A PEEK BEHIND THE STUDY … WITH BIRNA VARÐARDÓTTIR

Vardardottir B, Olafsdottir AS, Gudmundsdottir SL. Body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and exercise behaviours: associations with symptoms of REDs in male and female athletes.

 

The full article can be found here

 

Tell us more about yourself and the author team

RED-I (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport in Icelandic Athletes) is a research project conducted at the University of Iceland, Faculty of Health Promotion Sport & Leisure Studies. The greater aim of RED-I is to evaluate energy availability, prevalence, and risk factors of REDs in high-level Icelandic athletes from various sports. The team behind RED-I consists of Birna Vardardottir (PhD candidate in sport and health sciences), Anna Sigridur Olafsdóttir (Professor in nutrition), and Sigridur Lara Gudmundsdottir (Professor in sport and health sciences).

 

What is the story behind your study?

One of the research questions of RED-I concerned the occurrence of disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and muscle dysmorphia, and its relationship with REDs. Those are the results presented in this paper. The novelty herein is the attention given to muscularity concerns and the drive for an aesthetic physique. Given that most questionnaires used to screen for disordered eating and/or eating disorders are largely focused on the drive for thinness and preoccupation with low body weight we felt there was a missing piece in the puzzle. Importantly, body image concerns are multidimensional and can vary based on sex, sport, and other factors. That is also something we have witnessed (anecdotally) in our work with athletes. The present paper is therefore our attempt to address the broader picture.

 

In your own words, what did you find?

Females considered at risk of REDs scored higher on all three questionnaires we used to screen for disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and muscle dysmorphia. Moreover, most self-reported symptoms of low energy availability and REDs were positively associated with all three outcomes. For males, some self-reported symptoms of REDs were associated with compulsive exercise and muscle dysmorphia but not disordered eating scores.

 

What was the main challenge you faced in your study?

Like others who have attempted to study REDs in male athlete populations, we were challenged by the lack of male-specific biomarkers and/or diagnostic thresholds of REDs. This in addition to the relatively low number of male participants was indeed the main challenge faced in this study.

 

If there is one take-home message from your study, what would that be?

While approximately 10-20% of participants scored above cut-offs for disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and muscle dysmorphia, a larger proportion of athletes regularly engaged in disordered behaviours without reaching cut-offs. Importantly, athletes and/or the team around them may not be concerned about occasional engagement in restrictive or otherwise unhealthy behaviours. Still, it could potentially be enough to cause problematic LEA/REDs.

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