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?