Eating disorders in male athletes, like female athletes, cause substantial medical, psychological, and athletic performance consequences. Going more in-depth, they may cause the male athlete to become at higher risk for injury, inconsistent performance, problematic recovery, muscle deficiencies, and impairment of athletic functioning along with medical, social, and emotional problems. Over the past couple of years, many professional male athletes have opened up about their struggle with an eating disorder. Patrick Devenny and Joey Julius are both former football players who used their platform to reach other athletes who may have similar struggles.
There are different reasons why male athletes develop eating disorders. Male athletes are at risk for developing eating disorders if there are unique risk factors in the sport or team environment that make them strive for perfection, which can cause or trigger eating disorders. The high-risk sports for males are the same as females, which would be aesthetic sports and sports that are weight-dependent. Those sports include cross country, marathon running, wrestling, horse racing, diving, gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, and karate. Another reason is other people’s comments made towards male bodies and telling male athletes they need to drop or make weight. Media has played a big role in impacting male athletes, as there is this pressure put on looking muscular. Male athletes that are more inclined to develop anorexia may have a desire to achieve a particular body type that the media is showing. Athlete that is obsessed with their performance and what they look like might go down the wrong and dangerous path if they hear that losing weight can give them a competitive advantage. Male athletes that suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions are more vulnerable to eating disorders.
It is estimated that up to 19% of male athletes struggle with an eating disorder. 9.5% of male athletes are at risk for anorexia nervosa, and an equal risk between male and female athletes at 38% for bulimia nervosa. Diving into a more specific eating disorder that affects the athletic community is anorexia nervosa. As stated before, this is not the most common eating disorder in the male athlete community, however, there is lots of research and information on warning signs and treatment options for athletes.
The female athlete triad is well known, and it is very important to be aware of warning signs and treatment for those female athletes. Eating disorders in male athletes are less common, which causes them to be missed and overlooked more often. However, men who engage in sporting activities, on a team, or for recreational fun, are also susceptible to eating disorders. Male athletes with eating disorders may be more difficult to identify and diagnose for different reasons that can be related to the presentation of symptoms, shame, and sex-related stigma.
45% of males with anorexia are involved in a team sport where controlling their weight is important for good performance, while only 9% of females with anorexia are in a team sport. This shows that engaging in sports carries more of a risk for eating disorders in males. Not every male athlete is going to develop anorexia, however, some factors can make one more prone than another. These factors would be interpersonal communication difficulties, low self-esteem, depression, or depressive symptoms.
“Research and experience typically demonstrate that many [male] athletes underreport symptoms and often consider their habits and behavior are benign, or even a sign of commitment to their training.” Matthew Stranberg, a lead nutritionist and exercise science advisor from Walden Behavioral Care’s GOALS stated.
If you are the athlete who is struggling with this, or you know of someone who is, reach out and seek help from a trusted provider. You can fight this illness and win.
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that all the runners run in a race, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize.
Lily is a current summer intern for Live RecoverED. She is an undergraduate student at Indiana Wesleyan University. She is on the tennis team and studying exercise science with health promotion and wellness. She has hopes to become an exercise physiologist once graduated along with being a personal trainer. Lily loves anything outdoors and enjoys water related activities.