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Eating Disorders

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Each year millions of people in the United States are affected by serious and sometimes life-threatening eating disorders. This is illustrated by the fact that eating disorders are on the rise among athletes, especially those involved in sports that place great emphasis on the athlete to be thin. Sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, dancing and distance running have a higher percentage of athletes with eating disorders, than sports such as basketball, skiing and volleyball (Black 2003). The vast majority are adolescents and young adult women, even more notable amongst women athletes. Approximately one percent of adolescent girls develop anorexia nervosa, a dangerous condition in which they can literally starve themselves to death. Another two to three percent develop bulimia nervosa, a destructive pattern of excessive overeating followed by vomiting or other "purging " behaviors to control their weight (McClean 2003). Although this rate may seem alarming at first glance, it is nothing in comparison to the athletic population. According to Brubaker (2003), eating disorders can affect up to 62 percent of females in sports like figure skating and gymnastics, but the exact number is unknown. As one can clearly see, this is an alarming issue, and one that for many causes great discomfort. Below, this paper considers that one should take a closer look at the various eating disorders and their affects on athletes. First a general look will be taken at the different eating disorders and the role media has on them, then the female athlete triad, psychological effects and lastly possible solutions for future generations.

Anorexia Nervosa:

Although there are a number of classified eating disorders, the two most prevalent and well known are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In this section a general overview of the disorders will be given, as a further examination on their relevance in affecting athletes performance levels will occur in later sections. Anorexia nervosa can be defined as having extreme fear of weight gain and a dread of becoming fat, although they are dramatically underweight (Brownell, Rodin & Wilmore 1992). Also, anorexic individuals generally are classified as having less than 85 % of their recommended body weight. A variety of changes in thought and perception accompany anorexia nervosa. Notable behavioral changes, however, center around food. The individual with anorexia often divides the food into "good" and "bad" categories. Good foods are hypo-caloric, which includes fruits and vegetables, while bad foods are hyper-caloric, such as carbohydrates and sweets. The hypo-caloric foods are eaten while hyper-caloric foods are avoided.

Mealtimes are usually skipped or small amounts of foods may be eaten, leading to low daily calorie intake levels. To an anorexic, every act of eating may be governed by rules such as cutting the food into small pieces, taking hours to eat, or hoarding food. This person also becomes obsessed with exercise in yet another attempt to lose weight. Physically, the disorder causes the body to slowly deteriorate, thus drastically hindering all athletic performance levels.

Obvious signs to look for are excessive weight loss in a short period of time and continuing dieting of a bone thin person. The body begins to protect itself by shutting down non-life sustaining processes. The heart rate and blood pressure slow, very fine hairs called lanugo grow on the body to prevent loss of body heat, and the skin becomes dry and yellow (Berry 2000). The master gland, the thyroid, slows, which in turn slows development. Amenorrhea begins, stopping the menstrual cycle in women, this is also part of what is commonly referred to as the Female-Athlete Triad, which will be discussed later (Hobart 2000). Due to nutrient restriction and electrolyte imbalance, the heart and kidneys become severely damaged and the brain may even shrink causing drastic personality changes.

Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by frequent binge eating, which is followed by some form of compensative behavior, whether it be self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercise (Brownell, Rodin & Wilmore 1992). A binge can be characterized as eating, in a isolated period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances. Unlike anorexics who are usually in a state of self denial, bulimics are fully aware of their illness and consciously try to hide it from others. This deception allows the bulimic to carry on for many years without anyone ever knowing. However, the hunger sensation is overwhelmingly strong and the individual gives in, devouring large amounts of food each time. Then guilt and compensatory behaviors follow, such as vomiting or laxative use. Because bulimics only lose the food they've just eaten, they do not drastically lose weight, but fluctuate instead. The body still tries to remain strong and discontinues non-life sustaining processes as well. Many experience signs common to an anorexic such as obsessive exercise, which could led to heavy involvement in sports. Loss of menstrual periods, fatigue, depression, cold intolerance, dizziness, constipation and feeling fat are also common signs of bulimia (McClean 2003). Bulimics still eat but purging starves their bodies of much needed nutrients. This action can lead to heart and kidney damage due to lack of potassium. Purging can also cause the stomach wall and esophagus to rupture, as well as tooth decay due to the acidity of the stomach. As one can see, this disorder is serious and when untreated can become life threatening.

Eating disorders have their similarities and differences as can be shown, but inside the body they both cause virtually the same chemical responses. Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia are disorders unlike any other disorder, sickness, or disease and have effects and differences on the body that causes the body to take drastic measures to sustain the life of the individual. The body is sustained by the food we eat and the liquids we drink, take those away or out of their state of normalcy and the body suffers greatly. Without the proper nutrients, the body is unable to do its job, and this is why eating disorders are such a serious issue in athletics. Starvation of one's body, especially that of a highly trained athlete, can lead to the lack of any digested food becoming a useful ingredient for the body, and has detrimental effects to the body as a whole. With each disorder, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, one can see how each contributes to this problem. The body is unable and incapable without this food to repair itself, provide the means for organs



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