The Thigh Gap

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Have you heard of thigh-gap sites? Well, until today I certainly hadn’t.  Apparently they are sites and posts on social media that promote the dangerous weight-loss goal of becoming slim enough so that one’s thighs do not touch. :-O  You can read about them here and here.  While some females genuinely are naturally thin and have wide set thighs, for the vast majority of them, such a look would require dangerous starvation.  I love food and food loves me, so I can’t even imagine taking weight-loss to that extreme, but all of this thigh-gap talk reminds me of a time when I, like many young girls, was susceptible to eat disorders.  Luckily, I didn’t have to contend with the pressures of social media, but the pressure to be a successful athlete definitely took its toll on my pre-teen mind.  While my family and coaches always helped to ensure that I maintained a healthy diet in my quest to win; unfortunately, many female athletes succumb to eating disorders.  Either they do not have the help of coaches and families or coaches and family members find out about the eating disorders only after the issues have caused serious damage.  In an effort, to bring just a little awareness to eating disorders among female athletes, I thought I’d share a few facts and warning signs.

Things to Know

  • Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are the two most common types of eating disorders. Read about them here and here.
  • Many female athletes begin to develop symptoms of eating disorders even before reaching high school.
  • A study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, showed that over 1/3 of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for Anorexia Nervosa
  • Certain female athletes are at a higher risk for eating disorders:
    • Those in sports that emphasize appearance, weight requirements or muscularity, i.e. gymnastics, diving, or bodybuilding
    • Those in sports that focus on the individual rather than the entire team, i.e. gymnastics, running, figure skating, and dance.
    • Many female athletes suffer from the Female Athlete Triad, a dangerous condition in which the athlete actually suffers from three and connected illness: 1) disordered eating; 2) Amenorrhea; and 3) Osteoporosis.  Read about the Female Athlete Triad here.
    • Eating disorders can cause severe and permanent damage to the body

Warning Signs

It is so very important that athletes’ families, coaches and friends are aware of the issues surrounding eating disorders and athletes.  Their intervention and support can be life-changing for athletes who need help.  Here’s a good resource for learning to deal with athletes who may be affected by eating disorders.  Below are some general warning signs.  Should you notice any of these symptoms in an athlete that you know, seek the assistance of a physician and/or counselor: 

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Weakness & Light-headedness
  • Broken bones
  • Leg cramps
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Increased concern about body comparison, fat and restrictive dieting
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Loss of menses

While the majority of female athletes compete in a manner in which they maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, there are a significant number who do not.  For those females, it is important that parents, coaches and friends take an active role in assisting troubled athletes by educating them and reinforcing healthy habits.  For more information on athletes with eating disorders and getting them help, click here, here and here.

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