Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

A Longitudinal Examination of Disordered Eating Correlates in Collegiate Gymnasts

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

A Longitudinal Examination of Disordered Eating Correlates in Collegiate Gymnasts

Article excerpt

Abstract

It is commonly believed that gymnasts are at risk for eating disorders. However, research examining whether gymnasts are a high-risk population for eating pathologies is equivocal. The purpose of our study was to examine disordered eating among Division I female gymnasts using a longitudinal design with validated eating disorder measures. Participants (n = 72) completed the Drive for Thinness, Body Dissatisfaction and Perfectionism subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (Garner, 1991), and the Social Physique Anxiety Scale (Martin et al., 1997), twice during their competitive season (i.e., October and March). There were no significant time differences for the eating disorder subscales, indicating that gymnasts' perfectionism, body dissatisfaction, and anorexic tendencies may be stable characteristics that do not change across a competitive season. Implications of these results and future research directions are discussed.

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Eating disorders are associated with negative biological (e.g., amenorrhea), psychological (e.g., depression), and social effects (e.g., isolation; American Psychological Association [APA], 1994), and certain groups are more at risk for developing eating disorders than others. These groups, for example, include women, Caucasians, chronic dieters, models, and dancers (APA, 1994; Demarest & Allen, 2000; Nagel & Jones, 1992). Some researchers and clinicians also consider athletes to be a high-risk group for developing an eating disorder (Hausenblas & Carron, 1999; Smolak, Murnen, & Ruble, 2000; Thompson & Sherman, 1999a). Subgroups of athletes participating in aesthetic (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating), endurance (e.g., distance running, swimming), and weight-dependent sports (e.g., wrestling, rowing) may be more at risk than athletes participating in other types of sports (Hausenblas & Carron, 1999).

With the malnourished appearance of the 1992 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team and the anorexia-related death of elite gymnast Christy Henrich in 1994, the sport of gymnastics has come under scrutiny as being a breeding ground for eating disorders (Ryan, 1995). However, although the media often portray gymnastics as a sport filled with eating disorders, research examining eating pathologies with gymnastics is equivocal. For example, Rosen and Hough (1988) surveyed 42 collegiate gymnasts, and they found that all the gymnasts were dieting and over half had used at least one form of pathogenic weight-control (e.g., self-induced vomiting, laxatives). The gymnasts self-reported in an opened-ended format that enhancing their athletic performance and improving their appearance were reasons for dieting. Petrie (1993) found that of the 215 collegiate gymnasts surveyed, 60 percent met the criteria for an intermediate disordered eating category (i.e., Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified; APA, 1994) and half wanted to weigh at least five pounds lighter. Only 22 percent of the gymnasts reported normal eating behaviors (Petrie, 1993). Also, in a survey of Division I athletes, Engel and colleagues (2003) found that the gymnasts reported significantly more eating pathology than the athletes in other sports. Specifically, gymnasts reported higher drive for thinness, more purging behavior, and restricted more food than other athletes. O'Connor and colleagues (1995) found that collegiate gymnasts were more likely than nonathletes to report an absence of a menstrual period for three or more months, which is a possible indicator of amenorrhea. However, the same study also found no differences on the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (EDI-2; Garner, 1991) scores between the gymnasts and controls. Similarly, Harris and Greco (1990) found that the EDI scores for collegiate gymnasts were not significantly different than norms for adolescent girls. Finally, (Smolak, Murnen, & Ruble, 2000), in a statistical review of the literature, found that although participants in sports in which a lean physique is important were at high risk for disordered eating, gymnasts in particular were no different than nonathletes with respect to eating problems. …

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