10 Things Coaches Can Do To Help Prevent Eating Disorders In Their Athletes
By Karin Kratina
Karin Kratina, a registered dietitian with a master's degree
in Exercise Physiology, serves as the Clinical Outreach Coordinator at The
Renfrew Center, Coconut Creek, Florida. She has been active in the eating
disorder field for 10 years. Check out the their website: http://www.renfrewcenter.com/
Instruct coaches and trainers to recognize the signs and symptoms of
eating disorders and understand their role in helping to prevent them. Those
with eating problems often hide their symptoms to avoid calling attention to
them. They are often aware the behavior is abnormal.
Provide athletes with accurate information regarding weight, weight loss,
body composition, nutrition and sports performance in order to reduce
misinformation and to challenge practices that are unhealthy and even
counterproductive. Be aware of local professionals who will help educate the
Emphasize the health risks of low weight, especially for female athletes
with menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea. The athlete should be referred
for medical assessment in these cases.
Refer to a sports psychologist or other therapist skilled at treating
disorders if an athlete is chronically dieting and/or exhibits mildly abnormal
eating. Early detection increases the likelihood of successful treatment-left
untreated the problem may progress to an eating disorder.
De-emphasize weight by not weighing athletes and by minimizing
(eliminating) comments about weight. Instead, focus on other areas in which
athletes have more control in order to improve performance, i.e., focus on
strength and physical conditioning, as well as the mental and emotional
components of performance. (There is no risk in improving mental and emotional
Do not assume that reducing body fat or weight will enhance performance.
While weight loss or a reduction in body fat can lead to improved performance,
studies show this does not apply to all athletes. Additionally, many
individuals respond to weight loss attempts with eating disorder symptoms.
Improved performance should not be at the expense of the athlete's health.
Understand why weight is such a sensitive and personal issue for many
women. Since weight is emotionally charged for many, eliminate derogatory
comments or behaviors, no matter how slight, about weight. If there is concern
about an athlete' s weight, the athlete should be referred for an assessment
to a Registered Dietitian and Sports Psychologist skilled in treating eating
Do not automatically curtail athletic participation if an athlete is found
to have eating problems, unless warranted by a medical condition. Consider the
athlete's health, physical and emotional safety and self-image when making
decisions regarding an athlete's level of participation in his/her sport.
Sport personnel should explore their own values and attitudes regarding
weight, dieting and body image, and how these values and attitudes may
inadvertently affect their athletes. They should understand their role in
promoting a positive self-image and self-esteem in their athletes.
Take warning signs seriously. Take eating disorder behaviors seriously.
There is a 10-15% mortality and 25% suicide rate for those with eating
By Karin Kratina, M.A., R.D., The Renfrew Center; Coconut