Disorders and Weight Control Behaviors Change Over a Collegiate Sport Season

A, Petrie T, & Anderson C. J Sci Med
. 2017; Published online ahead of print              

Take Home Message: Female athletes with an eating disorder
will most likely continue to have the eating disorder throughout their
competitive season.

Athletes, especially females in
aesthetic sports, are susceptible to an array of eating disorders.  Researchers have assessed the frequency of
eating disorders in sports; however, there is limited research that have followed
athletes over time to study changes in eating disorder behaviors. Therefore,
these authors investigated eating disorder behaviors in collegiate female
gymnasts and swimmers over the course of the course of a 5 month competitive
season.  A total of 325 athletes provided
questionnaire answers at the beginning of their season and then again just
before the season concluded.  These
questionnaires included the 50 item Questionnaire for Eating Disorder Diagnoses and 6 questions from the Bulimia Test-Revised.  Prior to the season, 20 athletes reported a
clinical eating disorder and another 83 were classified with subclinical eating
disorder behaviors.  The number of
clinical eating disorders increased over the course of the seasons, while the
number of subclinical decreased. 
Athletes with clinical eating disorders were extremely likely to still
have eating disorder behaviors at the end of the season, with 90% still
reporting some level of eating disorder as the season was concluding.  Among the athletes with subclinical eating
disorder behaviors before the season, 37% continued to have subclinical levels
of eating disorders while 11% developed more severe symptoms. This cohort of
female athletes commonly reported weight control behaviors such as dieting and
excessive exercise that decreased as the season progressed. 

These authors found that female
swimmers and gymnasts with eating disorders are likely to still have symptoms
at the end of a season.  We need to find
appropriate tools for screening and successful intervention.  It would have been interesting to see whether
any of these athletes were already diagnosed or currently undergoing counseling
for management of these conditions.  These
authors reported a relatively high number of subclinical eating disorders who
may benefit from educational programming directed at healthy eating
behaviors.  Athletes are always looking
for ways to “find an edge” and improve their athletic performance.  For some athletes, this includes weight
control and excessive exercising.  Most
athletes do not realize that excessive exercising can be an unhealthy behavior,
which could compromise their performance, and jeopardize their health.  This study investigated female athletes in
aesthetic sports – it would be interesting to see if these patterns are
consistent in non-aesthetic female sports, as well as male sports with weight
control (e.g., wrestling).  Disordered
eating has been found to typically last for a few months at a time; however,
female athletes with particularly long athletic seasons may be likely to
exhibit these behaviors for much longer time frames.  As clinicians, we need to find ways to recognize
and help these athletes, because it is evident that they either do not
understand that this is harmful or that they cannot help themselves.

for Discussion:  Do you currently use any
surveys or screening tools for identification of eating disorders?  What do you think is the best approach to
make sure athletes are being honest and seeking help for eating disorders?
Nicole Cattano
by: Jeffrey Driban


Female Athlete Triad Screening: Is the Preparticipation Evaluation Form Effective?

Thompson, A., Petrie, T., & Anderson, C. (2017). Eating disorders and weight control behaviors change over a collegiate sport season Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.03.005