Etiology of Disordered Eating in Athletes

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Most eating disorder experts agree that there is no single ''cause'' of eating disorders among athletes, but rather that the etiology is multifactorial and encompasses a complex interaction between sociocultural, demographic, environmental, biologic, psychological, and behavioral factors [28]. Controversy currently exists whether athletes are at a greater risk for developing eating disorders than their nonathletic counterparts; some research suggests that the prevalence of disordered eating is greater among athletes [25,26,29], whereas other research does not [30,31]. The current controversy notwithstanding, evidence does suggest that certain inherent pressures in the sport setting may trigger the development of an eating disorder in psychologically vulnerable athletes.

Sundgot-Borgen [32] examined the etiology of disordered eating behaviors in 522 elite Norwegian female athletes and found that an early start of sport-specific training and dieting at an early age were frequently associated with the development of eating disorders. In addition, prolonged periods of dieting, frequent weight fluctuations, sudden increases in training volume, or traumatic life events (eg, an injury or a change of coach) tended to trigger the development of eating disorders.

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