Dieting is an important risk factor for disordered eating and eating disorders. Disordered eating occurs on a continuum from dieting and restrictive eating, abnormal eating behavior, and finally clinical eating disorders. The prevalence of eating disorders is increased in elite athletes and for this group the cause of starting to diet is related to (a) perception of the paradigm of appearance in the specific sport, (b) perceived performance improvements, and (c) sociocultural pressures for thinness or an "ideal" body. Athletes most at risk for disordered eating are those involved in sports emphasizing a thin body size/shape, a high power-to-weight ratio, and/or sports utilizing weight categories, such as in some high-intensity sports. In addition to dieting, personality factors, pressure to lose weight, frequent weight cycling, early start of sport-specific training, overtraining, injuries, and unfortunate coaching behavior, are important risk factors. To prevent disordered eating and eating disorders, the athletes have to practice healthy eating, and the medical staff of teams and parents must be able to recognize symptoms indicating risk for eating disorders. Coaches and leaders must accept that disordered eating can be a problem in the athletic community and that openness regarding this challenge is important.
© 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S.