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Eating Disorder Concerns Prevalence In Dancers


By, Cameron Cunningham, Executive and Artistic Director of Reverent Rhythms.

Table of Context:

  • What Is An Eating Disorder?

  • Different Kinds of Eating Disorders

  • Health Concerns For Dancers

  • Exercise’s Effect

  • Statistics

  • Risk Factors

  • Signs and Symptoms

  • Treatments


What Is An Eating Disorder?:

An eating disorder may stem from either an inappropriate relationship with food (eating too much or too little) while they may originate from body dysmorphia (inaccurate body image of oneself) (Hay, P. J., 2013). This can also lead to inappropriate exercise routines, unhealthy eating patterns, fatigue, injuries and appropriate  calorie intake.


Different Kinds of Eating Disorders:

Anorexia nervosa (AN) - a weight 15% below a person’s expected weight for their age, height and sex associated with an intense reluctance to gain weight, and a preoccupation with weight and/or food. 


Bulimia nervosa (BN) - characterized by regular episodes of uncontrolled eating (>1000 kcal in one sitting) associated with various methods of counteracting weight gain (vomiting and laxative abuse being most common)


Binge-eating dis- order (BED) -  characterized by significant binge eating in the absence of extreme compensatory behaviours, so is associated with obesity. (Treasure, J., 2016)


Health Concerns for Dancers:

After injury dancers suffer a series of negative emotions and low self esteem concerning their body image. This can lead to a greater concern of weight gain and poor nutritional intake. Many dancers who have suffered from an eating disorder before are at a higher risk of relapsing upon having an injury (Reel, J. J., Podlog, L., Hamilton, L., Greviskes, L., Voelker, D. K., & Gray, C., 2018). 


Osteoporosis results from prolonged poor nutrition during the critical phase of development of peak bone mass. The most impressive treatment is weight restoration, which can increase bone density by 10% a year. The place of hormonal replacement therapy is uncertain and can be harmful by causing premature closure of the epiphyses. The restoration of menstruation can be delayed, especially if dietary abnormalities persist  (Treasure, J., 2016)


Exercise’s Effect:

Appearance has shown to be a significant factor when deciding to exercise (Adkins, E. C., & Keel, P. K). It is important to recognize the reasons why you exercise to avoid overtraining, body dysmorphia and other unhealthy training habits that may contribute to an eating disorder.  Eating Disorders can cause drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue and lack of focus during dance activities  (Rodrigues et al).




Approximately 10% of young women have some form of eating problem (Treasure, J., 2016).


34% of boys and 43.5% of girls had some eating disorder trait (Treasure, J., 2016).


Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder (Treasure, J., 2016)


Fewer than 20% of cases of eating disorder present for treatment (Treasure, J., 2016) 


16% of dancers have symptoms of anorexia and 30% lie within the bulimia scale (Rodrigues et., al).


Risk Factors:

Family, biological, social and cultural factors can play a role in the development & the maintenance of eating disorders. The risk of eating disorders in first-degree relatives is increased tenfold, this is due to inherited factors. Other psychiatric disorders such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder are slightly over-represented in the families of people with eating disorders (Treasure, J., 2016).


Signs and Symptoms:

Admission should be considered if there are signs of any of the following: 


  •  Myopathy (a disease of muscle tissue)

  •  reduced core temperature

  •  circulatory decompensation

  •  abnormal biochemistry and haematology (Treasure, J., 2016).



Treatment for eating disorders involves a focus on nutritional restoration (sufficient calories, a regular pattern of eating with a good nutritional balance) in combination with psychotherapeutic techniques, which are used to target causal and maintaining factors. Bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder can be treated by cognitive behavioural therapy (Treasure, J., 2016).


Sharing information and skills with family members improves a patient’s well-being and may improve the outcome of the eating disorder (Treasure, J., 2016).


  • Treasure, J. (2016). Psychiatric disorders: Eating disorders. Medicine, 44, 672–678. 


  • Reel, J. J., Podlog, L., Hamilton, L., Greviskes, L., Voelker, D. K., & Gray, C. (2018). Injury and Disordered Eating Behaviors: What is the Connection for Female Professional Dancers? Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(3), 365–381. 


  • Adkins, E. C., & Keel, P. K. (n.d.). Does “excessive” or “compulsive” best describe exercise as a symptom of bulimia nervosa? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(1), 24–29. 


  • Rodrigues, Reis, Vieira,  Machado, & Guimarães. (2017). Fatigue and symptoms of eating disorders in professional dancers. Revista Brasileira de Cineantropometria e Desempenho Humano, Vol 19, Iss 1, Pp 96-107 (2017), (1), 96.  


  • Hay, P. J. (2013). What is an eating disorder? Implications for current and future diagnostic criteria. Australian and New Zealand Journal o

  • f Psychiatry, 47(3), 208–211

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