Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Male Collegiate Athletes

PETRIE, GREENLEAF, REEL, AND CARTER

but generally do not define this consumption as
a binge, most likely because they do not feel out
of control when eating (the key component for
a binge). Of those who did define their food
intake as a binge, their frequency was generally
low, with only 9.3% binge eating often enough
to meet clinical diagnostic criteria (at least twice
per week); it is interesting, however, that the
majority of the sample who did binge eat had
done so for more than the 3 months required for
clinical diagnosis. When similar frequencies of
binge eating were considered (i.e., weekly or
more), more athletes in the current study binge
ate than has been reported in past research with
male collegiate athletes (Carter & Rudd, 2005;
Johnson et al., 1999).
Because the data from this study were drawn
from multiple sites, it is unlikely that the higher
prevalence is simply due to unique characteris-
tics of the sample. In fact, it may be that the
increase reflects true changes in male athletes'
eating behaviors. It would not be surprising for
athletes, particularly those who feel under-
weight (which was one quarter of the current
sample), to eat more food in an attempt to gain
weight. Although many male athletes could in-
crease their food intake without experiencing
any problems, others, particularly those who
have internalized the general and sport-specific
sociocultural pressures regarding weight, body
type, and sport performance, may have diffi-
culty regulating their food intake, knowing
when they truly are hungry, knowing when they
are full, and not eating as means of coping with
their emotional state (Tylka, 2006). With the
changes that have occurred in the sociocultural
environment during the past 2 decades, men
now appear to be experiencing some of the
same eating-related pressures that historically
have been present for female athletes and to be
responding behaviorally in similar ways (Cafri
et al., 2005).
Regarding the pathogenic weight control be-
haviors, whose overall frequencies were rela-
tively low and did not indicate high levels of
pathology, the athletes used exercise as their
primary and fasting or dieting as their secondary
means for controlling their weight, which is
consistent with research with female collegiate
athletes (Petrie & Stoever, 1993) and male col-
legiate nonathletes (Ridgeway & Tylka, 2005).
The use of these two approaches, in particular
exercise, makes sense because they are readily

available to athletes, and it is easy to hide the
intent of the behavior. That is, athletes can work
out for more hours than required by their
coaches and actually be viewed as "good ath-
letes" for their approach to physical training
(Thompson & Sherman, 1999b). What is not
clear, however, is whether male athletes enter
their collegiate sport teams with unhealthy ex-
ercise regimens already in use or such regimens
develop as a result of the increased pressures
and demands they experience at this higher
level of sport. To address this question, lon-
gitudinal research is needed that tracks male
athletes across time, such as from the begin-
ning of high school through their first two
years of college. Even though the causal path-
way is not determined, professionals who
work with male athletes should consider that
extensive working out may be a signal of
problematic eating attitudes and behaviors as
much as it is a sign of dedication to training
and take steps to talk with these athletes about
their motivations for engaging in their exer-
cise regimens.
Again, although the overall frequency was
low, the male athletes in our sample used tradi-
tional forms of purging (e.g., vomiting) at rates
higher than have been found previously with
other male collegiate athletes (Carter & Rudd,
2005; Johnson et al., 1999) and nonathletes
(O'Dea & Abraham, 2002) and consistent with
what has been reported among female collegiate
athletes (Petrie & Stoever, 1993). These rela-
tively higher rates of pathogenic weight control
behaviors are of concern because vomiting and
laxative abuse are associated with severe med-
ical complications, such as dehydration, esoph-
ageal tears, and cardiac arrhythmia (Rome &
Ammerman, 2003), and may be precursors to
the development of actual eating disorders. In
addition, because we inquired only about these
traditional forms of purging, we cannot rule out
the possibility that the athletes were engaging in
other problematic behaviors, such as ingesting
muscle mass-weight gain supplements (e.g.,
Creatine), to control their weight and reshape
their bodies (Raudenbush & Meyer, 2003). In
future prevalence research with male athletes, it
will be important (if allowed by coaches and
athletic departments) to include a larger list of
potential weight control behaviors, such as tak-
ing supplements or anabolic steroids, and to ask
more detailed questions about the types of ex-

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Petrie, Trent A.; Greenleaf, Christy; Reel, Justine J. & Carter, Jennifer. Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Male Collegiate Athletes. [Washington, D.C.]. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc31092/. Accessed July 25, 2014.