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Sports Essays - Eating Disorders Athletes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sports
Wordcount: 4322 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Eating disorders can be common among athletes. This may be due to the pressure of the sporting background that commonly precipitates the beginning of these problems. In this day and age certain obsessive behaviour such as extreme exercise and also erratic eating habits have become a normal part of society. Williamson et al suggests that (“Concern about an athletes body size and shape has become greater than ever before due to the pressure for thinness from coaches and also from athletic performance, and negative self appraisal of athletic achievement”) It has been suggested that the majority of successful athletes are strong minded, and set almost impossible targets for themselves and work long hard hours to achieve these targets. However these factors can bring on eating disorders that can often be found in anorexia and bulimic patients.

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Disordered eating is possibly found in most sporting activities. The athletes most at risk from developing or indeed having an eating disorder are those who engage in sports that require certain characteristics. For instance gymnasts and also figure skaters are under extreme and constant pressure to preserve a chid like body. Chaotic eating disorders are prevalent in girl athletes but not so much in boy athletes. In 1992 the NCCA conducted a survey of athletes. The NCCA stated (“93% of the programs reporting eating disorders were in women’s sports”) (“Dying to win” 1994 suggests that ” Some male athletes do use extreme methods for losing weight, but an important difference exists between these and the self-starvation strategies of anorexics)” For instance, a weight lifter’s view of his body is not warped. When the weight lifter is not in competition he can regain the weight easily. This suggests that it is possible for the body to return to normal when the athletes sporting career comes to an end. But unfortunately this is not the case in females.

Eating disorders often happen to young girls who become obsessed with avoiding the progression of becoming a woman. These girls will go to extreme measures to keep a child like physique. This is what gymnastics are told they must do in order to stay in gymnast’s competition. Because of this it is a gymnastics biggest fear of developing a womanly shape that might obstruct their performance. Sundgot-Borgen 1994 states that ” This could provoke a conflict in which an athlete struggles to prevent or counter the natural physical changes precipitated by growth and maturity” many gymnasts have been training since early childhood. In taking part in such specific training before the body reaches maturity these girls risk losing out in a which another sport that they could do in adult hood when their gymnastic career ends.

The leading UK charity for people with eating disorders is called B-eat. This stands for beating eating disorders.

Beat surveyed 600 young people who suffer from an eating disorder’s-eat results were:

  • Only 1 percent of children felt they could talk to their parents about their eating related concerns.
  • 9 percent of children felt they might be able to talk to someone at school.
  • 17 percent of children felt they might be able to talk to a doctor or nurse
  • 92 percent of children felt they couldn’t tell anyone.

B-eat states that” currently the number of people receiving treatment for anorexia or bulimia to be near 90, 000, while many more people have eating disorders undiagnosed”. So of these 92%, the 17% who felt they might be able to talk to a doctor or nurse. So might benefit from the programme.

If 92 percent of children feel that they could not tell anyone that they had an eating disorder then it is obvious that there is a need for young people to be educated about the dangers of eating disorders. There is also a need for counsellors or something similar to the Samaritans. So that children have the opportunity to talk about eating disorders to people who will not judge them. The will just listen and give advice if it is asked for.

Gymnasts are only too aware about how their slender body shape can mean winning or losing a competition. This one of the main reasons why gymnasts are more at risk from developing an eating disorder. The qualities that make a good gymnast such as high expectations, being compulsive and also striving to be the best are all key characteristics connected to eating disorders.

These statistics suggest that there is a need for a well being programme targeting female gymnasts of secondary school age. In beat’s survey 92% of children felt that they could not tell anyone that they have an eating disorder.17% said they might be able to talk to a doctor or nurse about it. In order to combat this discussion groups could take place on a monthly basis, as part of the gymnastic curriculum in local clubs such as the YMCA (The YMCA is part of the voluntary sector that rely mainly on good will donations and also club membership. It is a non-profit organisation). However conducting a programme surrounding eating disorders should be done with caution and awareness that the people most vulnerable will take any comment or criticism to heart. For example taking a persons weight and vital statistics is not a good way to try and combat eating disorders. This will only make the person mare aware abut body issues even more so if others in the group are thinner or have a smaller body mass index.

For this reason, YMCA volunteers should receive training on how to approach and discuss the subject.

