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
. 2013;35(3):237-242

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

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.

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