Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

Female Athletes & Bulimia

Female athletes who have bulimia nervosa are similar to female non-athletes with that disorder, but there are some important additional factors at work also. 
Food restriction sets the scene for the next binge
Many bulimics eat nothing, or very little, all day, and then, after making themselves hungry, they binge at night. The non-athlete restricts to control weight. The bulimic athlete does too, but she also may insist that if she eats during the day she will feel heavy and be slow at workouts, practices, and competitions.  

Uncomfortable emotions trigger binges too

Hunger is a primary binge trigger, but so are uncomfortable emotional states. Bulimic athletes may binge and vomit before they compete to reduce high anxiety levels.  No one likes to lose, but everyone does from time to time. Bulimic athletes may comfort themselves after defeat, or try to ease depression, by indulging in binge food, which is usually high-fat and in other circumstances forbidden.

Team meals are difficult

Eating with other people, especially one's teammates, is hard for the athlete with bulimia. She may be able to eat only a small amount of food before she loses control and binges. At the training table she may do one of two things: (1) avoid eating by making excuses or leaving early, or (2) eating and then leaving to continue a full-fledged binge followed by purging.
The social stress is considerable. The athlete worries about being discovered in a binge, and she anticipates with dread being confronted about her strange food habits and meager diet. She may worry more about being discovered in her bulimia than about how well she will compete in the next event. 

Purging means more problems for the athlete

Vomiting and laxative abuse carry with them a sense of shame and fear of discovery. Hiding the products of purging becomes a problem in communal restrooms, especially on team trips. The bulimic athlete may spend many hours planning how to make time and find the privacy to obtain binge food, gobble it, and then vomit or process the cramps and diarrhea generated by laxatives.  

Compulsive exercising or exercise bulimia can occur when the person repeatedly exercises beyond the requirements for good health. This can have very damaging physical and emotional consequences. Here are some signs to watch for:


1) Exercising to the point of exhaustion

2) Exercising when injured, sick/not feeling good

3) Exercising solely to burn calories, not to get/stay fit and healthy

4) Being a fanatic about weight and diet

5) Stealing time to exercise from work, school, and relationships

6) Forgetting that physical activity can be fun

7) Defining self-worth in terms of performance

8) Resenting exercising with others because it will slow you down

9) Exercising to get rid of feelings

10) If miss exercising--feeling anxious, guilty, or empty


What Do I Do Now?

Talk about it! Tell a friend, teacher, parent, coach, youth group leader, doctor, counselor, or nutritionist what you’re going through. It is important to get some support to change the thoughts and behaviors you are experiencing now. It could save your life - and isn’t your health and happiness worth it? 


Santa Clara University Resources include:

Cowell Student Health Center **lab work, medical check-up, consultation
Counseling Center **ongoing professional counseling and referrals
Wellness Center    **educational support, resources, consultation



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