Common Risk Factors

Factors That May Lead to an Eating Disorder

  • low self-esteem, inadequacy, anxiety
  • definition of self in terms of appearance
  • being overweight
  • feeling helpless and in need of having control
  • difficulty in managing emotions
  • social anxiety and lack of social skills
  • genetic predisposition (family history)
  • pressure in sports

Pressure in Sports

While school sports and other athletic endeavors can benefit students in many ways, sports in which size, speed, and weight are paramount can be a set-up for disordered eating. Well-meaning parents and coaches who place undue pressure on teens can exacerbate the problem.

Sports that present the highest risk for developing eating disorders include:

  • gymnastics
  • distance running
  • figure skating
  • ballet
  • wrestling
  • jockeying
  • rowing
  • cross-country skiing
  • diving
  • swimming

Here, gender makes a big difference. Male athletes often do not experience the same emotional bondage many females do. A girl's identity and self-worth can become closely tied to her success at shedding pounds. For boys, a certain weight may be just a goal to meet in order to do well athletically.

But even if most boys don't get psychologically addicted to losing weight the way girls do, they still need to be careful not to do permanent harm to their bodies thorough unhealthy dieting. And it's worth noting that boys are not immune to developing an eating disorder. About one out of every 10 individuals with an eating disorder is male.

If your son or daughter chooses to participate in these "risk sports," do all you can to help him or her maintain a healthy lifestyle. If your own competitive edge keeps you from being objective in the matter, help your teen to develop an accountability relationship with a school counselor, youth leader or school nurse who can give feedback regarding his or her health.

No matter what risk factors apply to your teen, whether they be pressure from sports or from other areas of life, be alert (not paranoid, but aware) and take steps now that may prevent the development of an eating disorder.

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