Athletes are prone to eating disorders due to their hectic training schedules and nutritional requirements. Understanding the reasons behind the prevalence of atypical anorexia is very crucial to rule out the further complications of this mental illness. Furthermore, the early detection of this eating disorder is key for the possible treatment and rapid recovery.
In this article, we will tell 3 reasons why atypical anorexia is common in athletes alongside its complications.
What’s the prevalence of Atypical Anorexia in Athletes?
Atypical anorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by avoidance of eating and having extreme weight loss. Many types of research have been done to find out the prevalence of atypical anorexia in a sportsperson. From the statics, we gather the following data:
- More than 13% of the athletic population have a confirmed diagnosis of an eating disorder.
- 19% of sportsmen and 45% of sportswomen suffers from an eating disorder.
- Among high schoolers, athletic students are more prone to get eating disorders than non-athletic students. More than 7% of athletic students have a confirmed eating disorder while 3% of non-athletic is suffer from this condition.
- Approximately, 2% of sportswomen and 1% of sportsmen are struggling with atypical anorexia.
Signs and Symptoms of Atypical Anorexia In Athletes
Athletes with atypical anorexia take a limited amount of nutrition despite their high energy output. These habits trigger extreme weightlessness in sportspersons and they have low body weight. The latter negatively affects their game.
Athletes having atypical anorexia assumes their irregular eating habit is healthy. Thereby, they are more objected to getting bone and muscle injuries alongside menstrual irregularities.
The common signs and symptoms of atypical anorexia in athletes are as follows:
- Low energy availability
- Fatigue or malaise
- Agitated behavior
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Require more time to recover between games or workouts
- Excessive physical activity
- Dissatisfaction with body shape
- Skipping meals
- Avoiding food in front of others
- Fear of being overweight
- Reduced attention span
Why Atypical Anorexia is Common in Athletes?
The causes of atypical anorexia in athletes are due to various developmental, physical, and psychological factors. But the top 3 reasons why atypical anorexia is common in athletes are discussed below:
The Nature of Sports
Athletes are prone to get eating disorders including atypical anorexia due to the game requirements. The pressure to win more games also indulges them in unusual eating behaviors such as skipping meals or spending more time in the gym.
In addition, atypical anorexia is more common in sports that required a specific physique for participation. For instance, sportswomen who are taking part in gymnastics, figure skating, and dancing are more likely to get atypical anorexia. Likewise, sportsmen who are active in wrestling, bodybuilding, and equestrianism are prone to have atypical anorexia.
Thereby, it is necessary to manage the stress of these games to prevent eating disorders.
Negative Body Image
The requirements of various sports make athletes more susceptible to eating disorders. It also promotes negative body image and irregular eating habits. The constant urge to be in perfect shape triggers self-cautious behavior in a sportsperson. The latter triggers self-starvation and obsessiveness to train which causes severe weight loss.
Moreover, certain researches show that the revealing nature of sports clothing also provokes disordered eating. Another factor that gives rise to atypical anorexia is the intense competitiveness among athletes which tends to produce competitive thinness and disturbed eating patterns.
Athletes Coaches and Dysfunctional Family
Coaches are the primary people that train athletes before any form of competition. However, coaches who are only concerned about winning games without taking care of their athletes’ mental health can provoke disorder eating in a sportsperson.
In addition, athletes who are bought up in a dysfunctional family which consists of a parent or parents that are previously associated with sports are at greater risk to develop atypical anorexia. The athletes who are the victim of chronic dieting or sexual abuse can also signs of this eating disorder due to their unresolved trauma.
The abovementioned reasons increase the prevalence of atypical anorexia in athletes. Furthermore, athletes are at greater danger to suffer from the complications of this condition due to their game requirements.
What are the Health Complications of Atypical Anorexia?
Many medical complications are induced by atypical anorexia. Some of them are discussed below:
In atypical anorexia, athletes avoid eating food or getting hydration. The latter causes a decrease in body fluid which makes the blood thicker and puts the load on the athlete’s heart. To overcome this issue, the heart starts to beat faster which may cause fatigue within cardiac muscles.
The common cardiac problems in athletes having atypical anorexia are as follows:
- Myocardial atrophy
- Low Blood Pressure
- Mitral Valve Prolapse
- Irregular heartbeats
- Sudden cardiac death
The most prevalent complications of atypical anorexia in athletes are related to gastrointestinal disorders. Athletes sweat more when compared to normal individuals which release extra fluid out of their system. Also, athletes with atypical anorexia take an inadequate amount of nutrition in their diet disturbs their process of digestion, and induces various many gut issues.
Some of the gastrointestinal diseases that are found in athletes alongside atypical anorexia are:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Gastric Reflux
Athletes with atypical anorexia consume a lower amount of protein which generates collagen deficiency in their bodies. Collagen is the chemical component that maintains the elasticity of the human lungs. Moreover, the insufficient intake of fluid in atypical anorexia decreases the recoiling power of the lungs.
Collectively, these factors give rise to the following respiratory conditions:
- Abnormal pulmonary capacities
- Spontaneous pneumothorax
Athletes with atypical anorexia consume low sugar than average individuals. It further stimulates irregular insulin levels which tends to control your blood sugar. Additionally, this eating disorder impacts a lot on athletes’ neurotransmitters and provokes hormonal imbalances.
The most frequent endocrine problems that result due to atypical anorexia are:
- Low level of leptin
- Insufficient intake of growth hormone
- High level of cortisol that induces stress
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
- Absence of menstrual cycle in female athletes
Musculoskeletal and Psychological Disorders
Due to the nutritional deficiencies instigated by atypical anorexia, athletes are more likely to suffer from bone and muscle disease. Thereby, there is an increased risk of having sports injuries in athletes who are diagnosed with this eating disorder.
The recurrent musculoskeletal abnormalities in athletes with atypical anorexia are:
- Frequent muscle spasm
- Cervical pain along with dizziness
- Upper and lower cross syndrome
- Low bone mineral density
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Bone cancer
Additionally, stress plays a big part in the progression of atypical anorexia. Thereby, many psychological disorders also occur side by side with this condition.
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
The complications of atypical anorexia in athletes are rigorous and if left unnoticed, they can damage the overall wellbeing of the sportsperson.
The Bottom Line
The high prevalence of atypical anorexia in athletes identifies the faulty requirements of various sports. Furthermore, the burden of coach and family expectations put the athletes with atypical anorexia under huge pressure. Thereby, people who are directly working with athletes must be aware of this condition. So, early detection and treatment of atypical anorexia in athletes become possible.