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The Female Athlete Triad




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A family friend of a Moji employee passed away this past week from anorexia at the age of sixty-four – a tragedy that happens far too often in women of all ages.

Female athletes are particularly prone to disordered eating as a result of the pressures of their sport, their peers, and the media.  Though sports requiring weigh-ins and aesthetic judging may come to mind, all competitive athletic activities can cause undue pressure in women to restrict their caloric intake.  Endurance sports, sports that require revealing uniforms, and sports that benefit from diminutive frames are just a few other categories that yield an unnaturally high number of athletes with eating disorders.  Unfortunately, that means that very few, if any, sports are a safe haven for women.

It is important to understand the risk factors and warning signs associated with eating disorders in female athletes and the unfortunate progression of the often serious, and sometimes deadly, conditions known as the Female Athlete Triad.

The Female Athlete Triad is three interrelated medical conditions born from aggressive athletic training in conjunction with disordered eating.  These conditions are:

  • energy deficiency (disordered eating)
  • amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances)
  • osteoporosis (bone loss)

While the Female Athlete Triad refers to all three conditions, women will suffer from each of these conditions to varying degrees as the disorder progresses.  The most advanced cases will demonstrate significant weight loss, loss of menstrual cycle, and reduced bone density.  Female Athlete Triad sufferers experience a variety of symptoms from fatigue and amenorrhea to repeated stress fractures and organ failure.  The effects of this disorder may be felt for years as women struggle with both the mental and physical ramifications of the triad and some effects, such as the loss in bone density, cannot fully be repaired.

The onset of the Female Athlete Triad is often intentional as the pressures of appearance and/or performance cause women to try to drop weight.  However, some athletes simply are not aware of their caloric needs as they progress to more demanding training regimens and will unintentionally slide into energy deficiency.

The NCAA and other organizations have done much to educate the athletic community about the Female Athlete Triad.  However, little has been done to bring this information to the general public.

Recently, there has been very little attention brought to this disorder at all, which affects 1/3 of female athletes – something that Moji hopes to do.

It takes some digging to find articles and information on the subject, so in order to make sure the information gets passed along to as many women and their loved ones as possible, we did the heavy lifting for you.

Here are the best resources available on the Female Athlete Triad and disordered eating in athletes.  We urge female athletes, their coaches, trainers, doctors, friends, and family to learn more about this medical condition so that they may help restore these athletes to health.


RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Female Athletes: Health Problems Caused by Extreme Exercise and Dieting:  Information from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  Features information on how to best take advantage of a doctor’s examination.

The Female Athlete Triad:  Official pronouncement from the American College of Sports Medicine providing in-depth information on the Female Athlete Triad and a list of over 100 hundred citations for further information.

Disordered Eating and the Controlling Aspects of Aesthetic Sports:  An article from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology on the psychological contributions to disordered eating in athletes.  Good information on warning signs and risk factors.


HELP FOR COACHES AND FRIENDS

Managing the Female Athlete Triad:  A guide written by the NCAA  and distributed to 2,900 NCAA women’s coaches to help them identify and manage the Female Athlete Triad.


ORGANIZATIONS

Female Athlete Triad Coalition:  A non-profit organization formed to help prevent the Female Athlete Triad through advocacy, educational, and research.


FOR TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

Teens Health:  An article on kidshealth.org that breaks down the Female Athlete Triad, describes its signs and symptoms, how to help friends, and how to stay healthy yourself.

Sports and Menstrual Periods:  An article from the Center for Young Women’s Health that describes the Female Athlete Triad and gives in-depth tips for young women.


PERSONAL STORIES

When Being Varsity-Fit Masks an Eating Disorder:  A 2006 New York Times article that describes the Female Athlete Triad at its worst through the tragic story of Alex DeVinny and other athletes.

Women Face ‘Triad’ of Danger and Athletes’ Hunger to Win Fuels Eating Disorders:  A pair of articles from the USA today that talk about the Female Athlete Triad


SOME RESOURCES FOR MALE ATHLETES

Eating Disorders May Be Rising Among Male Athletes:  An article from Reuters Health that discusses the 2008 Current Sports Medicine Reports findings.

Eating Disorders in the Male Athlete:  Abstract to an article by Antonia Baum for Sports Medicine.



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