Water poloEating Disorders in Athletes

February 1, 2022

Each of us aspires to be the best possible version of ourselves, but today’s social media and media are full of false ideals, and we frequently lose sight of what is important in the sea of expectations that the world has for us. Even among amateurs, sports have taken on professional characteristics, but we must remember that the joy of sports and a sense of satisfaction in participating in them should take priority above outstanding achievements and a perfectly shaped body.

Sports are a great way to build self-esteem, promote physical conditioning and demonstrate the value of teamwork, but you must understand that not all athletic stressors are positive. The pressure to win and an emphasis on body weight and shape can create a toxic combination. The pressure on athletes to achieve certain goals in the form of a medal, victory, or physical appearance can also be a contributing factor to severe mental and physical stress, so it is very important to discuss this. 

A competitive sports environment emphasizes the ideal of thinness and creates pressure on athletes to build a look according to that ideal because they believe that such a body will lead to a performance worthy of a gold medal. When the pressures of sports competition are combined with the existing cultural emphasis on thinness, athletes are more likely to develop an eating disorder.

 Nutrition is a crucial aspect of life, particularly for athletes, because training requires increased physical effort, requiring a higher calorie intake as well as better quality foods rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins. Taking into account that children are more demanding about nutrition in their developmental stage, higher bills should not surprise you. Nutrition is a very important part of your children’s training and success.

 There is no agreement on what causes eating problems. An eating disorder is most likely caused by a combination of genetic, biochemical, psychological, family, environmental, and social variables.


The following are some of the FACTORS linked to the DEVELOPMENT OF EATING DISORDER:

  • Genetic factors are involved in the pathogenesis of eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Family distress – families who communicate poorly have members who are enmeshed with or estranged from each other, devalue the mother or the maternal role, have marital tension, or have trouble resolving conflict
  • Families with eating disorders
  • Chronic dieting
  • History of physical or sexual abuse;
  • Family and cultural pressures to be thin
  • Social influences emphasizing thinness
  • Other traumatic life experiences.


  • Sports that emphasize appearance, weight requirements, or muscularity such as water polo
  • Sports that focus on the individual rather than the entire team
  • Endurance sports such as swimming
  • The overvalued belief that lower body weight will improve performance
  • Training for a sport since childhood or being an elite athlete
  • Parents who live through the success of their child in sport
  • Coaches who focus primarily on success and performance rather than on the athlete as a whole person


Is There A Test For Eating Disorders?

There are no tests to prove that someone has an eating disorder, but there are several screening instruments that have been developed to identify patients with eating disorders. On the picture is a short one, named SCOFF. If you have 2 or more YES answers, this rapid test is considered sensitive and may indicate a problem with an eating disorder.

Although eating disorders are frequently classified as physical illnesses, it is vital to remember that they are caused by mental conditions. Every aspect of our living depends on our mental health.

Ten Strategies To Look After Our Mental Health

  1. Talk about your feelings
  2. Eat well
  3. Stay in touch with other people
  4. Take a break whenever you need it
  5. Do something you are good at
  6. Be active
  7. Avoid alcohol
  8. Ask others for help
  9. Take care of others
  10. Accept yourself with all your flaws and virtues

In this article, we will talk about the most common disorders,
anorexia nervosa and bulima nervosa. For athletes it is important to know that disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis are all part of the Female Athlete Triad. The lack of nourishment caused by disordered eating might result in the loss of many or more periods in a row. This, in turn, causes calcium and bone loss, putting the athlete at a far higher risk of stress fractures. Each of these conditions is a medical issue. They create serious health risks that could be fatal when combined. While any female athlete can develop the triad, adolescent females are particularly vulnerable due to active biological changes and growth spurts, peer and societal pressures, and rapidly changing life circumstances that accompany adolescence.


Anorexia Nervosa

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people want to weigh less than is healthy.

What Are The Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa?

  • You weigh much less than you should for your age and height
  • You eat too little  or exercise too much, maybe you skip meals and avoid eating in public
  • You are very worried about gaining weight so you are not eating, even when you are hungry.
  • You see your body and shape in an abnormal way, maybe you think you are fat even when you are underweight
  • You don’t understand that low body weight can cause serious medical problems
  • You feel good about yourself when you lose weight and bad when you gain weight

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa may cover their weight or deny that they have a problem. They typically refuse treatment because they are afraid of gaining weight. However, it is critical that patients seek treatment since anorexia nervosa can cause significant illness and death.

What Are The Problems Anorexia Nervosa Can Cause?

