Many individuals take sporting activities very seriously, even from a young age. There are many benefits associated with engaging in sports. They include maintaining a healthy physique and participating in healthy competitions which can help in growing an individual's character. Additionally, while playing sports one can develop socially as they interact and form lasting friendships with their teammates. However, if not approached carefully, engaging in sports can result in harmful developments in the body. Athletes push themselves to the limit to keep up with the pressures of performing to the extent that they develop complications such as an eating disorder. According to Baum (2006), most cases of eating disorders are reported in female athletes, but recently there has been an increase in the cases of male athletes with an eating disorder. Even as early as high school, male athletes engaging in a number of popular sports develop and struggle with eating disorders that affect them on a daily basis.
Struggles Faced By Male Athletes with Eating Disorders
Male athletes with eating disorders go through many struggles:
Eating disorders in male athletes are noticed late or not noticed at all.
Many cases of eating disorders occur among female athletes, hence little or no attention is paid to male athletes. Moreover, due to the stigma surrounding this issue, male athletes with eating disorders choose to keep quiet about their problem. There are only a few cases of males with eating disorders that are reported, hence a male athlete with this issue, might find it difficult to seek treatment. Athletes that are part of a team do not want to ask for help and seem to be the ones bringing the team down. Most male athletes with eating disorders are in denial.
Male athletes with eating disorders suffer from mental health problems.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are very common among male athletes with eating disorders. In male-dominated sports, athletes are pressured to maintain a masculine, tough and powerful appearance. Since eating disorders are considered a feminine issue, a male athlete with the problem may feel embarrassed. The athlete may end up doubting his masculinity, leading to shame and later into mental problems such as depression and anxiety.
There is under-treatment of eating disorders among male athletes.
There is very little research that has been done on eating disorders among male athletes. With most of these cases occurring among females, there is targeted treatment that usually leaves out male athletes (Strother et al., 2016). Most female athletes have psychiatrists who are readily available at their disposal to deal with such issues while male athletes, on the other hand, are considered to be doing okay.
Harsh criticisms and pressure.
Male athletes who do not seem fit usually face harsh criticisms from fans, media, and even fellow teammates. Compared to female athletes, male athletes who are not considered fit enough, suffer a lot of humiliation. Professional male athletes are expected to keep fit and be muscular. Unfortunately, a male athlete who gains a little weight gets ridiculed. The society associates fitness to better performance and a male athlete who gains a bit of weight is criticized and considered to be delivering the least performance compared to his teammates who are fit. Such criticisms and pressure can have psychologically detrimental effects on an athlete.
Male athletes with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem.
Most male athletes with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem because they are constantly insecure about their bodies. Athletes who compare themselves to others or are always under pressure to perform from coaches or parents might feel as if they are not doing enough, and thus develop low self-esteem.
Effects of Eating Disorders on Male Athletes
Athletes with eating disorders eventually develop psychological and physical problems that affect their daily lives (Chapman & Woodman, 2016). Eating disorder patients usually experience a rapid drop in weight since they are involved in extreme dieting and more training and exercise than is required. The athlete is also constantly fatigued as a result of dehydration caused by a reduced intake of liquids. Impaired sleep, dizziness and depression are also some of the effects of an eating disorder on the athlete. Additionally, the athlete experiences gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure and weakness as a result of protein inadequacy which leads to muscle wasting.
Psychologically, the athlete is mostly depressed and suffers from anxiety and low self-esteem, which in turn affects his ability to interact with family and fellow teammates. A male player will at times refrain from social interactions of any kind due to the shame of having an eating disorder. The athlete prefers to be alone most of the time, and this further worsens the psychological problems he is having.
An eating disorder also affects the performance of an athlete in the respective sport he is involved in. After an extended period of dieting, the athlete's performance slows down and there is a decrease in their strength and speed. The athlete is likely to have injuries due to excessive training which might take longer to heal due to low intakes of protein.
Sports with Most Cases of Eating Disorders
Although cases of eating disorders are present in many sports, there are some sports in which these cases are very common. Eating disorders occur mostly in sports where athletes are forced to be of a specific weight to compete. Additionally, in sports that low body fat is considered to be proportional to better performance, eating disorders are common. Also, in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding, and diving where fitness and physical appearance are emphasized, there are many cases of eating disorders. Similarly, in endurance sports such as running and swimming athletes are pressured to perform, and this usually leads to cases of eating disorders. Also, in sports that athletes compete individually such as gymnastics, there is a lot of competition, a phenomenon that causes most athletes to get eating disorders. Markedly, athletes that are most vulnerable to eating disorders are those involved in sports such as wrestling, horse racing and rowing which require individuals to be of a particular weight to compete (Chapman & Woodman, 2016). To ensure that they are allowed to compete, most athletes involved in these sports tend to engage in extreme dieting and workouts to reduce weight, thus leading to eating disorders.
Athletes at an elite status or those who have practiced from a young age, tend to do everything in their power to ensure that they perform as expected by their coaches and the public, leading to an obsession to perform, which causes them to develop an eating disorder.
High School Male Athletes with Eating Disorders
Individuals who are perfectionists, temperamental or have a fear of failure are likely to develop eating disorders at an early age once they engage in competitive sports. Compared to other athletes, high school athletes are most likely to develop eating disorders. This is because high school athletes are constantly under pressure from parents, coaches and fellow students to perform better at sports, and this forces them to develop eating disorders.
At the high school level, some issues make young athletes prone to eating disorders. Other than sports, athletes at this level have to balance many things, including studies and relationships with family and fellow students. Moreover, sports at this level are very competitive. With scholarships and good colleges on the line, high school athletes do all they can to ensure that they perform as required by their coaches. Additionally, most high school athletes look up to professional athletes and models, and exercise and diet in an effort to gain and maintain the bodies that they see in magazines and on television (Baum, 2006).
In summary, it should be recognized that eating disorders also develop among male athletes and more attention should be paid to them. Eating disorders can cause permanent psychological and physical health issues that if not treated early enough, can lead to death. Sports that demand athletes to be of a specific weight to compete and those that emphasize on physical appearances lead to increased cases of eating disorders among male athletes. Markedly, more research should be conducted on male athletes, especially those in high school, to ensure that eating disorders are noticed and treated in time.
Baum, A. (2006). Eating disorders in the male athlete. Sports medicine, 36(1), 1-6.
Chapman, J., & Woodman, T. (2016). Disordered eating in male athletes: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(2), 101-109.
Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating disorders, 20(5), 346-355.
USTFCCA. (2014). Signs to Look for in Athletes with Eating Disorders. The Victory Program at McCallum Place
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