The purpose of this study was to delineate and further define the behavioral, psychological, and physical characteristics of female athletes with subclinical eating disorders. Subjects consisted of 24 athletes with subclinical eating disorders (SCED) and 24 control athletes. Group classification was determined by scores on the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI), the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ), and a symptom checklist for eating disorders (EDI-SC). Characteristics representative of the female athletes with subclinical eating disorders were derived from an extensive health and dieting history questionnaire and an in-depth interview (the Eating Disorder Examination). Energy intake and expenditure (kcal/d) were estimated using 7-day weighed food records and activity logs. The characteristics most common in the female athletes with subclinical eating disorders included: (a) preoccupation with food, energy intake, and body weight; (b) distorted body image and body weight dissatisfaction; (c) undue influence of body weight on self-evaluation; (d) intense fear of gaining weight even though at or slightly below (-5%) normal weight; (e) attempts to lose weight using one or more pathogenic weight control methods; (g) food intake governed by strict dietary rules, accompanied by extreme feelings of guilt and self-hatred upon breaking a rule; (h) absence of medical disorder to explain energy restriction, weight loss, or maintenance of low body weight; and (i) menstrual dysfunction. Awareness of these characteristics may aid in more timely identification and treatment of female athletes with disordered eating patterns and, perhaps, prevent the development of more serious, clinical eating disorders.
K.A. Beals is with the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Ball State University. Muncie, IN 47306. (At the time the research was completed, she was a doctoral student with the Department of Exercise Science and Physical Education, Arizona Stale University, Tempe, AZ.) M.M. Manore is with the Department of Family Resources and Human Development, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2502.