Anorexia nervosa can lead to a variety of issues. That’s because the body and brain aren’t getting enough nutrition. Anorexia nervosa can lead to:

  • Issues with the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and glands, among other things
  • Muscle weakness and bone loss
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hair that is thinning and nails that are easily broken
  • Feeling cold all of the time or being really sleepy
  • Depression – When people are depressed, they often feel sad, empty, or hopeless, and they don’t enjoy the things that usually make them joyful. Some people who are depressed consider harming themselves. Call your doctor or nurse straight away if you’re thinking about injuring yourself, or go to the hospital.
  • Anxiety – This is when people worry a lot or think about certain things over and over.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Problems with memory, thinking, or paying attention
  • Trouble sleeping

Can Anorexia Nervosa Be Treated And How?

Please, do not worry, you are not alone. Every problem has a solution, you just need some time and will to fix it!

Treatment for anorexia nervosa include:

  • Gaining weight – To gain weight, you will consult with your doctor and a dietician (food specialist). The dietician will develop meal programs that will allow you to gain weight healthily and gradually. Your weight and health will be continuously monitored by the doctor.
  • Psychotherapy – is a type of therapy in which you meet with a therapist to discuss your feelings, thoughts, and life. It could be one-on-one therapy with your therapist, family therapy, or group therapy with other individuals who have similar issues to you.
  • Medicines are rarely used
  • Some patients can be treated at home, while others require hospitalization. It is determined by the person’s weight, symptoms, and other factors.

Treatment for anorexia nervosa can be hard work, and it can take a long time. Complete recovery can take years. It is very important to know that anorexia nervosa can relapse but as soon as you notice any problem, please let your doctor or family or some good friend know so you can prevent serious events.

Bulimia Nervosa

What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people have episodes of overeating (called “binges”). After overeating, people then use unhealthy behaviors to rid their bodies of the food and avoid gaining weight (called “purges”).

Many people with bulimia nervosa are a normal weight for their height. Others may not realize they have an eating issue since their weight appears normal. However, because bulimia nervosa can create major difficulties, people must get treatment. 

Symptoms and problems bulimia nervosa is similar one to anorexia so is treatment.


What Are The Symptoms Of Bulimia Nervosa?

  • Binge at least once a week for 3 months or longer
  • Purge or exercise after they eat – To avoid gaining weight after overeating, people:
  • Make themselves vomit
  • Exercise too much
  • Use medicines to make themselves vomit, urinate, or have bowel movements
  • Judge themselves based on their weight and body shape – They feel good about themselves if they are thin and feel bad about themselves when they think they are overweight.

What Are The Problems Bulimia Nervosa Can Cause?

Bulimia nervosa can result in a variety of health issues. This is because people vomit too much or take many medications to prevent gaining weight. 

The following are examples of health issues:

  • Dehydration – you can feel thirsty, tired, dizzy, or confused
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Belly pain, bloating, and trouble having bowel movements
  • Damage to the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) due to vomiting
  • Damage to the teeth, gums, or cheeks is also due to vomiting, it is because the vomit is acidic
  • Problems with the heart, kidney, and glands
  • Depression ( explanation is written in anorexia nervosa section )
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Can Bulimia Nervosa Be Treated And How?

The treatment looks like one in anorexia nervosa, so I won’t complicate it too much.

  • Psychotherapy  (individual, family, group )
  • Medicines – Some medicines that treat depression can also help treat bulimia nervosa.
  • Dietitian – You can work with a dietitian (food expert) to make a healthy eating plan.

Most people with bulimia nervosa can be treated at home, but some need to be treated in the hospital. It depends on the person’s weight, symptoms, and health problems. Treatment for bulimia nervosa can be hard work, and it can take a long time. Complete recovery can take years and just like anorexia it can relapse. So please seek help immediately.

Now, when you know more, I would like to share some tips on how to better understand these problems and help someone who has them.


Why You Should Watch Eating Disorder Movies?

Films about anorexia, bulimia and other types of eating disorders might be tough to see for some individuals, but they can also help those who are suffering. Because eating disorders affect so many people and their families, it’s critical to raise public awareness so that more people are aware of the problem. Friends and family members of persons suffering from anorexia or bulimia must also offer support and assist them in finding professional care if necessary. Perhaps learning that a number of celebrities, actors, models, and singers,  have overcome their own issues will encourage that eating disorders can be conquered.


