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Is Athletic Energy Deficit an Eating Disorder?

No. Although eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia can also be associated with amenorrhea and severe energy deficit, Athletic Energy Deficit (AED) results from sustained energy output (activity) without a proportional increase in energy input (food). Eating disorders appear to have a significant psychological component unrelated to participation in competitive sports.

Peer pressure to conform to a certain body image encourages young athletes to avoid food. Parents and coaches should be aware that the desire to be thin may be more prevalent in certain sports and activities where a lean body type is seen as ideal for peak performance. These activities include swimming, gymnastics, skating and ballet. The incidence of AED is also thought to be higher among young athletes participating in strenuous endurance sports such as running, triathlon, crew, wrestling, cycling or speed skating.

For an active child, nutrition must support growth and development as well as the energy demands of daily living and the energy required to perform well in a sport. As long as losing weight and reducing body fat are part of an overall training goal and the change takes place over a period of time, there may not be a problem. However, weight loss due to severe energy restriction is a problem.

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