Eating Disorders, Anorexia and Bulimia

Eating disorders are a common problem among athletes and can be a very serious health problem. There are two main types of eating disorders that athletes struggle with: anorexia and bulimia. Individuals suffering from anorexia have an intense fear despite being underweight. To be diagnosed as anorexic, one must weigh less than 85% of normal for their height. People with anorexia have a distorted body image that causes them to starve themselves or exercise excessively in order to avoid weight gain, which may result in serious health consequences. Bulimia is characterized by overconsumption of food (binges) followed by self-induced vomiting, enemas, or taking laxatives, diet pills, or drugs to reduce fluids (purging) in order to lose what was consumed during the binge. The cycle of binges and purging typically then repeats itself. Bulimia is more common than anorexia and usually begins in early adolescence, triggered by failed attempts at dieting. Some people with bulimia do not purge, but instead follow binges with fasting and exercise. This is known as non-purging bulimia. Most people with bulimia, however, have a normal to high-normal body weight, although it may fluctuate by more than 10 pounds because of the binge-purge cycle, this causes the disorder to often to be hard to recognize before it becomes a problem. In some cases bulimia may progress to anorexia.


  • Poor performance.

  • Less muscle strength.

  • Less endurance.

  • Poor coordination.

  • Poor judgment.

  • Tooth erosion.

  • Vomiting blood.

  • Difficulty swallowing.

  • Irregular heartbeat.

  • Stomach pain.

  • Absence of menstrual periods.

  • Stress fracture.


  • Genetic predisposition

  • Certain sports that require weight requirements (wrestling and jockeying), endurance sports (long-distance running and swimming), and sports where body image is important (dancing).

  • Sports that place emphasis on appearance such as ballet, figure skating, and gymnastics.


Eating disorders are a serious medical condition and treatment should be discussed with a caregiver. Along with your caregiver, a dietitian and other health care specialists may work with you in the treatment of eating disorders. Serious cases may require in-patient treatment at a center that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.