Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

Learn the warning signs and effects of Binge Eating Disorder for athletes.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting roughly 8 million Americans. Athletes are at an especially high risk for developing an eating disorder due to the natural pressures they face in their sport.

RELATED: A High School Coach's Guide to Eating Disorders

Unfortunately, eating disorders can sometimes be misconstrued as a choice. BED in particular does not get the attention it deserves as a serious mental illness. My clients come in frustrated, asking "Why can't I just get a handle on my eating?" or "why do I turn to food even when I am full?" The truth is, it's not as simple as you might think. Overcoming BED requires serious nutritional, medical and therapeutic work. BED is not about a lack of willpower; it is a true disorder that many people suffer from without knowing it.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, BED is characterized by several behavioral and emotional signs or symptoms. These include:

  • Recurring episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
  • Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short time frame (any two-hour period)
  • Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (feeling you can't stop eating or control what or how much you are eating)

RELATED: Eating Disorder Warning Signs

Binge eating can develop gradually in athletes. Risk factors for athletes include:

  • Sports that emphasize appearance or weight requirements
  • Sports that focus on the individual rather than the entire team
  • Performance anxiety
  • Perfectionism
  • Internal or outside pressure to excel in your sport

A study of NCAA athletes found that binge eating occurred more often in male than in female athletes.

Shame and guilt surround eating episodes—or even talking about eating—but getting help is crucial if you suspect you or someone you know has an eating disorder. You are not alone, and there are people around you who want to help.

The best way to treat an eating disorder—or prevent it if you suspect you're developing one—is through counseling. Approaching a school counselor, teacher or coach is a great way to start getting the help you need. The National Eating Disorders Association has tons of helpful information on its website about eating disorders, and they also provide toll-free hotlines and online chats if you're not comfortable talking with someone close to you.


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