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10 Things Coaches & Trainers Can do to Help Prevent Eating Disorders in Their Athletes

1. Recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and understand their role in helping to prevent them. Those with eating problems may often hide their symptoms to avoid calling attention to them.

2. Provide athletes with accurate information regarding 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 specialize in eating disorders who will help educate the athletes.

3. 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 and referred to an eating disorder professional.

4. Refer to a sports psychologist or other therapist skilled at treating disorders if an athlete is chronically dieting and/or exhibits abnormal eating. Early detection increases the likelihood of successful treatment. If left untreated, the problems may worsen or progress to an eating disorder.

5. De-emphasize weight by not weighing athletes and not focusing on weight. Instead, focus on other areas in which athletes have more control, in order to improve performance. There is no risk in improving mental and emotional capacities.

6. Do not assume that reducing body fat or weight will enhance performance, as studies show this does not necessarily apply to all athletes. Additionally, some individuals may respond to weight loss attempts with eating disorder symptoms. Improved performance should not be at the expense of the athlete’s health.

7. 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 a 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 disorders.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. The annual mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is more than 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females 15 to 24 years old in the general population.

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