Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Female Athletes Exacerbated by Need to Masculinize One's Body

Jun 15, 2010, 11:54 ET from Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

CHICAGO, June 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Eating disorders and disordered eating are commonly experienced by female athletes, and are many times brought on by the pressure female athletes feel to masculinize one's body. Right now, as the World Cup is kicking off and the NBA Finals are wrapping up, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center (, which provides treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia, compulsive overeating and binge eating disorders for women 12 and older, wants to make young athletes and their coaches aware of this growing problem.

According to Kimberly Dennis, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls, the prevalence of eating disorders in female athletes occurs at an even higher rate than the general population, and can be spurned by denial, perfectionism and psychosexual implications. "Most athlete role models are men, with the exception of aesthetic sports such as dance, cheerleading and synchronized swimming," said Dr. Dennis. "And because of this many females think their bodies must match a male physique."

The psychosexual implications of being a female can contribute to this increased prevalence and risk of disordered eating among female athletes. Because most athlete role models are men there may be pressure to masculinize one's body and become more muscular. They might also seek to avoid menstruation, with its inherent cyclical fluctuations affecting bodies and moods, since stability, consistency and control are important for athletic performance and success.

Other traits that can lead to athletes developing eating disorders are perfectionism and denial. Competitive athletes rely on precision and "perfect" execution of planned movements, behaviors and training rituals in order to succeed and win, and the fire of denial can be fed by coaches who rely on the exceptional talent and extreme drive for success that many athletes possess to win games, titles and awards.

Early detection is key to fighting this deadly disease, which has a death rate twelve times higher than the death rate of ALL other causes of death for females between fifteen to twenty-four years old, and coaches and school administrators are sometimes the first line of defense in noticing key changes that could signal an eating disorder. There needs to be education around prevention and recognition of eating disorders, particularly to staff and coaches for female athletes and to the female athletes themselves. Coaches and school administrators must foster a culture of safety around the athlete so that they feel comfortable asking for help and expressing concerns about weight, as well as be able to make appropriate treatment recommendations. It is only through a combined effort on all fronts that we can stop this deadly disease and help young women find lifelong recovery.

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is located on 43 beautiful acres just outside Chicago, offering a nurturing environment of recovery for women ages 12 and older struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood disorders and co-occurring disorders. By serving with uncompromising care, relentless compassion and an unconditional joyful spirit, we help our residents help themselves in their recovery. For more information, visit or call 877.257.9611.

SOURCE Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center