Sunday, December 4, 2016

Through an Athletic Trainer’s Eyes: Disordered Eating Part Two

As discussed in the previous blog, disordered eating has a greater presence among student athletes than we probably have realized. When an athlete is suffering from disordered eating they are not only putting their performance in danger but their overall health. This blog will discuss how to recognize the signs and symptoms of disorder eating and how to approach an athlete suspected of dealing with this disorder.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an athlete suspected with disordered eating is the most important step. It is important that recognition is at the earliest onset.  Early recognition of disordered eating can potentially save the athlete from affecting multiple organ systems.¹  
Signs and Symptoms²                                                                                                      
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • Distorted body image
  • Lack of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Extremely restricted eating or secretive eating
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in neck and jaw
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Acid reflux disorder/gastrointestinal problems
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
Symptoms that develop over time²
  • Thinning of bone (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Dry/yellowish skin
  • Brittle hair/nails
  • Mild anemia and muscle weakness
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Drop in internal body temperature
  • Fatigue

Once disordered eating is suspected, the next step is confrontation with the athlete. This can be an uncomfortable situation for both the athletic trainer and athlete, and thus should be done in a professional manner. Prior to confronting the athlete the AT should be sure all the facts gathered are accurate.
The initial meeting with the athlete should be with an authority figure with the best rapport with the athlete.¹ The athletic trainer must remain within the parameters of confidentiality. If the parents or coaches are not aware of the situation then the AT should encourage, but not insist, the athlete to inform the coaching staff and their parents.²
When first speaking with the athlete, remain in a sensitive and respectful manner. Remind the athlete that what they are sharing is confidential. Share with the athlete specific observations of concern that have lead you to believing there may be a problem. It is normal for the athlete to show signs of denial, anger, or resistance towards the speculation. If the athlete does confirm disordered eating, refer the athlete to a mental health care professional for further examination.¹
As an athletic trainer we come across many different situations that are not always involving a physical injury. We must be prepared for each and every injury or illness that comes our way. I have written these blogs to give insight to what an athletic trainer might encounter beyond the physical injuries. Bottom line, regardless if the injury or illness is physical or mental an athletic trainer will be there.


¹Bonci, C. M., MS, ATC, Bonci, L. J., MPH, RD,LDN,CSSD, Granger, L. R., ATC, Johnson, C. L., PhD, Malina, R. M., PhD, FACSM, Milne, L. W., MD, . . . Vanderbunt, E. M., MS, ATC. (2008). Preventing, Detecting and Managing Disordered Eating in ... Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

²Neal, T. L., Ms, ATC, Diamond, A. B., DO, MPH, Goldman, S., PhD, CC-AASP, Liedtka, K. D., MS, Mathis, K., MEd, ATC, Morse, E. D., MD, DFAPA, . . . Welzant, V., PsyD. (2015). Interassociation Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes With Psychological Concerns at the Secondary School Level: A Consensus Statement. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

1 comment:

  1. Eating disorders are never fun to talk about. However, like you said, an athletic trainer is always there for the athlete regardless of the situation. The main thing to remember when discussing a sensitive subject with an athlete is that they know they can trust you 100%. Trust is a huge thing in all aspects of athletic training.