Published On: Sep 13, 2018|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

Sadly, society still has many misconceptions about eating disorders, including the stereotype that an individual suffering from an eating disorder will be rail thin. However, there are plenty of individuals who suffer from the eating disorders, even though their outward appearance does not seem to reflect that they have one.

Female athlete triad syndrome is typically seen in athletes who try to their lower body weight, thinking the lost weight will improve athletic performance. While these athletes may appear lean, muscular and strong, they may still be struggling with eating disorders. Too often, athletes can suffer before they realize what they are doing to their body.

In this article we’ll look at the definition of the female athlete triad, the syndrome’s most common symptoms and how to start treatment.

What is the female athlete triad?

Many sports require female athletes to maintain a low body weight. However, these sports require participants to expend a lot of energy, meaning athletes need to consume more food, not less. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs regularly where women consume fewer calories, but since they are more active than the average person, they have less fuel. Women with female athlete triad syndrome may not necessarily eat less than recommended, but it is not enough to sustain them through their activity.

Some of the most common activities include:

  • Cross country running;
  • Ballet;
  • Swimming;
  • Diving;
  • Figure skating;
  • Gymnastics.

While not all athletes who participate in these sports will struggle with weight management, some exercises are more likely than others to place a focus on maintaining a certain weight.

Symptoms of female athlete triad syndrome

There are three symptoms that develop with this disorder. First is an energy deficiency due to the athlete not consuming enough calories. This is why this syndrome is considered an eating disorder along the same lines as bulimia or anorexia. While a woman may seem to be eating regular meals, she may still be consuming insufficient nutrients to sustain an active lifestyle.

The second common symptom is bone loss. Athletes with this disorder face a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, which can lead to bone fractures. While this female athlete triad symptom is less noticeable, it could have severe long-term consequences if neglected.

Finally, female athletes experience menstrual disturbances, or the absence of menstruation for three months or more, known as amenorrhea. Like bone loss, this symptom is not easily identified by friends or family. Moreover, menstrual disturbances may also be attributed to other factors, like stress.

Because symptoms of female athlete triad are often hidden, it’s critical that the individual seek out help herself. If you are an athlete experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to consult with a health professional for further examination.

Who is most at risk?

Females in their teens are the most at risk for this disorder, although it has been observed in women of all ages. Many teens already face enough pressure to maintain a certain body weight, and the added pressure of athletics can compound those anxieties.

It’s often in the teen and young adult years that sports are most competitive, adding to the prominence of this disorder with these age groups. High school and collegiate sports may add extra strain to someone who is at risk for developing an eating disorder. The intensity and pressure of athletic programs can also hinder someone from seeking treatment.

Female athlete triad treatment

While many eating disorders develop with an awareness of the issue, Female athlete triad syndrome is unique in that aspect. Sometimes, an athlete will develop the disorder without understanding the severity of the behavior. If you recognize female athlete triad symptoms in yourself or another, education can help prevent long-term consequences of the disorder.

Like other eating disorders, female athlete triad treatment necessitates intervention, generally in the form of psychotherapy, or talk-therapy as well as the assistance of medical professionals. A interdisciplinary team will be your best bet for full recovery. In order to return to optimal functioning, it will be important to treat both the root of the disorder and its symptoms.

Starting treatment will also help women to address any co-occurring issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. Often, mental health concerns exacerbate eating disorders and the comorbidity rate between the two is high. Addressing these issues can help female athlete triad treatment to be quicker and more effective, too.

According to the journal Sports Health, a major goal of treatment is a return of the menstrual cycle, which can be supported by maximizing energy and boosting intake of Vitamin D and calcium. American Family Physician also recommends hormone replacement therapy early on in treatment to reverse the effects of missed menstrual cycles.

Where to find help

If you find yourself or a loved one in need of treatment for an eating disorder, contact our clinical team at Seeds of Hope. Call 610-644-6464 to learn more. Female athlete triad syndrome does not have to overtake your life, and there are experts waiting to help.

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