Do all female athletes have eating disorders?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

No, not all female athletes have eating disorders. Female athletes who compete in sports that emphasize appearance, weight, or require speed, lightness, agility and quickness are at higher risk for developing an eating disorder than are non-athletes or athletes in sports that require muscle mass and bulk.

Eating disorders are most common in female athletes that participate in the following sports:

  • ballet and other dance
  • figure skating
  • gymnastics
  • running
  • swimming
  • rowing
  • horse racing

The three most common eating disorders found in athletes are; Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Compulsive Exercise. Nutrient deficiencies and fluid/electrolyte imbalance from low food intake can lead to increased risk of fractures, illness, loss of reproductive function and serious medical conditions such as dehydration, and starvation. The medical complications of this triad involve almost every body function and include the cardiovascular, endocrine, reproductive, skeletal, gastrointestinal, renal, and central nervous systems

The Female Athlete Triad
Women athletes with eating disorders often fit into a condition called the female athlete triad. This is a combination of too low energy availability (or calories), menstrual irregularities or loss of a period (called amenorrhea), and weak bones.

Approximately 63% of all female athletes develop symptoms of an eating disorder in high school. Female athletes report higher frequencies of eating disorders than male athletes. The research has found that athletes, compared with non-athletes, may have higher frequencies of disordered eating than others with eating disorders. A significant percentage of athletes engaged in disordered eating show symptoms such as binge eating, rigorous dieting, fasting, and vomiting. Eating disorders among athletes tend have a sport specific prevalence. Eating disorders occur more often in gymnasts and wrestlers than in archery or basketball.

Continue Learning about Eating Disorders Causes & Risk Factors

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.