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Disordered Eating and Athletic Performance: Where’s the Line?

If a person severely restricts his diet and exercises for hours each day, he has an eating disorder. If another does exactly the same but it is because she wants to make the lightweight rowing team (which has an upper weight limit), she’s a committed athlete. When the two overlap, and an athlete presents with eating disorder symptoms, how do we distinguish between the demands of the sport and the illness?

I’ve been interested in the distinctions we make between disordered and non-disordered eating and exercise behaviours for a while now. Recently, when I was browsing through articles, I came across a literature review by Werner et al. (2013) (open access) of studies examining weight-control and disordered eating behaviours in young athletes.

The authors start by noting the sheer lack of research that has actually been done in this area. This is worrying: typical onset of eating disorders is during adolescence, and research indicates that athletes are more likely to develop these disorders, leaving young athletes in what appears to be a high-risk position.

WHICH ATHLETES?

Werner et al. searched …

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Science of Eating Disorders (SEDs) is dedicated to making peer-reviewed eating disorder research more accessible to the public. It is about making sense of academic research in a clear and concise way for those who may lack expertise, access, or time required to read scholarly literature.

SEDs articles cover a broad range of topics relevant to eating disorders – from genetics, psychology, and neuroscience, to treatment, public understanding, medical complications, and much much more. All articles are referenced and based on findings from peer-reviewed literature.

What makes SEDs unique is that all articles are written by individuals with a history of eating disorders and a background in science. As such, articles often include personal thoughts on the reality of living with, managing, and recovering from an eating disorder.

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