Eating disorders among athletes: Long distance running - Sovereign Health Group
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Eating disorder runner

It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy running. While many of us huff, puff and wheeze our way through a single mile, running enthusiasts regularly push themselves beyond their athletic and psychological limits. Running for fun — and competition — requires a tremendous amount of discipline and control. Perfection at the expense of comfort is not uncommon.

Unfortunately, the traits that make runners so good on the track and field can also predispose them to eating disorders.

Why do runners develop eating disorders?

The life of a runner can be highly organized. They might train at a specific time, have meals at a specific time, drink a specific sports drink and purchase a specific brand of shoes. For ultra-competitive runners, everything in their lives is designed to make them run as quickly (or as steadily) as possible. Sometimes, diet is just one more variable to control.

A common myth in the running world is that individuals who weigh less run faster. Even though this hasn’t been proven, many runners still take it as truth and cut calories when they want to cut minutes off their run. In some cases, this calorie cutting can develop into an eating disorder. The further the disorder progresses, the slower the person runs. This is because eating disorders place a tremendous strain on the body.

What are the symptoms of an eating disorder?

Some common signs of an eating disorder in runners include:

  • More frequent injuries, such as sprains or muscle strains
  • Low energy
  • Social isolation
  • Light-headedness
  • Frequent headaches
  • Preoccupation with diet
  • Training despite sickness or injury
  • Over-exercising

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s important to seek help immediately.

Early intervention is essential

As with all mental illnesses, the earlier you seek help, the better. Early intervention can sometimes prevent the disorder from progressing, sparing the athlete from experiencing some of the more dangerous consequences of having an eating disorder.

Sovereign Health of California’s eating disorder program provides treatment for adult women suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. We provide our patients with cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition education, monitored and appropriate physical exercise, equine therapy and regular meetings with a dietitian. We also teach mindfulness skills, stress management techniques, meal prep and cooking, life skills and relapse-prevention. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer

For more information and other inquires about this article, contact the author at

To read the next blog in the series go here: Eating disorders among athletes: Orthorexia, overtraining and bodybuilding

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