Addressing The Unique Treatment Needs Of Athletes With Eating Disorders

Jen Gapin, Ph.D., CC-AASP, Sport & Exercise Psychology Consultant/ Performance Enhancement Specialist, The Victory Program

The world of sport is a microcosm of the world at large. Accordingly, what occurs in the larger world will likely occur in the sport world as well. Unfortunately, this includes eating disorders. Despite the fact that athletes are often viewed as “healthy” and strong, many athletes have eating disorders. Research suggests that athletes, especially those in lean sports where a lower body weight or lean body is believed to confer a competitive advantage, have more eating problems than their non-athlete counterparts.

Why are many athletes at increased risk for developing eating disorders? Athletes have the same risk factors for developing eating disorders as non-athletes – societal pressures, family history, trauma, genetics and perfectionism. In addition, athletes have physical and energy demands related to significant expenditure and training and may not understand or have the knowledge to regulate their energy needs. Athletes also have risk factors that are related to aspects of the sport environment or that may be unique to a particular sport. For example, they may have been told to lose weight by a coach or received negative comments about their weight from teammates. Decline in performance level can sometimes precipitate an eating disorder. The athlete might train more and eat “healthier” in an attempt to become better at their sport. This can spiral out of control and lead to unhealthy eating and training behaviors.

Jen Gapin, staff for The Victory Program, originally wrote this blog for the NCAA.

Dr. Jen Gapin received her Ph.D. in Kinesiology with a specialization in Sport and Exercise Psychology from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in Sport and Exercise Behavior at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She is a Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP) and currently provides supervision and mentoring to prospective sport and exercise psychology consultants. Jen has been providing sport psychology services to athletes, teams, and coaches at all age and competition levels since 2005.

She is also an avid researcher and has published several papers on the connection between athletic participation, body image, and disordered eating. Jen is a former collegiate soccer player and currently competes in marathons.