The relationship between perfectionism, eating disorders and athletes: a review

Minerva Pediatr. 2006 Dec;58(6):525-36.


Perfectionism is a potentially maladaptive personality trait implicated in a number of psychopathologies. As our understanding of the construct perfectionism has shifted from more unidimensionally focused conceptualizations to multidimensional ones, our ability to assess its bearing on various disorders has grown. One particular area in which perfectionism appears to play an important role is among eating disorder patients. The personalities of both those with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are thought to be intrinsically perfectionistic, which suggests a need to understand the role perfectionism plays in the development, course and outcome of these disorders. There is also an increased focus on perfectionism among athletes and its relationship to the higher prevalence of eating disorders in this group. With the institution of Title IX in the United States (which prohibited sex discrimination in higher educational settings) the participation of women in various sports has increased exponentially and with it concerns about their well-being in a milieu where a risk for menstrual irregularities, osteoporosis and eating disorders (the female athlete triad) are common. However, conflicting data suggests that athletics may be a protective factor in the development of eating disorders on the one hand, or it may be a risk factor on the other. Thus, it has become important to examine other variables, such as perfectionism, that may influence the outcome, one way or another. This review examines the current evidence about the relations between perfectionism, athletics and eating disorders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Female Athlete Triad Syndrome
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology
  • Personality*
  • Prevalence
  • Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports* / psychology