Female Athlete Triad Syndrome is a condition that combines energy deficit created through restricting food intake or over-exercising, irregular menstruation, and bone loss. According to the Female Athlete Triad Coalition, the most common symptoms of Female Athlete Triad Syndrome include:
- irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- always feeling tired and fatigued
- disrupted sleep
- stress fractures and frequent or recurring injuriesrestricting food intake
- obsessed with being thin
- eating less than needed in an effort to improve performance or physical appearance
- cold hands and feet
As with all eating disorders, some individuals are more at risk of developing Female Athlete Triad Syndrome. Athletes involved in sports that emphasize being “lean” (such as gymnastics, figure skating, ballet, long distance running, swimming, diving) are most commonly affected by Female Athlete Triad Syndrome. Other risk factors include: participating in sports that require weight checks, over-exercising, playing “high-pressure” sports, participating in sports that look down upon weight gain, working with controlling parents or coaches.
Psychologically speaking this syndrome can be driven by a number of dynamics. For different reasons, some young women associate motherhood with losing control of their bodies and/or their lives. The obvious one is the weight gain. But it may also be that they do not want to give up their devotion to their Eating Disorder, especially if they suffer from Anorexia or Bulimarexia. For others, it may have to do with giving up or modifying career or athletic success. This often stems from a fundamental belief that they “cannot have it or cannot do it all” and so they sacrifice the role of motherhood. For others, the mature or womanly body is frightening because they do not believe that they can take care of themselves. Thus keeping a child’s body means that someone, usually parents, will have to care for them. At the end of the day, the number of reasons for engaging in behaviors that are so detrimental to one’s health and future are as different and varied as the people suffering from them. Which is why all treatment has to take the individual where she is and not use a One Size Fits All Approach.
There are several steps that active women can take to prevent Female Triad Syndrome. The Female Athlete Triad Coalition suggests:
- monitoring your menstrual cycle by using a diary or calendar
- consult your physician if you have menstrual irregularities, having recurrent injuries or stress fractures
- seek counseling if you suspect you are overly concerned about your body image
- consult a sport nutritionist to help you design an appropriate diet that is specific to your sport and to your body’s energy needs
- seek emotional support from parents, coaches and teammates
It is also important to make sure you are taking in enough calories to support normal body function. If you are a 120 pound woman, it takes 1600 calories per day to have a normal menstrual cycle. If you burn an additional 500 calories at the gym or in your sport, you would need to eat 2100 calories per day.
For more information for Female Athlete Triad Syndrome, be sure to visit the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.
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