  1. Heathers (1989)
  2. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
  3. Thin (2006)
  4. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
  5. Binge (2017)
  6. When Friendship Kills (A Secret Between Friends) (1996)
  7. Perfect Body (1997)
  8. For the Love of Nancy (1994)
  9. To The Bone (2017)
  10. My Skinny Sister (2015.)
  11. Sharing the Secret (2000.)
  12. Dying to Dance (2001.)
  13. Thirteen (2003.)
  14. Feed (2017. )


Here is the list of celebrities: 

  • Taylor Swift – “I thought that I was supposed to feel like I was going to pass out at the end of a show, or in the middle of it. Now I realize, no, if you eat food, have energy, get stronger, you can do all these shows.”
  • Camila Mendes  – “If I ate a sweet, I would be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to eat for five hours now.’ I was always punishing myself. I was even anxious about healthy food: Did I eat too much of the avocado? Did I have too many fats for one day? I was consumed with the details of what I was eating, and I always felt as if I was doing something wrong.”
  • Troian Bellisario -once you have this relationship, once you have this mental illness or this disease, it never really goes away. It was amazing for me to realize, ‘Oh god, this is still all just lying under the surface. I’ve just gotten really good at either ignoring it or choosing to not engage with it,’
  • Lily Collins – “No matter what I’ve endured in the past, what I’ve put myself through, or what others have done to me, I have the ability and the will to move forward.

The modern world of youth is full of mutual assessments related to appearance and beauty, and beauty criteria emphasize thinness as the greatest value. To insecure people who feel bad about their body and a seemingly innocent incidental remark or joke can be a trigger for radical changes in body appearance. They develop a panic fear of obesity. Challenges are numerous in modern society, and anxiety and loss of self-confidence in generations of young people are ubiquitous. We know that young people often have fun with jokes at the expense of someone’s appearance. Sometimes it seems like an innocent, maybe sympathetic joke, and yet it can be a trigger for a radical diet in insecure young people. Not knowing how to defend yourself, you prefer to reach for a diet. Although the influence of the environment is not crucial in the development of the disorder, it should not be neglected as one of the factors in its development.

So here are
tips for you, if you are struggling eating disorder or if you know someone who is, or maybe you are the lucky one and have never been in that situation, but those things you should know!

  • LOVE YOURSELF just the way you are
  • LOVE OTHERS the way you love yourself
  • If you have any problems, share them with friends, family, your training colleagues, and your coach.
  • If you see someone else struggling, don’t close your eyes and pretend it’s not a problem, give a hand of friendship and a smile, a smile sometimes means more than words
  • Now we’ve educated you a little bit about nutrition issues, but please keep talking about it
  • Try not to succumb to stereotypes and try not to characterize people by their appearance, find some of their virtues and emphasize them instead of physical appearance
  • If you decide to talk to a person who has an eating disorder, you may encounter rejection or resentment, but believe me, everyone appreciates when they notice that someone is caring for them.
  • Food should not be seen as a source of concern, it should be treated as something that gives us pleasure and helps us maintain vital functions
  • It is not a shame to seek professional help, in fact, it is the first and big step towards your healing


  • Take eating disorders very seriously!
  • Early detection of the problem improves the chances of a successful therapy; for example, watch for those who are chronically dieting. Talk with them, and refer them to a health professional/dietitian.
  • Diminish the importance of weight by not weighing athletes and removing weight-related comments. Instead, focus on strength and conditioning, as well as the mental and emotional aspects of performance.
  • HEALTH IS ALWAYS BEFORE PERFORMANCE! Don’t assume that losing weight or body fat will improve performance. Not all athletes are the same and losing weight for people with a predisposition to developing eating disorders, this myth can be fatal.
  • EDUCATION IS AN IMPORTANT PART! Teach coaches and trainers how to spot the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and how to prevent them. Maybe you can watch some of the movies I mentioned before and after that, discuss them with your group.
  • Emphasize the importance of proper nutrition and health consequences.
  • As a coach,  promote a positive self-image and self-esteem in your athletes. Remember, if athletes do not take care of their bodies, they risk losing their athletic careers.
  • Think of athletes as the whole person, pay attention to their emotions, reward them for successes that are not just related to sports. Reward them if they are good and honest and emphasize how important is what we are on the inside, not on the outside.

We have all been in situations when we were criticized for our appearance, whether we were too skinny, too obese, with little muscle, a huge nose, or clumsy ears, but we must remember that no one is perfect and that what we are on the inside is far more important than what we are on the surface. Above all, our health should be a priority for us, because, without it, everything else is meaningless.

Remember, if you have problems, the most important step, towards the exit, is the decision to want to get out! Be brave, all the power of this world is right in you!


Image courtesy of Unsplash and Pixabay.



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