In 1992 Claire Vickery founded the Butterfly Foundation. In Australia. The Foundation offers support to those people who suffer from an eating disorder and also poor or negative self body image. Claire was said to have discovered “gaps” in the” public health system” for the people who are and continue to suffer from eating disorders.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that” there is more pressure than ever before on young people who are exposed to highly stylized & unrealistic images in the media at an alarming rate every day” This in turn can lead to thoughts of failure & unsafe expectations, resulting in little confidence & negative thoughts about body image.

The Butterfly Foundation can offer support to educational establishments and also local community groups in the structure of workshops & presentations to aid youngsters to develop their body image, self-esteem & media understanding.

The Eating Difficulties Education Network is another organisation that deals with eating disorders. EDEN is community service, which is based in Auckland New Zealand. The organisation is run by a group of women who can provide information and also assistance for those individuals who suffer from eating disorders, and also support their family and close ones. Eden can provide counselling and also workshops for Health professional, the community and also educational establishments. Eden’s main focus is for the promotion of “body satisfaction” and takes the approach that you can be happy whatever your size may be. It may be that girls will respond better to women speakers and counsellors.

EDEN works in two main areas. These being, working with the people who have eating problems and also working towards the prevention of eating disorders among young people. . EDEN states that” dieting is ineffective and potentially leads to weight and body image difficulties in all their forms. Aiming to work with individuals to develop body satisfaction and seek to create environments that are accepting of size diversity and which support body trust”.

At present in the United Kingdom there is little support for vulnerable children including athletes in relation to eating disorders. Only B-eat tries to help combat eating disorders-eat is relatively unheard of and is not well publicized. If the Butterfly Foundation in Australia has been in operation since 1992 then this would suggest that the foundation is working well in helping combat eating disorders. The United Kingdom would profit to follow a similar programme. The programme could include areas such as:

Workshops, which are interactive, group discussions & activities on Self Esteem & Body Image: group discussions are a good way to get people to open up and discuss their ideas/feeling on the relevant subject. Open-ended questions tend to get the best response from people. Open-ended questions ask specific questions which cannot be answered with a simple “yes/no” or a specific piece of information. In extreme cases, referal to a mental health practitioner.

Using a series of cards with different statements is a good way to help children open up and discuss their feeling. It is also a good way of getting children involved in self-esteem group activities.

Media literacy uses an “inquiry based instruction model” This model helps motivate people into asking questions in relation to what they see in the media whether they watch it or read it. Media literacy provides different means of assessment tools to help people look at the media and to help people become aware of one sided views in the media. Media Literacy can help provide people with greater perceptive of understanding the role of mass media and bias media in blocking views of reality.

Presentations are a good way of getting important information across to the audience 15mins or 20mins presentations could be used, as the audience will be young teenagers and/or children and may not have a long attention span that an adult would have. These presentations would include questions to/from the audience, but do not involve activities. For this reason they can be delivered to large numbers of students for example up to 50 at a time.

The following topics could be used in presentations: Self Esteem & Body perception and Image: Body image and perception is how a person feels and views their physical appearance. A lot of young people, mainly in their early teens, suffer from low self -esteem this is because as children develop into adolescents, they become aware about how others see and perceive them.

Media Influences: recently, in the past few years it has become” politically correct” for the media to make some attempt to fight eating disorders. Magazines and TV shows and adverts featuring the misfortune of anorexia and bulimia, but this hard work is proving to be unsuccessful when they are presented in the usual perspective. For instance, how can one think that a teenage magazine is actually motivated to beat eating disorders when the stories relating to that area are covered by advertisements featuring childlike looking role models.

People often feel that the do not “measure up” this is attributable to the anxiety of trying to live up to unhealthy” cultural expectations” of physical body perfection.

BUPA suggests “Children and young people need to do 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day. This needs to include at least two weekly activities that produce high physical stress on bones, such as dancing, jumping or aerobics to aid development”.

(Muscat, 2002). Suggests” Another method that coaches, parents (family) and athletes may use to help prevent disordered eating in sport is to avoid making derogatory comments about the female body.” Research shows that female athletes who report critical comments, compared with those who do not, also report greater disordered eating. Such athletes clearly suffer from body-image anxiety.

Findings indicate that critical comments related to disordered eating behaviours are from multiple sources (Rieves & Cash, 1996) rather than limited to coaches and peers (Beals, & Manore, 1994; Berry & Howe, 2000; Sundgot-Boren, 1994; Williamson et al., 1995).

