Eating disorders – a real challenge in sports

Eating disorders

Eating disorders vs weight reduction

We will write about weight reduction, not in this article, but in our next article. Everybody should be aware that daily physical activities are just as important, maybe even more, as heavy training, in order to reduce weight. But in this article we will focus on another issue which is, among other reasons, related to a negative focus on weight, which for many athletes unfortunately leads to eating disorders.

Common among athletes

Eating disorders is a sad thing to write about, but it can be useful to know something about it, since it is a phenomenon that occurs too frequently within sports communities. Millions of people around the world are suffering from this, one way or another, of which around 80% are women. The reasons behind such disorders are complicated and widespread, and there is not one common and clear answer on why this has reached almost an epidemic proportion in large parts of the world.

It is however well documented that this is a major problem among top athletes. It is unfortunately a rule rather than an exception, in particular among female athletes within endurance sports and estethical sports.

Characteristics of eating disorders

mental health eating disordersEating disorders are typically hidden from the surroundings, compared to other diseases, in sports as well as in other social areas. They are to a high degree characterised by denial and manipulation of both oneself and the surroundings, in order to hide the disease.

A major part of the challenge with dealing with such a disease, is that those who are suffering from it will normally not admit at all that they have any such problem. It is therefore a heavy burden to bring up this sensitive and difficult subject with those affected. This even if you are a close family member or friend who just want to help the person. It is not easy to give a precise diagnosis for an eating disorder. This because it is difficult to get sufficient insight into how the details of how the affected person is actually living and behaving. Consequently, most people will be uncertain whether it is worth the effort and burden to confront a person with a suspicion of eating disorder.

An eating disorder is in general found to be a “nervous conflict” between food and body. The person suffering from this loses control over the food. Other typical characteristics of those affected are high intelligence, high sense of responsibility, high demands for oneself, performance anxiety, and quite often the erson grew up with a highly dominating father.

All these demands on oneself, in combination with an eating disorder, willl often lead to low self confidence, depressions, vulnerability and uncertainty related to the the value of oneself (low self esteem). Another typical characteristic is a high feeling of responsibility for the surroundings, where a lot of energy is spent to satisfy others’ expectations.

Eating disorders often start in connection with a performing a diet in order to reduce weight. The diet then develops gradually until getting out of control.

Different types of eating disorders



Fortunately not so many are getting this type of disorder. But it is serious for those affected. It often starts with a diet that gets of of control, and develops into rejection of eating. Anorexia is therefore not so easy to hide whenit has been goimg on for a while. Another typical feature of this is an abnormal obsession for training. Training burns calories, and it becomes an obsession to burn as many calories you can at any time.
Trening brenner kalorier, og det blir en besettelse å få brent av så mange kalorier man kan til enhver tid. Training then becomes an alibi for the calory burning. This may be one of the reasons why the sports community attracts personalities that are vulnerable towards eating disorders.

There are no known physical reasons for getting anorexia. As far as known it is first of all a psychological disease, however with major physical implications.

Anorexia often leads to loss of menstruation and reduced resistance towards infections, due to reduced immune defence. It is a very serious disease, with a fatality rate of 5 – 18%.

Fat fobia

This is a rather new diagnosis, first being described as such from the US. Persons under this diagnosis develops an abnormal resistance towards eating anything with fat. They panic just by the idea of eating fat, and need a full overview of the details of the content of food they are eating. This leads to an extreme and unhealthy fixation towards food content.


This is a far more normal disease than anorexia. It is also called “ox hunger”, meaning that the person eats like an ox. After eating huge meals, the person makes sure that most of the food is expelled from the body, by throwing up, using laxation tablets etc. This in order to get back a good conscience about the food intake.

The domination features of this disease are sence of guilt and bad conscience.

Bulimia may be difficult to detect, since most who are suffering from it are able to maintain a normal body weight for a long time. However, abnormal amounts of training is quite common and can be a typical sign of a bulemic person.

Forced eating

This disease has many similarities with bulimia, but it is not so normal to throw up after eating. It is therefore not so easy to maintain the weight, and those who are suffering from it becomes overweigt.

The limit between just “eating too much” and suffering from this disease is not an exact line. However, forced eating is about eating “orgies” and eating totally out of control.


This is also a quite new diagnosis for a form of eating disease. This disease is not about amount of food, but more towards the type and quality of food. Eating disorders are very much a matter of being on control. Orthorexia means an extreme focus towards having control of what you are consuming. Those who are suffering from it gets fixed and sometimes “strange” ideas about what is correct food and what is more or less considered to be poisonous.

For orthorexians, ideas and positive advice about healthy food is translated into an orgy of food extremism. This often leads to one-sided intake of food, which in turn leads to malnutrition.

General signs of possible eating disorders

1. Unnormal low body weight (“thin like a nail”), in extreme cases looking like victims from war concentration camps (Anorexia).

2. Eyes pointing/standing out from face.

3. More face hair/down on girls than normal, seen in connection with the other signs. (Some face hair is natural of course, for many women)

4. Bad looking and yellow/brown teeth on young people. May be caused by strong acids due to regular throwing up (Bulimia).

5 Unnormal focus and talking about food.

6. Unnormal need for visits to toilet. Be aware if a person needs to go to the toilet 3-4 times during a meal.

7. Abnormal need for physical training and energy burning.

8. A general behaviour dominated by fixed rituals where no room is left for variation, and where ervything has to be performed in a special way, by a special method etc.

Read more about food, nutrition and health here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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