Interpersonal difficulties as a risk factor for athletes’ eating psychopathology
Shanmugam, V., Jowett, S. and Meyer, C. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2013. doi: 10.1111/sms.12109
Take Home Message: An athlete’s perceived level of conflict with a coach is related to his/her risk of developing an eating psychopathology.
Eating disorders are far from uncommon within the realm of athletics and recent research has identified athletes to be at an increased risk of developing eating disorders as well as problematic eating attitudes. Eating disorders can lead to long term detrimental physiological and psychological outcomes and are the leading cause of mortality above all other mental health issues. Due to the fact that it is not understood why exactly athletes are particularly at risk for eating disorders, investigation in this subject matter is extremely important. This article delves into research about this subject and tries to determine the predictive role of interpersonal difficulties such as relationship quality and attachment styles on eating psychopathology among competitive British athletes. The study involved 122 British athletes (36 males and 86 females) with a mean age of ~21 years and ranging from collegiate to athletes at international competitive levels. Some of the athletes were involved with individual sports such as swimming, cycling and judo, while the other athletes participated in team sports such as rugby, football, and hockey. Data collection consisted of a study pack including a demographic questionnaire, Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire, Sport-Specific Quality of Relationship Inventory, and Experiences in Close Relationships. The athletes completed the packs at baseline and at this time the authors collected their body mass index (BMI). Six months later the authors gave the same study pack to the athletes and measured the athletes’ BMI again to collect a second round of data. This study found that out of all of the possible predictors, the conflict with the coach was the only independent predictor of athletes’ eating psychopathology.
This study helps solidify the idea that those suffering from unsupportive relationships that are constantly filled with conflict, especially athletes, can be at increased risk of suffering from eating disorders or problematic eating attitudes. Although we still cannot be 100% sure why exactly athletes are at more risk for eating disorders, this study found that interpersonal relationships, especially between player and coach, play a huge role in eating psychopathology. We can hypothesize that because athletes spend countless amounts of hours in the company of their teammates and coaches due to their rigorous schedules, these relationships may not always be healthy or without conflict and can cause increased risk of unhealthy eating habits and attitudes. The findings of this study could allow for immediate education to be implemented in athletic venues in regards to training athletes and coaches about the potential issues surrounding eating habits. Education is key, but if all else fails, there could also potentially be other interventions involving sports nutritionists and even sports psychologists to work with both the athletes as well as coaching staff. This study could potentially be used in many different venues of athletics as well, such as cheerleading, ballet, rowing, gymnastics, and also wrestling, all sports that demand a large amount of practice, time, and effort, but also there is such a stigma about what these athletes should look like, which I would presume could pose a even higher risk of poor eating psychopathology.
Questions for Discussion: As a clinician, have you ever had to deal with a patient who was suffering from an eating disorder and found it was due to their interpersonal relationships? Do you feel like it should be part of the role of an athletic trainer to be trained to identify “divergent” relationships between players and coaches? How important is it for athletes to feel like they can go to their supervising clinician for a “safe haven” to discuss any possible issues regarding eating issues and/or unhealthy relationships?
Written by: Chelsea Jacoby
Reviewed by: Lisa Chinn and Jeffrey Driban
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