In addition to comments from coaches and peers, female athletes reported critical comments from parents, grandparents, medical professionals, siblings, and teachers (Muscat, 2002) Therefore this makes the task of altering their self-image extremely complex.

Evaluation of the programme could be in the form of anonymous post cards that would be posted in a box. The cards would allow for comments and feedback both positive and negative, which will be essential to the success of the programme and will allow for changes to be made if needed. So the foregoing is the proposed programme.

The media is partly to blame for placing a huge importance on what a person looks like and also what size they are. The television and also glossy magazines continually flood our brains with images of body perfection and images of attractive perfect looking people.

These messages, which are specifically targeted at females, motivate people into believing that in order to be successful you have to be good looking and slim. This media stereotyping is thought to be the causes why of only ten percent of men have eating disorders, while 90 percent are women.

Eating disorders are said to stem from addictive and compulsive behaviours.Other people who have the same or similar traits may turn to alchol,be drug users,self abuse or gamble.People who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from low self esteem,and also a lack of direction in life.This may be a reason why gymnasts are prone to eating disorders.They realise their careers will be over when they reach their mid 20s and do not know what their life will hold from them beyond then.

McPherson et al. (1989) states, “Deviant Behaviour is a product of numerous interacting social and cultural forces. These include an inadequate socialisation process; lack of, or failure of social controls; perceived inequities in a situation; the individual’s definition of the situation; and the labelling of individuals who engage in deviance. More specifically, one learns deviant behaviour by directly and indirectly acquiring opportunities”.

Over conformity is a behavioral characteristic commonly found in sport. Overcomformity goes way beyond normally accepted rules or regulations that it interferes with the person’s health and well-being. Over conformity is behavior grounded in a naive acceptance of rules and regulations.

According to Coakley p.166” deviance grounded in overconformilty is often identified as an indication of commitment and dedication, even though it may be dangerous and have serious consequences for the health and well being of self and others”.

According to “Dying to win” 1994 “ a large percentage of gymnastic coaches are constantly instructing the girls on “how to count calories, how to act, what to wear, and what to say in public” Because of this these girls feel that the only part of their lives that they are able to control is the food and drink that they consume. Because these coaches are authority figures to these gymnasts any remark made will have deep impact and be taken to heart.

One of the main reasons that these girls embark on such drastic diets is because their coach suggests that they need to lose some weight in order from them to look their best. These girls are young and vulnerable to such comments and remarks that they be seen as a basis for enhanced routines. Athletes can be under the illusion that to be a real athlete they must make sacrifices whether it is to your own body or to others and pay the price to increase skills in order to stay in the industry as long as they can.

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Judging gymnasts ability is not objective. Each of the Judges makes a score according to what they believe makes a good routine. The look of the gymnast may control their perceptions and in doing so affect their final verdict. This reinforces the idea that in order to be at the top of their game a gymnast has to maintain a childlike body. This encourages deviant behaviour, as these girls will do anything to be a winner including going way beyond the norms of society.

A terrible example of when a judges’ decision helped destroy a girl’s life is an event with gymnast Christy Henrich who was a top contestant in gymnastics in the latter part of the 1980’s. She died of a multiple organ failure due to her fight with anorexia and associated eating disorders. At a meeting in Budapest, an American. Judge stated that” Henrich would have to lose weight if she wanted to make the Olympic team.” When Henrich returned to America her mum remembers the first words out of her daughter’s mouth:” she was fat and she would have to lose weight–that was the only way she would reach her dreams”. Because of these judges tough rules coakley p174 suggests that the roots of deviance go deeper than the individual desire to win or make money. These roots are grounded in the very values promoted through the sport ethic itself. Therefore, much of the deviance in sports is most accurately identified as a social issue rather than just a personal problem of individual athletes.

Eitzen, 1988, States that” Within sport, deviance involves violating the rules of a game or organisation, going beyond commonly accepted definitions of fair- play and sportsmanship, and intentionally using illegal means to intimidate or injure an opponent” This means athletes are willing to do anything to get to the top of their game e.g. drug use for weight control and/or stimulants for endurance. No matter how bad the end consequence is. Christy Enrich died as a result of her deviant behaviour spiralling out- with her control.

The increase of commercialism in sports has lead to more rules and more pressure to win and be at the top of the game. This in turn has lead to deviance becoming widespread due to the fact that the top judges are reluctant or powerless to punish all acts of deviance.

