Anorexia Athletica

You may have learned about an eating disorder called nervous anorexia. The amount of food they consume is significantly reduced by individuals with anorexia nervosa.

They have a warped image of their bodies, and they have an overwhelming fear of gaining weight. This behaviour can lead to significant complications over time.

Anorexia athletica is a form of athlete-related disordered eating that is similar.

What is anorexia athletica? 

Athletic anorexia is a type of disordered eating that affects athletes. Despite a high physical activity level, people with anorexia athletica take in a small number of calories. This activity contributes to the form and low weight of a very lean body.

Patients with anorexia athletica have lost at least five per cent of their healthy body weight due to calorie restriction and excessive exercise, according to a publication by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

Someone with athletic anorexia does not think their conduct is unhealthy. In fact, in the sense of the sport or activity in which they are involved, they can perceive them as natural.

Those usually meet some, but not all of the conditions for other eating disorders with anorexia athletica. As a consequence, anorexia athletica is also categorised as an eating disorder that is not defined otherwise (EDNOS).

This activity contributes to the form and low weight of a very lean body.

What are the symptoms of anorexia athletica?

Let’s examine some of the symptoms that are associated with anorexia athletica:

  • Restricted intake of calories
  • Similar to those with anorexia nervosa, people with athletic anorexia limit their calorie consumption. They can either lose weight or retain an already low weight in this manner.
  • Calorie restriction also happens in the form of a specialised diet for anorexia athletica. However, there may also be self-induced vomiting (purging) and the abuse of laxatives or diuretics.

Limiting the consumption of calories may also have many noticeable consequences, including:

  • High levels of energy or exhaustion
  • Problems with attention or concentration
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Irritability
  • A more extended recovery period is needed between workouts, practices or competitions.
  • More frequent wounds
  • Elevated physical activity

People with athletic anorexia indulge in a high degree of physical activity. This can be in the form of workout, preparation, or competition.

  • This excess physical activity puts extra stress on the body of the athlete and can raise the risk of injury.
  • Performance Emphasis
  • A distorted perception of body appearance or fear of weight gain is associated with anorexia nervosa. It is normal for someone with anorexia nervosa to feel that while they’re really really slim, they are overweight.
  • People with athletic anorexia can also be unhappy with their weight and body shape. Behaviours such as restrictive dieting and excessive exercise, however, are also motivated by success.
  • In maintaining what is considered as optimum physical condition, anyone with anorexia athletica can have a perfectionist mentality, which they believe would give them a competitive advantage.
  • If they are active in their preferred activity when employing activities such as reducing calories and increasing physical activity, this mentality may be improved. As such, they do not think their attitudes are unhealthy.
  • In women, irregular cycles.
  • Women with athletic anorexia may experience times that are irregular, missed or absent. This arises because of the reduced body mass associated with athletic anorexia.

What are the causes of athletic anorexia?

The pressure to maintain a certain physical condition is likely to play a major role in the development of athletic anorexia. One way this pressure can materialise is by repeated remarks about body shape or weight or by scolding.

This can come from a range of different avenues, including:

  • Coaches
  • Trainers
  • Teammates
  • Parents or other family members
  • The media

Additionally, the push to meet particular standards of weight and body shape can be linked with the sport or activity itself. This can be present in many ways, such as:

  • Judging criteria
  • Weigh-ins
  • Uniforms that are tight or revealing

Such pressure can lead an athlete to follow strict measures of weight control and training. Their intention is to retain what they consider to be an appropriate form of body for their chosen activity and to meet the needs of those around them.

Who’s at risk for developing anorexia athletica?

The specific occurrence of athletic anorexia is unknown. The prevalence of eating disorders in female athletes is typically higher than in male athletes, but male athletes are still at risk.

A Division 1 research by athletes from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) found that more than one-third of women athletes reported behaviours and symptoms that placed them at risk of anorexia nervosa.

About 33 per cent of male athletes are influenced by weight class sports (wrestling, rowing, horse racing) and aesthetic sports (bodybuilding, gymnastics, swimming, diving). Disordered eating exists at estimates of up to 62 per cent for women athletes in weight class and aesthetic sports.

