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Eating Disorder Therapy for Athletes

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Almost any athletic coach will tell you that mindset is usually what gets competitive athletes to the next level. Dedicated physical training is essential, but an athlete’s attitude, self-talk, and beliefs are what make them push harder, go all in, and perform at their best. 

Mindset is so powerful that sometimes it leads athletes down a dangerous path of trying to control and micromanage every aspect of their lives in pursuit of their goals. This includes disordered eating, which affects both male and female athletes. A review of multiple studies revealed that 13.5% of athletes are impacted by eating disorders, compared to less than 5% of the general population. 

If you are a competitive athlete struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone! Recovered & Restored Eating Disorder Therapy Center works closely with athletes to help them heal and get to the top of their game in a healthy way.

Athletes, Compulsive Control, & Eating Disorders

Serious training requires discipline and self-control. Once you accept the challenge to reach your competitive potential, you also accept what that means about how you spend your time and how you care for yourself. High-level athletes organize their lives around optimizing performance, from sleep to nutrition to downtime.

Although a certain amount of discipline is necessary for athletes, it can get out of balance and impact mental health. The all or nothing perspective - that if you’re not giving your all, you’re giving nothing - can take athletes down a dangerous path of disordered thinking and eating.

Eating disorders for high performing athletes are usually connected to a need for control. By checking every nutrition label, burning off every extra calorie, or equating a lower weight with improved performance, athletes begin to see their body as a separate entity that needs to be conformed to an ideal state for competition.

That compulsion to control your body can result in an eating disorder. Examples of disordered eating include severely restricting your food intake, keeping a diet limited to certain “healthy” foods, or purging through exercise or vomiting when you feel like you indulged. What might start out as a form of discipline to enhance your training can quickly spiral into patterns that damage both your health and your athletic performance.

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How Eating Disorders Get Started in Athletes

There is no single causal factor for eating disorders, or specific types of eating disorders, for athletes. However, there are some common contributors to the habits that can become disorders. Hannah de Groot, LPC is a Recovered & Restored therapist who works with athletes and often relates her own experience with ED as an athlete. Hannah notes that as black and white thinkers, athletes often think in if/then terms that can be taken to far extremes if not kept in balance.

Whether it comes from outside influences (coaches, competitors, teammates, parents, etc.) or their own self-talk, athletes tend to internalize connections between food, their body, and training.


  • “Coach said to watch my carb intake before the game, so I will play better if I cut out carbs completely.”

  • “I can’t believe I ate so much when I have a match tomorrow. I’d better go out for another run.”

  • “The girl who took 1st place has really thin legs. If I lose a few pounds, I can match or beat her time.”

  • “Most of the girls who made districts stopped getting their period. That’s how I know I’m just not training hard enough.”

  • “My dad is picking up overtime to afford this tournament. I owe it to him to be at peak performance.”

This is not to say that there is someone to blame for an eating disorder. Two athletes can hear the same comment and internalize it in completely different ways. And even the same athlete will change how they perceive those influences over time.

While it is important to explore some of the triggering events in order to handle them appropriately during recovery, therapy is most effective when we focus on the here and now. Recovered & Restored works with athletes to identify the behaviors associated with eating disorders and actively change them for long-term healing.

The Damaging Effects of Eating Disorders on Competitive Athletes

Eating disorders affect both male and female athletes. Studies show that up to 20% of female athletes and up to 8% of male athletes experience eating disorders. These disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

Many athletes will see improved performance after some weight loss, but those results aren’t sustainable. With ongoing disordered eating, athletes will begin to experience multiple health problems due to being underweight and malnourished. What starts as an effort to bolster training all too often brings a promising career to a devastating end.


The physical health problems associated with eating disorders in athletes include:

  • Low energy and slowed reaction times

  • Susceptible to injuries and slow recovery

  • Kidney problems and digestive issues

  • Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S)

  • Poor immunity

  • Mood swings, anxiety, and depression

  • Low energy and metabolism

  • Loss of bone density

  • Missed periods in women

  • Permanent disability due to long-term injuries and organ damage

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Eating disorders also affect cognitive function and mental focus. Finally, they severely disrupt an athlete’s relationships with friends, teammates, coaches, and family.

Treatment for Athletes with Eating Disorders

Recovered & Restored works exclusively with individuals impacted by eating disorders. Our licensed therapists, coaches, and specialists are always working to increase their knowledge and expertise in this field. We study how eating disorders affect different people, which allows us to individualize our approach for every client.

Hannah de Groot, LPC specializes in working with athletes and leads our team in developing the most effective strategies for athlete recovery. Our therapists, family coaches, and nutrition specialists understand the unique needs of high-performing athletes and their families when facing this struggle. Our clients consider us part of their support system that helps them achieve their athletic goals.

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Recovered & Restored offers online therapy for eating disorders to residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, and Florida. Athletes and their families who are operating on a busy schedule appreciate the convenience of online therapy. There is no risk of having to cancel or rearrange appointments during the height of the season, while away at college, or when traveling for your sport.

Using our HIPAA-compliant video chat service, athletes have access to personalized therapy for effective healing. Clients work with all of our providers through online appointments, which maximizes their support in therapy, nutrition coaching, meal planning, and family coaching.

You don’t have to push through this pain alone.


Our therapists are here to help you reach peak performance in your health and your sport. Contact us today to get started on your sports recovery.

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