disordered eating in the female athlete!

Disordered eating and eating disorders can come in different guises but generally all of them lead to the same outcome, poor health, menstrual disturbances and osteoporosis (bone density loss). Initially the athletes performance may improve, they may feel like they have more energy to participate in longer and harder training sessions but this is probably due to an increase in adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol (all part of the fight or flight hormonal response). This probably happens becasue the body is trying to get them to find food but the signals are misunderstood and they just train harder than ever.Eventually the athletes poor diet will catch up with her. As the glycogen stores get depleted her health and performance will suffer due to increased fatigue, reduced cardiac output and a reduction in maximal oxygen consumption. Due to a lack of protein the body will not be able to repair the muscles which will lead to a loss of muscle mass, this will result in reduced strength and endurance. If her fat intake is below 10% of her total calorific intake the fat soluble nutrients will be lacking and deficiencies in minerals and vitamins will increase the risk of infections, injuries and muscle weakness.

Athletes with eating disorders and disordered eating will suffer from fatigue, nutritional deficiencies and a dramatic reduction in performance level

What is Anorexia Nervosa?Anorexia Nervosa (Anorexia) is a serious psychiatric condition. The word ‘Anorexia’ means loss of appetite. Anorexia works by self starvation, people who suffer with this condition become overly-obsessed with losing weight and dieting to the point that they ignore their bodies hunger signals. Denial and the desire to control are the two major features of this condition. As anorexia progresses weight loss can become extreme, and sufferers often develop psychological and physioloigical problems.What is Bulimia Nervosa?Bulimia means ‘ox-hunger’; this is a reference to the insatiable appetite that accompanies Bulimia. People with this disorder tend to use extreme methods to lose weight, alternating between strict dieting as well as overeating. Bulimia is characterised by repeated cycles of bingeing and purging.Bingeing means eating a large amount of food in a short period of time.Purging means getting rid of the food by self-induced vomiting and/or abuse of laxatives, diet pills or diuretics. Some sufferers also take part in an excessive amount of exercise to try and stop their weight from increasing.

Psychologist can help a sufferer re-establish the sense of hunger and food, with the aid of a food log and plan. With this the client can write down their food intake and this can be referred back to the nutritional psychologist and they can determine where the problems lay and how to improve it.

For athletes with eating disorders there is a support network that they can use to get help and advice on their particular disorder. The advice given will vary dependent on what the athlete needs to achieve. The advice will not just be nutritional but will also involve psychological therapies as well.

A health plan used for Olympic athletes to help them stay strong and healthy for training, and avoid chances of eating disorders is as follows: DONT SKIP BREAKFAST – Blood sugar levels are low when waking up, this should be boosted before going for morning exercise.STAY HYDRATED – staying hydrated all day whether training or not will keep the body healthy and strong.BOOST IMMUNITY – athletes should include whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and colourful fruits and vegetables in their snacks and meals every day to keep their bodies healthy and to avoid illness.LIFT IRON – It is more common in women to be deficient in iron, being low in iron can slow the body down and increase chances of injuries. Eating foods such a green vegetables in every meal is recommended.PLAN AHEAD – Make a meal plan for the week around training and home time to avoid last minute take aways or fast foods.DONT DIET – Dieting can psychologically cause people to feel the need to keep losing weight when they think they are doing well or conversly binge on food as they feel they have been denying themselves. This will rapidly lead to a drastic eating disorder.CRANK THE CARBS – Having a high carb breakfast and taking in 30g of carbs during training will provide the athlete with enough energy to keep on going. In a female adult, the body can only utilise a maximum of 30g of carbohydrates in one go, so consuming more than this will be excessive eating and will do no good.RECOVER CORRECTLY – After training the athlete should consume a good mix of protein and carbohydrates to recover and reduce the chance of muscular injuries.

Created By:Simone Clark-U1334964Bethany Ackerly-U1334320Amber Eve-U1314410