Anorexia Athletica

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Anorexia Athletica

In the United States today, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder (Collins). The two most commonly known eating disorders in America are anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by extremely low body weight, distorted body image and an obsessive fear of gaining weight and bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating, followed by purging. While eleven million is a startling number, eating disorders are even more prevalent among athletes, particularly those involved in types of sports that place great importance on the athlete’s weight and the need to be thin. The reasons for this higher percentage of eating disorders among athletes in comparison to non-athletes had been explained in several studies. However, there are several conflicting models of how athletic participation might be related to eating problems (Smolak). Some studies have posited that there is no difference between anorexia in non-athletes and anorexia athletica, the common term for eating disorders frequent among athletes. While there are similar psychological factors at play in both cases, there are several unique features to athletes’ eating disorders that earn anorexia athletica a distinction from other disorders. Some studies suggest that the link between athletics and eating problems is nothing more than a greater frequency of common problems evidenced in non-athletes. Certainly there are similarities in athletes and non-athletes suffering from eating disorders; in fact, there are many personality characteristics and attributes associated with eating problems that might also be descriptive of athletes: competitiveness, concern with performance, compulsive concern with body shape, and perfectionism (Brownell). The same competitive, perfectionist attitude that all elite athletes share can lead to distorted body image and ultimately lead to serious eating disorders. While there is some credence to this theory, some studies go so far as to discount the label “anorexia athletica” completely which I believe to be an oversimplification of a serious disorder. The fact of the matter is eating disorders extremely high prevalence of eating disorders in athletes, especially female athletes, cannot be explained away by oversimplifications and generalizations. While the eating disorders in athletes and non-athletes have the same result: reduction in body fat mass, the reasons behind the changes are different. In anorexia athletica, the reduction in body mass is based on performance and accomplishment above all and not unwarranted distress about body shape and appearance (Sudi). When it comes down to it, athletes worry about weight to enhance their athletic performance, not to to fit into the latest fall fashions. There’s also a huge difference in the expectations of both groups – the athletes and non athletes. While the expectations of non-athletes may be vague (“I’ll feel better” or “I look so hot in a bikini”), the athletes have a set of rewards and achievements they believes they’ll get if they lose weight whether it be lowering their 100 meter time or finally landing that triple axle (ANRED). The importance of thinness and demands for self-discipline invite the female athlete to believe that she is being "good" when she limits her food. It causes the belief that if she is good for a long enough period of time, she will improve her performance, win more often, and achieve more glory. She associates weight loss with becoming quicker, faster, and stronger (Smolak). Another factor is that some athletes can perform well for a considerably long period despite the disorder. That influences their merit system and causes a belief that the eating disorder is required for the success and accomplishment. When their performance is begins to suffer, that in turn causes a belief the athletes need to cut back even more drastically...
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