Athletes are thought to be three times more likely to develop an eating disorder and there is considerable scientific evidence connecting eating disorders and depression.
High self-esteem, confidence, a positive outlook, and excellent health are all gained from sports. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that athletes are better protected than the general population against depression and disordered eating.
Contrarily, there is considerable empirical support for the link between eating disorders and depression, and athletes are thought to have a threefold increased risk of developing an eating disorder.
There has been conflicting evidence in earlier research trying to link the two disorders causally. In the study, “Eating psychopathology as a risk factor for depressive symptoms in a sample of British athletes” in the Journal of Sport Sciences, Shanmugam, Jowett & Meyer ask does depression lead to eating disorders in athletes or vice versa.
What are eating disorders?
Throughout life, we all experience moments of concern about our body shape and weight. But when these thoughts cause dangerous dieting, purging after eating, or excessive overeating, it may be due to an eating disorder.
Eating disorders negatively impact your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in important areas of life. Types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa; Bulimia Nervosa; Binge-Eating Disorder; Unhealthy Body Image in Adolescents
The stressors that athletes face
Many athletes face various stresses; pressure to train, perform well, financial hardship, and maintaining a balance with other aspects of their life such as study, family, and friends. Athletes also face pressure to be body perfect.
Topflight athletes follow performance-boosting nutritional regimes which can deprive them of the nutrients and calories needed for optimal mental health. With statistics noted of up to 17% of competitive athletes showing symptoms of psychiatric disorders and a paucity of research on the subject, the authors conducted a time-lapse study.
122 British athletes completed questionnaires assessing weight, diet history, previous eating-related diagnoses, and desired weight. They were also quizzed on their attitudes to eating; restraint, fear of losing control, weight, and self-image issues. Finally, they were assessed on their mental state and checked for signs of clinical depression. Six months later, the athletes’ BMI was checked, and two studies were conducted; the first examined participants’ psychological state at the start point and eating habits after six months, and the second, eating psychopathology at the outset and depressive symptoms at the endpoint. Results make fascinating reading and conflict with the small amount of existing previous research.
Eating and diet disturbances a minor factor for depressive tendencies in athletes
It was found by a small margin that eating and diet disturbances were a precursor to depressive tendencies. So, why should athletes, seemingly so invincible be affected? Low self-esteem, failure to meet exacting physical standards, regimented eating, and constant negative sport-related pressure all add to the mix.
How can we protect athletes from this vicious cycle? Despite high-profile cases of depressed athletes such as Michael Vaughn and Ricky Hatton, there remains a lack of research and education on behalf of and amongst vulnerable athletes.
The authors call for improved education programs on nutrition and intervention strategies to minimize the risks for athletes. “Given that sports organizations and clubs are ethically and legally responsible for the health and welfare of athletes, it is imperative that practices that increase the risk of eating disorders are minimized as they appear to inadvertently increase the risk of depression in athletes… research needs to move beyond examining the factors that affect eating … to the factors that are affected by eating so that a more comprehensive and holistic theoretical framework can be established.”
Materials provided by Taylor & Francis. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Vaithehy Shanmugam, Sophia Jowett, Caroline Meyer. Eating psychopathology as a risk factor for depressive symptoms in a sample of British athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2014.912758
Cite This Page:
Taylor & Francis. “Eating disorders and depression in athletes: Does one lead to the other?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140715085053.htm>.
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