Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have devastating impacts on the person experiencing the disorder and their family or friends. Anyone can develop an eating disorder – including sportspeople. Wallabies star David Pocock revealed he suffered from a stress-related eating disorder he developed as a teenager in his early determination to become a world-class rugby player.
An article in The Conversation on ‘anorexia and bulimia’ highlighted that eating disorders are an increasing problem in children and adolescents , and are not just a concern for girls but for boys as well, with one in four sufferers of eating disorders being male .
According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), research shows eating disorders are estimated to affect approximately 9% of the population and that up to 20% of females may have undiagnosed eating disorders.
The causes of eating disorders in sportspeople and athletes can differ according to the individual and the sport they participate in. However, some of the reasons why someone may over-exercise and develop an eating disorder include: the competitive nature of sport and the ‘win at all costs’ attitude of doing anything to perform better (including sacrificing their physical health); and pressure from coaches on athletes to lose weight and perform arduous training to maintain a certain size or stature.
It is not always easy to detect someone who has an eating disorder as people with disorders may go to great lengths to disguise their behaviour. Some athletes may ignore health complications and injuries associated with bulimia or anorexia all for the sake of success in their chosen sport, when in fact they are risking their long-term sporting career and overall health.
The NEDC say there are warning signs that can signal the onset or the presence of an eating disorder (and sometimes a person may display a combination of these symptoms). These include:
(These warning symptoms are from the NEDC website at: www.nedc.com.au/recognise-the-warning-signs).
As parents and coaches it is important to be educated on how to recognise eating disorders and their warning signs. It’s also very important to get advice, information and support from professionals with specialised knowledge about eating disorders.
The NEDC has a range of guidelines and information on the identification, treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia and eating disorders at: www.nedc.com.au/fact-sheets
If you require immediate help go to: http://www.nedc.com.au/helplines