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

Hattie HH Wright, Rosalyn Ford, Chrisna R 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.


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

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S Afr J Clin Nutr: ISSN (Print): 1607-0658, ISSN (Web): 2221-1268

The South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition (SAJCN) is peer reviewed and an approved South African journal for the measurement of research output of public higher education institutions (Department of Education (DE) accredited).

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