Performance Based Sports Promote Disordered Eating

A cheer teams diet for an upcoming competition went viral for its unrealistic diet restrictions.


A cheer team’s diet for an upcoming competition went viral for its unrealistic diet restrictions.

 Athletes in performance based sports such as cheerleading, gymnastics and dance are meant to demonstrate effortless beauty while simultaneously meeting athletic expectations. These performers expected to execute even the most difficult routines while making it all look easy. Unfortunately with sports like this, the strenuous physical training they must endure is nothing compared to the mental torture that follows. As several coaches in this field would say, each sport has a certain “look” about it that athletes are expected to fit. From the height of a basketball player, to the muscle of gymnasts, most athletes are expected to “look the part.” However, with performance based sports, athletic ability is often overlooked for appearance. Some coaches would rather have a smaller, prettier athlete over one with natural ability and real talent. 

Health struggles such as  body dysmorphic disorders are common amongst athletes in numerous sports, but no athlete should feel pressure to change their appearance for the sake of a team. Some facilities, specifically cheerleading gyms go as far as creating specific diets for athletes to follow before big competitions. These diets are extremely strict and unrealistic, created for the primary purpose of losing weight and making athletes look smaller. Cheer Athletics, one of the most famous cheerleading gyms created a diet for athletes to follow in 2012. The coaches went as far as forcing athletes to keep this diet a secret from both their families and the rest of the world. But once a photo of what the diet entailed leaked, the truth behind their promoted disordered eating shocked the internet. Unfortunately, coaches creating diets for athletes is only the beginning of so many athletes’ dysmorphia. 

Along with cheerleaders, dancers commonly receive unrealistic comments about their bodies. They are expected to be impossibly small, but strong enough to perform well. All athletes involved in performance based sports spend many hours a week surrounded by peers and coaches wearing nothing but a leotard, spandex or a sports bra. For some athletes, this has made them quite comfortable being nearly naked around their teammates, but for others it has done the complete opposite. Countless athletes say they are uncomfortable revealing most of their bodies around teammates at practice, but feel the pressure to do so because it is considered normal for their sport. Even outside of practice, athletes are still expected to perform in front of thousands of people in tiny uniforms. The social pressure that follows with performing in front of a crowd on its own is enough, nevermind wearing something you are uncomfortable in. 

Most athletes involved in a performance based sport report that at some point in their career they have felt pressure from a coach to change their appearance. Disordered eating is unfortunately such a big part in these athletes’ lives, and leaves them with eating habits that can affect them for the rest of their lives. No athlete from any sport should have to go to such extremes in attempts to excel at their sports.