What is the Female Athlete Triad?
The female athlete triad is a term used to describe three individual elements: disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction, and weak bones. In most cases, eating disorder residential programs are recommended to those with this problem. Symptoms of the female athlete triad take place as a result of poor eating habits and frequent exercise due to low self-esteem, pressure to do well and other various stress factors. As its name implies, the female athlete triad occurs in athletes and can affect women of all ages. Eating disorder treatment is available for athletes struggling with the female athlete triad.
Risk factors for the female athlete triad are numerous and differ for each individual. Various factors include:
- Playing sports that require frequent weight checking
- Having a competitive nature, “winning at all costs”
- Presence of a controlling parent
- Demanding coach, recommendation of weight loss for better performance
- Participating in sports where a thin physique is desired
- These sports include: gymnastics, swimming, ballet, figure skating, diving and long distance running.
- Spending less time with friends due to sports
Three Parts of the Triad
Part #1: Disordered Eating
- Disordered eating is the first factor of the female athlete triad. Lack of eating in order to improve performance and appearance, as well as the presence of an eating disorder (such as bulimia or anorexia), are signs of disordered eating. Anyone showing the signs of disordered eating is recommended to enroll in an eating disorder treatment clinic for assistance in the recovery process. This type of unhealthy eating is 10 times more likely to show up in females than in males; athletes are at even more of a risk.
Part #2: Menstrual Dysfunction (Amenorrhea)
- Menstrual dysfunction, also known as amenorrhea, is the second factor of the female athlete triad. Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual periods for 6 months or more. This can take place as a result of disordered eating, weight loss and extreme exercising. Estrogen regulates the female bodies’ menstrual cycle. Not consuming enough calories to maintain weight and energy levels lowers the bodies’ estrogen levels which in turn results in amenorrhea.
Part #3: Weak Bones (Osteoporosis)
- Weak bones, also known as osteoporosis, are the third factor of the female athlete triad. Malnutrition from disordered eating, and the reduction in estrogen that caused amenorrhea, result in osteoporosis (the loss of bone mass). This third part of the triad is especially detrimental to younger athletes since 50% of a woman’s bone mass is accumulated during adolescence. Those who suffer from this third part of the triad frequently endure stress fractures and various other injuries, thus decreasing their chances of succeeding as an athlete. This third sign is a common side effect of those with severe eating disorders. If someone reaches this point in their disorder, it is highly recommended that they attend an eating disorder residential center, although it is best to seek eating disorder treatment when the first signs of an eating disorder occur.