Athletes, Mental Health, and Eating Disorders

Athletes are under a tremendous amount of pressure both physically and mentally, yet stigma deters many from seeking help when they need it. 

The Olympics are the holy grail for professional athletes. Athletes train their bodies to accomplish the unexpected and the near-impossible. Their bodies, minds, and spirits need to be at peak performance to achieve what is expected of them. The public scrutinizes their every move; their coaches watch over them; their family and friends worry about them. They put pressure on themselves to be the best they could possibly be.

It’s no wonder athletes have one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. This study finds that “the prevalence of mental health symptoms and disorders in current and former elite athletes (16%–34%) may be slightly higher than in the general population.” Even more striking, 62% of female athletes and 33% of male athletes in weight-class sports experience disordered eating, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. The Olympics and other worldwide sports events reintroduce this topic every four years or so, but the truth is that athletes struggle with body image and eating disorders throughout their entire lives and often don’t seek treatment.

That’s where EDCare comes in. EDCare is an eating disorder treatment center with four locations across the United States. Our Denver location hosts our respected and ever-growing Athlete Program, a highly structured and specialized addition to our Partial Hospitalization Program. This unique eating disorder treatment program is specifically designed for high-performance athletes and aims to serve those who may have never sought treatment due to their training schedules or stigma.

At EDCare, we don’t believe that athletes need to choose between their sport and recovery. We work with athlete’s competition and training schedules to make sure they can get the help they need and are ready to perform when necessary. We recognize their sport is not just a hobby, it is part of their identity. EDCare’s empowerment-based treatment method, CAMSA®, carries over into the Athlete Program, and our staff work directly with the athlete, their trainers, and their coaches to make sure they are safely training while also doing the hard work that recovery entails, including providing their body with the nourishment it needs to survive as well as succeed and perform. EDCare’s motto is Nourishing Success, and we take that as seriously as athletes take their sports.

Dr. Natasha Trujillo, Primary Therapist for EDCare’s Athlete Program, describes the demand for this form of treatment, saying, “When it comes to the specific needs of athletes who are struggling with an eating disorder, stigma and barriers to safe and supportive mental health care continues to be a primary factor.” She continues, “Luckily, we are seeing more high-performance athletes speak out on the importance of mental health but it continues to be a barrier to athletes coming forward for eating disorder support.” The bravery of Black female athletes across the world, including Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams, has encouraged more conversations around the need for support for athletes, specifically within Black communities. EDCare wants everyone to know that there is a place for them and a place for them in treatment with us. We provide intersectional, trauma-informed care for all populations including LGBTQ+, BIPOC populations, and those with co-occurring mental illnesses.

Only when we begin to recognize and address this need for awareness can the negative stigmas athletes and performers face get broken down. While an athlete may look healthy and be performing well, the combination of disordered eating patterns and heavy exercise puts them at an increased risk for medical complications and injury. It is our goal to help athletes get back to doing what they love in a healthy way and without compromising their identity as an athlete – or their careers.

If you are an athlete, coach, trainer, or friend that needs help or knows someone who needs help, please know our compassionate team of specialists is just a call/click away. Contact EDCare at (866) 771-0861 to schedule a free, confidential assessment or fill out an inquiry form.