In a 2019 survey, 755 elite Icelandic athletes were asked to complete body image and eating disorder symptoms questionnaires. It found that for eating disorder symptoms, 9.5 per cent of respondents were above the professional cutoff score.

Anorexia athletica is more likely to be formed by people who engage in sports or activities typically associated with thinness or being a certain weight.

Some instances include:

  • Gymnastics
  • Figure skating
  • Running
  • Swimming and diving
  • Ballet and other types of dance
  • Cheerleading
  • Rowing
  • Horseback riding
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing

Other individual factors, such as genetics and personality, contribute to an individual’s risk for developing anorexia athletica. However, further research is needed in this area.

Is anorexia athletica similar to orthorexia?

When anyone is fixated on healthy eating, orthorexia exists. Someone with orthorexia, for example, can:

  • Checking product labelling and nutrition facts compulsively
  • Some food classes are entirely cut off from their diet, instead of consuming foods, they have decided to be safe or appropriate.
  • When suitable food products are not available, you become nervous or upset.
  • Spend a considerable amount of time preparing shopping trips or menus for groceries
  • Show an increased interest in the nutritional or health value of the foods that others consume.
  • In comparison to anorexia athletica, through their food preferences, anyone with orthorexia strives to promote optimal overall health. In those with orthorexia, body image issues may also be present.
  • Like athletic anorexia, orthorexia can lead to potentially dangerous weight loss and malnutrition. It stems from the nutritional constraints that a person with orthorexia imposes on themselves.

How is anorexia athletica treated?

There is no defined treatment regimen for athletic anorexia. It is possible. However, that treatment would require many distinct disciplines.

Let’s explore some of the treatment that a person with athletic anorexia can receive.

Psychological treatment

In order to cure certain forms of eating disorders, medication is used. This requires a consultation with a specialist in mental health, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The athlete will be prompted during counselling to analyse the thinking patterns and habits that lead to their illness. To further strengthen their situation, the therapist may assist them in developing and practising coping mechanisms.

Nutritional and fitness care

It is important that the potentially dangerous habits associated with athletic anorexia are specifically addressed. Dietitians, personal trainers or both may be interested in this.

These practitioners will assist with this by:

  • Focusing on maximising the absorption of nutrients thus discouraging drastic steps of diet or weight loss
  • Adjusting the volume and forms of exercise done by the athlete
  • Weight restoration to a healthier range or the teaching of healthy weight control approaches

Medical care

Medical treatment may be necessary to treat any physical problems that have arisen due to athletic anorexia. These may involve items like osteoporosis or injuries.

What’s the long-term outlook for anorexia athletica?

In general, the long-term outlook for athletic anorexia is considered strong. Early diagnosis and treatment of athletic anorexia are critical.

This is because a number of health problems can be caused by the disease, including:

  • Nutritional Deficiencies
  • Missed or absent cycles of menstruation in women
  • Bone or muscle injuries, such as ligament tears or fractures
  • Owing to joint damage from excessive exercise, arthritis
  • With osteoporosis
  • Electrolyte imbalances that can result in potentially hazardous arrhythmias


Athletic anorexia is a type of disordered eating that can impact athletes. It is more common in sports that concentrate on the form of a lean body or maintain a particular weight. Gymnastics, dancing, and wrestling are some examples.

Individuals with anorexia athletica reduce their consumption of calories and indulge in excess exercise. These habits are also motivated by success, as the person feels that having a certain weight or type of body will give them a competitive advantage.

Many of the attitudes associated with athletic anorexia may be attributed to the beliefs of coaches, parents, or the public. Via variables such as judging standards and weigh-ins, the atmosphere of the sport itself may also contribute.

Psychological, medical, and nutritional treatments may be involved in treatment. While the outlook is strong, it is still necessary for early detection. This is because people with athletic anorexia could be more vulnerable to problems such as osteoporosis and injury.


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  • Bratland-Sanda S, et al. (2013). Eating disorders in athletes: an overview of prevalence, risk factors and recommendations for prevention and treatment: Research Gates
  • Chapman J, et al. (2016). Disordered eating in male athletes [Abstract]: Doe
  • De Oliveira Coelho GM, et al. (2014). Prevention of eating disorders in female athletes; NCBI
  • Anorexia Athletica: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment: Healthline