Eating Disorders And Gymnastics Essay

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Eating Disorders And Gymnastics


Eating disorders are especially common among athletes because the pressure of the sport environment frequently precipitates the onset of these problems. In this population, certain compulsive behaviors such as excessive exercise and restricted eating patterns are seen as acceptable, and pathogenic methods of weight control are often introduced. In addition, concern about body size and shape is increased because of the "social influence for thinness [from coaches and peers], anxiety about athletic performance, and negative self-appraisal of athletic achievement" (Williamson et al. 1995). Finally, the competitive nature of sports reinforces characteristics such as "perfectionism, high achievement
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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 wrestler's perception of his body is not distorted and when he is not competing, he can regain the weight with ease.



Do female gymnasts suffer an even greater risk?


As demonstrated by such famous gymnasts as Kathy Johnson and Nadia Comaneci who have struggled with eating disorders themselves, women's gymnastics seems "designed for the disease" ("Dying for a medal" 1994). In the 1992 NCAA survey, 51% of the gymnastics programs that responded reported this illness among its team members, "a far greater percentage than in any other sport" ("Dying to win" 1994). Unfortunately, the real number is probably even higher.



Why might gymnasts be more vulnerable to eating disorders?


Anorexia often strikes young women who try to evade the natural process of becoming adults and who use excessive measures to maintain a thin and girlish figure--the exact description of what today's female gymnast must accomplish to stay competitive at its highest levels. For these athletes, the onset of womenhood is their biggest fear because it means developing hips or breasts that might hinder their performance. Thus, starving themselves offers the most convenient solution to their problem. In addition, many of these girls begin training specifically for this sport since the time they…

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