Eating Disorders in Sports


When it comes to athletics, there are different standards set for men and women in not only the area of performance, but also appearance. When you google images of men’s sports versus women’s sports, you will see a difference in how they are represented.

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This came up when I searched “women’s sand volleyball”.

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This came up when I searched “men’s sand volleyball”.

The difference between the pictures is two-fold. The women are scantily dressed in their bikinis and are not pictured playing nearly as much volleyball as there are pictures of their behinds. Although this is just one example, women can develop more mental illnesses like eating disorders because of this representation of women in sports.

Pictured at the top of the post is Eugenie Bouchard, a professional tennis player who suffered from an eating disorder that began after her season in 2014. A dean of kinesiology at University of Calgary said, “the women athletes are criticized for what they wear, what they look like, whether they are fat or not.” In comparison to their male counter parts, women are scrutinized for either being “too manly” or “butch” as well as “she runs like a girl” or “she is so graceful when she shoots”. Men also have this same issue when it comes to sexual orientation and being told they are not physically capable because they are gay.


Although I understand men and women are very different biologically, why must sport be defined as male or female? Why must men have to be “manly” in order to be a successful player? Why must women be labeled as “lesbian” in order to gain recognition for her talents?

When women reach stardom, cameras and media become much more present. Because of this, a woman’s body is glorified and she can feel pressure to reach a certain expectation aesthetically as well as in her performance. There is a stigma that comes with eating disorders and other mental illnesses and athletes are even more at risk for developing these due to their increased stress and hectic lifestyles.

There are many different factors that put athletes at risk for eating disorders such as sports that emphasize weight requirements or muscularity like gymnastics or wrestling. Along with these risk factors comes issues with self-esteem. If a player is unsuccessful in their competition, their self worth might suffer, which can lead to developing a mental illness.

In a survey sent out by the NCAA, it was discovered that eating disorders have become a significantly larger health problem among college athletes than was expected. “Sixty-four percent of NCAA member institutions responding to a survey reported that at least one student-athlete had experience an eating-disorder the past two years. The vast majority of the reports (93 percent) were in women’s sports”. (Moriarty, D & Moriarty, M., 1994).

Here are some numbers to look at regarding responses to eating disorders:

Women’s gymnastics: 48%

Women’s XC: 23%

Women’s swimming and track: 21% each

Although this issue has come to light in recent years, the job of a sports psychologist is greater than making sure a team is bonding well. There are issues such as athlete body stereotypes, an athletes need to please, and gender issues that need to be addressed head on when dealing with mental illnesses such as eating disorders. It is typically when the eating disorder becomes detrimental when one can physically notice symptoms of an eating disorder, which is why educating athletes first is the job of a team psychologist. Knowing that there is support available can allow for a more open conversation amongst athletes that are suffering. Including coaches and athletic trainers in on this conversation is an absolute must and can greatly influence this discussion.

There are many mental illnesses that athletes suffer from today, which will be discussed in later blogs. Stay tuned to hear more about Sports Psychology TODAY!


Sherman, R. T., & Thompson, R. A. (2001). Athletes and disordered eating: Four major issues for the professional psychologist. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 32(1), 27-33.


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