Anorexia Athletica: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

What is Anorexia Athletica?

Anorexia Athletica is a type of eating disorder affecting athletes. People suffering from this disorder eat a less or limited number of calories despite a high physical activity level.

These individuals have a lean body type and low weight and are prone to muscle and bone injuries. They can also experience nutritional deficiencies and absent periods.

They would not believe that their behavior is unhealthy but as normal in context with their sport activity.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), individuals with anorexia athletica lose healthy body weight with excessive exercise and calorie restriction.(1)

Anorexia athletica is often classified as an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), as it meets all of the criteria of other eating disorders.

What Causes Anorexia Athletica?

The pressure of maintaining a particular physical condition plays a major role in developing anorexia athletica.

Being frequently pointed out for body weight and shape by teachers, trainers, teammates, parents, or family members, and media can be another reason.

This leads to pushing self into sports or activities to meet certain standards along with restricting diet. They can adopt strict training and weight controlling measures.

Symptoms of Anorexia Athletica

The symptoms of anorexia athletica include the following.

Limited Calorie Intake

Just like anorexia nervosa, people with anorexia athletica restrict calorie intake so that they can lose weight or maintain a low weight.

There would also be self-inducing vomiting, misusing laxatives, and diuretics.

Limiting calorie intake would lead to several effects that include:

  • low energy levels
  • difficulty in concentration
  • irritability
  • lightheadedness
  • longer recovery time between workouts and practices
  • frequent injuries

High Physical Activity

Individuals with anorexia athletica are seen indulging in a high level of physical activity. It can be any type of physical activity such as exercise, training, and competition.

This can stress the body and increase the risk of injuries.

Focus on Performance

People with anorexia athletic are dissatisfied with their body shape and weight. This leads to a restrictive diet and excessive exercise.

They have a perfectionist attitude in maintaining a perfect physical condition. This might give them a competitive edge, which makes them focus more on limiting calories and increasing physical activity.

Irregular Periods

Due to low body mass associated with anorexia athletic, females with this disorder would experience irregular, missed, or absent periods.

People at Risk Of Developing Anorexia Athletic

The prevalence of eating disorders is higher in females than in male athletes.(2)

In a study, it was found that more than one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms that placed them at risk of anorexia nervosa.(1)

In 2019, a study was conducted on 755 elite Icelandic athletes. They were asked to complete a questionnaire related to body image and an eating disorder. It was found that 9.5 percent of them were above the clinical cutoff score for eating disorder symptoms.(3)

People participating in the following sports activities are found more likely to develop anorexia athletic. The sports include:

  • running
  • cheerleading
  • gymnastics
  • figure skating
  • swimming and diving
  • boxing
  • wrestling
  • horseback riding
  • rowing
  • ballet and other dancing types

Other factors such as genetics and personality also contribute to individual risk factors for developing anorexia athletica.

How To Treat Anorexia Athletica?

Psychological Care

A psychologist or psychiatrist can help in treating many types of eating disorders.

During the therapy, various patterns and behaviors of the athlete are examined. The therapist helps them in developing and practicing different strategies to help improve the condition.

Nutritional and Fitness Care

Dieticians and personal trainers are involved in the treatment to address the harmful behaviors associated with anorexia athletica.

They can help by:

  • Focusing on nutrient intake and discouraging extreme dieting and weight loss measures.
  • Adjusting the exercise type and amount that an individual is doing
  • Bringing the weight to a healthy range and teaching different healthy ways to manage weight.

Medical Care

Medical care is needed to address any complications such as injuries and osteoporosis that have occurred due to anorexia athletica.

Early detection and treatment of anorexia athletica are important as it can lead to a variety of health complications such as:

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