South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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A desire for weight loss in season increases disordered eating behaviour risk and energy deficiency in athletes

HH Wright, R Ford, CR Botha


Objective: The objective was to explore eating behaviour, body image and energy status in female university team sport athletes.
Design: This was a cross-sectional, descriptive study design.
Setting: The setting was North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Subjects: Subjects were top university female field hockey and netball player volunteers, aged 18-30 years (n = 22), and recruited during their sport season.
Outcome measures: Athletes completed demographic, health and sport, and body weight questionnaires. The Eating Disorder Inventory and the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire’s cognitive dietary restraint subscale were used to measure disordered eating behaviour. Body composition was measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Estimated energy availability (estEA) was determined from a three-day diet and exercise record.
Results: Fifteen (68%) athletes were identified with an increased risk of disordered eating. Sixteen (73%) were dieting. A low estEA (24 ± 12 kcal/kg fat-free mass/day) was found in 59% of the athletes, of whom 85% (11/13) had increased risk of disordered eating. A significantly positive (p-value < 0.05) association was found between cognitive dietary restraint and drive for thinness (r = 0.4) and body weight (r = 0.5). A negative association was found between desired weight loss (r = −0.5), energy intake (r = −0.5) and estEA (r = −0.7).
Conclusion: Nonlean build athletes who diet in season are at increased risk of disordered eating behaviour and low energy availability.


Keywords: disordered eating, body image, nonlean-build sports, female students, energy status
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