Athletics and eating disorders: What can parents look out for?

EDJust last week, a link was made between genetics and eating disorders, with professor Howard Steiger from Montreal’s Douglas University claiming that some people are more vulnerable to conditions like anorexia than others.

He explained that the problem can even develop when people are still in the womb, with the nutritional and stress levels of the mother playing a part in which genes are passed on, including those that make people susceptible to eating disorders.

Sports can also be tied into this research as some experts believe that pursuing an athletic lifestyle can lead to eating disorders among those already vulnerable to developing them.

Doug Bunnell PHD, vice-president and co-founder of the Renfrew Center Foundation, told Psychcentral that athletics can serve as a slippery slope when it comes to eating disorders.

He explained that there is a pressure to perform and compete among youngsters who play sport, which can lead them to compare themselves to others regarding their weight and body shape.

Others may take their training routines too far if they already have perfectionist tendencies.

He added that many sports focus on weight, such as wrestling, boxing and rowing, with regular weigh-ins, while others believe being smaller enhances their performance.

But what should parents look out for if they think their child has taken their sporting career too far?

The key things to recognise include weight loss or failure to gain weight as well as a fascination with body shape.

Exercising alone and avoiding contact with others, such as trainer or coach, is also a sign that things may not be quite right with a youngster.

If a child or teenager is skipping class so they can exercise, continues to train when they are sick or injured and regularly expresses concerns that they are fat are also warning signs to look out for.

Frequently eating alone, using laxatives and making regular trips to the bathroom are also signals of a possible eating disorder.

Parents who recognise these symptoms in their child should seek medical advice.

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