Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: The Man in the Mirror: Disordered Eating and Body Image among Males in Weight-Intensive Sports (Sports Med Res)
Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Man in the Mirror: Disordered Eating and Body Image among Males in Weight-Intensive Sports

Disordered Eating Behaviors and Body Image in Male Athletes

Goltz FR, Stenzel L, Schneider C. Disordered eating behaviors and body image in male athletes. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2013;35(3):237-242

Take Home Message: This study found no difference in body fat percentage between those with disordered eating and those without. However, sports that emphasized leanness (such as swimming) had higher scores on disordered eating inventories than athletes in sports with weight classes.  There was a relationship between male athletes with higher levels of body fat and body image dissatisfaction. 

Athletes who participate in sports that put an emphasis on weight are at a higher risk for potentially dangerous weight management behaviors, such as skipping meals or overeating, which can lead to the development of an eating disorder.  Recent studies have outlined the increasing number of males, especially athletes, diagnosed with eating disorders. Research among male athletes to assess possible relationships between body fat percentage and disordered eating or body image dissatisfaction may help us better identify athletes at risk for eating disorders.  The purpose of this study was to identify risky weight management behaviors and body image issues and their relationship to total body fat percentage in male athletes in high risk sports. The authors evaluated 156 male athletes in two Brazilian states who competed in sports that had weight classes (52 athletes; e.g., judo and wrestling), emphasized leanness to improve performance (52 athletes; e.g., swimming and cross country), or had high aesthetic ideals (52 athletes; e.g., skating and dance). Each participant completed three validated surveys. The Eating Attitude Test (EAT-26) evaluates restrictive eating and bulimic behaviors. The Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh (BITE), measures behaviors and thoughts associated with bulimia nervosa.  Finally, the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ) assesses their ideas about their body. The authors also measured the participants’ weight, height, and skinfolds (seven site method) to calculate body density and body fat percentage.  A total of 43 participants were recognized as having disordered eating (28% of sample) and 23 had a negative body image (15% of sample).  Athlete body dissatisfaction was associated with disordered eating behaviors. Interestingly, athletes with body dissatisfaction also tended to have higher body fat percentages. However, the authors found no relationship between disordered eating and body fat percentage. Sports that felt leanness improved performance had higher EAT-26 scores (more indicative of disordered eating) compared to sports that had weight-classes. 

This authors reported that a large number of male athletes in weight-intensive sports have disordered eating, even without a high body fat percentage. It is important for clinicians to know that disordered eating in male athletes may not be apparent in anthropometric measurements. Clinicians should try and ensure that these athletes have access to proper nutrition information and understand the dangers of disordered eating.   Clinicians need to be aware that while body fat has no direct correlation with disordered eating, it does relate to how male athletes view their bodies, which may predispose them to disordered eating. The study also shows that sports that emphasize leanness may have a higher rate of disordered eating than those participating in weight class sports. This is important for clinicians to take note of since sports that emphasize leanness are not necessarily as commonly thought of when considering disordered eating. Overall, this study illustrates the need for clinicians to not rely entirely on body fat percentage to predict disordered eating in male athletes participating in weight intensive sports.

Questions for Discussion: Do you think male athletes may be less likely to report body dissatisfaction or disordered eating? As a clinician, would you handle a female athlete with disordered eating differently than a male athlete with disordered eating?  Do you think, as a clinician, there is sometimes pressure to ignore disordered eating in athletes that participate in weight intensive sports?

Article Review By: Lauren Miller
Reviewed by: Lisa Chinn and Jeffrey Driban

Related Posts:

Goltz FR, Stenzel LM, & Schneider CD (2013). Disordered eating behaviors and body image in male athletes. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999), 35 (3), 237-42 PMID: 24142083

6 comments:

Catherine LeBlanc said...

Male athletes are typically clumped into two categories; the ones who want to "bulk up" and the ones who are trying to remain "lean" for their sport. I believe both of these groups can experience disordered eating, though in my experience it's more common to hear about the one trying to get bigger, than the one trying to be lean. As a female, I find it easier to discuss eating habits with females because I can relate better. I find it easier to relate with female athletes over males, though I have not yet experienced having to handle disordered eating in a male. In school, disordered eating is discussed within both genders, so I don't believe there is any discrimination in the education field. I also don't believe clinician's "ignore" disordered eating in weight intensive sports, but perhaps more apprehension as to when it's appropriate to intervene.
I really enjoy studies like this that break down issues that are not discussed on a regular bases. I think it would be a great addition to this study if gymnastics was included, because that sport encompasses both the "bulking up" and "needing to be lean" male athletes.

Tim Gribbin said...

As a clinician, I think there is definitely pressure to ignore disordered eating in weight intensive sports. Specifically in wrestling, if an athlete is cutting weight to fill a certain class, a clinician properly addressing disordered eating can be seen as that person hurting the team. Realistically, he or she has the athletes' best interests in mind and is trying to protect them from issues that come with disordered eating, but from a coach's and team's perspective, this is a hinderance to the team's success.

As a former wrestler, it is interesting to read this article. The mindset of a wrestler when cutting weight is hard to understand and almost impossible to explain unless you have lived it. From my experience, the disordered eating, dehydration, and exercise obsessions that come with cutting weight are not necessarily due to a negative body image. It comes from the either the team needing a certain weight class filled, or the wrestler being leaner and theoretically being stronger than other wrestlers in that class because he might have a lower body fat percentage and possibly more muscle mass than an opponent not cutting to reach the class. So somebody cutting down to 171 pounds would have a higher percentage of muscle mass and theoretically be stronger than an athlete who does not have to cut down to 171. This isn't the most sound logic, but it is what goes through the minds of wrestlers and coaches, especially in high school. Like I said, it is nearly impossible to really understand the mindset of a wrestler unless you have lived it.

Brittany Cavacloglou said...

When I think of men experiencing eating disorders, I automatically think about wrestlers who want to cut weight to make their weight class. Other than wrestling, I am surprised men turn to eating disorders due to the fact that most men don't want to lose weight, but gain muscle. It is important to stress to both genders the importance of proper eating and how disordered eating is only going to negatively affect the body in more ways than one. Do you think men are being over looked when it comes to eating disorders since it is not as common?

Kaitlyn Kelly said...

I am glad that this article discusses men with eating disorders. When most people think of eating disorders they automatically think of women. Most men are scene to want to gain muscle weight, but we do not think about sports such as swimming and cross country where it is good to have muscle but better to be lean with muscle. I think that this opens up a new way for men with eating disorders to view themselves. Do you think that these men will now be more likely to reach out for help with their disorder if more articles and research such as this appear?

Will Bradley said...

Of the 23 athletes that a negative body image, how many of them actually had an eating disorder? having a negative body image may not always correlate with an eating disorder.

Jeffrey Driban said...

Brittany - I think men's eating disorders are being overlooked for numerous reasons. As noted in the post, I think there is a difference between weight-class sports and other sports. When I wrestled, the team watched its weight very careful but in the off-season we often ate fairly healthy. As for sports that felt leanness improved performance I think we also need to think about how muscle dysmorphia fits into this. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1323298/

Kaitlyn: I think both sexes have a predisposition to not seek help, regardless of the research. They often times don't recognize the problem. I think as clinicians we need to be diligent and keep our eyes and ears open.

Will - Athlete body dissatisfaction was associated with disordered eating behaviors.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

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