Due to government intervention and equal rights in athlete’s participation in sports female participation has increased. The first law in America to disallow sex discrimination in any shape or form among people of educational establishment was named” title X”This law was enforced to allow greater gender equality. This means that no one can be discriminated against in relation to gender. Under the “Title X law both men and women must be treated the same and fairly without judgment.

”Title X” covers all areas of government policy including recruitment, housing, insurance and athletics.

In the United Kingdom similar law to “Title X” this law is called “The Brighton Decleration.”The main aim of the declaration is to “develop a sporting culture which enables and values the full involvement of women in every aspect of life”. When sport is practiced equally and also fairly it can help make society a better place and also encourage equality. A good example of this is the Olympic games.

Sport is a cultural activity, which, practiced fairly and equitably, enriches society and encourages friendship between nations. “Sport is an activity which offers the individual the opportunity of self-knowledge, self-expression and fulfillment; personal achievement, skill acquisition and demonstration of ability; social interaction, enjoyment, good health and well-being”. (The Brighton declaration)

In society, sport plays a part in the culture of every nation. Sport participation in women varies vastly between nations. Females make up more than half of the worlds population. However in sport participation is still predominately male.

In recent years despite growing participation of women in sporting activities and also improved opportunities due to laws being past on equal opportunities such as “Title X” and “The Brighton Declaration” women in high positions within sport has not followed. Females continue to be undermined and miss- represented in relation to management roles within sport especially at the top ranks. Equal opportunities will continue not to exist and be achieved within sport because of the lack of these role models. For example, women aducation and their ensuring comments might persuade young female athletes away from deviant behavior in relation to body weight and image.

In conclusion, eating disorders can happen to anybody. It seems to be most prevalent in young teenage girls. Gymnasts, more than any other athletes are more at risk from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. This may be due to the fact that gymnasts, especially the females, are put under regular stress to keep to a very low body weight for visual presentation to the judges. Many judges award points for small body size alone. Because of this there is a need to educate young teenage girls to the dangers of having an eating disorder. As Coakley states “deviance grounded in overconformilty is often identified as an indication of commitment and dedication, even though it may be dangerous and have serious consequences for the health and well being of self and others”.

These gymnasts believe that the have to be the thinnest to be at the top of their game. Their coaches reinforce this idea. According to (“Dying to win” 1994) a large percentage of gymnastic coaches are constantly instructing the girls on “how to count calories, how to act, what to wear. Because of this these girls feel that the only part of their lives that they are able to control is the food and drink that they consume. Because these coaches are role models to these gymnasts any remark made will have deep impact and be taken to heart. One of the main reasons that these girls embark on such drastic diets is because their coach suggests that they need to lose some weight in order from them to look their best. These girls are young and vulnerable to such comments and remarks that may be seen as a basis for enhanced routines. And so if there were more females in positions of authority, e.g. judges, they could counteract this perspective.

According to Health magazine, April 2002,”32% of female TV network characters are underweight, while only 5% of females in the U.S. audience are underweight”. In contrast, actors who are older, frumpier, scruffy, perhaps physically challenged, represent evil and also stupid people. The majority seem to be heavy. Once more according to Health magazine,” only 3% of female TV network characters are obese, while 25% of U.S. women fall into that category” This shows that the media is partly to blame for eating disorders in young people. No one wants to be known as heavy, overweight or scruffy. We need more realism for example the normal size for a woman is more like Opra Winfery.

According to B—eat’s survey of 600 young people with eating disorders 92% of children felt that they could not tell anybody that the had an eating disorder. This suggests that there are a large number of children that need help and also someone to talk to and discuss their feelings in relation to eating disorders. However, of these 92%, 17% would seem amenable to help.

The Butterfly Foundation in Australia and also EDEN in Auckland, New Zealand are both for non-profit which help young girls combat eating disorders. Both organisations offer support and counselling. Though different means of evaluation such as presentations to schools on the dangers of eating disorders. By following a programme similar to both the Butterfly Foundation and also Eden Britain can begin to tackle the growing problem of eating disorders. In which takes a multidisciplinary approach in schools, the voluntary sector, sports establishments and also G.P, mental health referrals. Government funding could be ring-fenced money for programme funding.

More women of authority and also approachable councillors and training may require women instead of men.


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