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The Perils of Perfection

What predisposes some athletes —to developing an eating disorder? In a survey of women with eating disorders, 12 of whom were athletes and 17 who were not, 75 percent of the participants shared the following predisposing factors: low self-worth, poor body image, and issues with peers. Additional predisposing factors included depression and anxiety. Among the athletes, getting injured triggered disordered eating behaviors.

Perfectionism is a trait common to many athletes.

It can contribute to high levels of achievement, but it can also lead to the pursuit of a “perfect” but biologically unrealistic body type. Among dancers, many of whom are perfectionists, eating disorders are prevalent. A survey of 245 dancers from one collegiate dance program and four professional dance companies suggests both collegiate and professional dancers scored similarly on tests that diagnose eating disorders. Dancers with eating disorders reported more anger, depression, and physical discomfort. If only the dancers had gotten help in college (or earlier), they might have been able to enjoy better quality of life as a professional. This same advice applies to all athletes who struggle with food, weight, and body image. The sooner you get help, the quicker you’ll be able to recover. And yes, you can eat well and still remain lean.

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