National Eating Disorders Association

Athletes and Eating DisordersAthletics are a great way to build self-esteem, promote physical conditioning, and demonstrate the value of teamwork, but not all athletic stressors are positive. The pressure to win and an emphasis on body weight and shape can create a toxic combination. Athletic competition can also be a factor contributing to severe psychological and physical stress. When the pressures of athletic competition are added to an existing cultural emphasis on thinness, the risks increase for athletes to develop disordered eating. 

In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports that tend to place an emphasis on the athlete’s diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements, such as wrestling, bodybuilding, crew, and running. 

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  • Sports that emphasize appearance, weight requirements, or muscularity (gymnastics, diving, bodybuilding, or wrestling).
  • Sports that focus on the individual rather than the entire team (gymnastics, running, figure skating, dance or diving, versus teams sports such as basketball or soccer).
  • Endurance sports such as track and field, running, swimming.
  • Overvalued belief that lower body weight will improve performance.
  • Training for a sport since childhood or being an elite athlete.
  • Low self-esteem; family dysfunction (including parents who live through the success of their child in sport); families with eating disorders; chronic dieting; history of physical or sexual abuse; peer, family and cultural pressures to be thin, and other traumatic life experiences.
  • Coaches who focus primarily on success and performance rather than on the athlete as a whole person. Check out tips for coaches >
  • Three risk factors are thought to particularly contribute to a female athlete’s vulnerability to developing an eating disorder: social influences emphasizing thinness, performance anxiety, and negative self-appraisal of athletic achievement. A fourth factor is identity solely based on participation in athletics.


  • Positive, person-oriented coaching style rather than negative, performance-oriented coaching style.
  • Social influence and support from teammates with healthy attitudes towards size and shape.
  • Coaches who emphasize factors that contribute to personal success such as motivation and enthusiasm rather than body weight or shape.
  • Coaches and parents who educate, talk about, and support the changing female body

Infographic: Athletes & Eating Disorders

Athletes and Eating Disorders InfographicGet the facts on eating disorders and athletes with our infographic!





By Riley Nickols, PhD, CEDS

What is RED-S?

By Riley Nickols, PhD, CEDS

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published the consensus statement Beyond the Female Athlete Triad: Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S; Mountjoy et al., 2014) whereby RED-S expanded upon the Female Athlete Triad’s (Otis et al., 1997) three conditions: low bone mineral densityA condition that causes the amount of minerals contained in bones to decline, increasing risk of fractures, functional hypothalamic amenorrheaA condition where menstruation stops due to a problem involving hypothalamus, which is the control center of the brain ,and low energy availability (LEA)A state in which the body does not have enough energy to support all of its functions . A primary tenet of RED-S is that any athlete, regardless of gender, sport, or competitive level can experience this syndrome.

It is important for athletes and sport personnel to understand how RED-S can have damaging effects on all systems in the body including psychological functioning. The RED-S framework includes more considerations due to low energy availability (LEA). LEA is a state in which the body does not have enough energy to support all of its functions. This leads to issues with  reproductive health (menstrual dysfunction and low estrogen for females, low testosterone for males, decreased sex drive for those with LEA), cardiovascular function (unstable vital signs, bradycardiaSlow heart rate or tachycardiaFast heart rate due to LEA), immune function, growth and development, hematologicalRelating to the blood , gastrointestinalRelating to the stomach and the intestines, and metabolicRelating to the chemical reactions in the body's cells to produce energy functioning. Psychological consequences can either precede RED-S or may worsen  by RED-S. 

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If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.