Andrea Cowette

Saint Anselm College

The Prevalence of Self-Reported Disordered Eating Patterns Among Male Undergraduate Football Players



With whom to begin but with the man who made this all possible, Professor Finn.Without your support and dedication this semester I do not know if I could have made it without you.You gave me the confidence and strength I needed to succeed!I would also like to thank my sleep lab partners, Shannon Carter and Merideth Holmgren for just being great people to work with, I enjoyed your company to the fullest.It was your drive that always kept me working.Finally, I would like to thank my three roommates, Cate McDermod, Megan Wood, and Jen Colella for being there when I had my stress attacks, you guys are great and I would not trade you for the world!Thank you all so much, I could not have done it without you.

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The current study investigated disordered eating patterns and negative self image among undergraduate male football players.The study consisted of 29 male football players which ranged in age from 18-22 years.The average height was 71.68 inches and the average weight was 211.96 pounds.Each subject completed the 91-item Eating Disorder Inventory-II, designed by Garner, Olmstead, and Polivoy, the 90-item Symptom Checklist-90-R designed by Derogatis, and the food and activity diary.

Each dependent variable, body dissatisfaction, perfectionism, social insecurity,ascetisicm, caloric, fat, protein, and carbohydrate intake were analyzed with independent samples t-tests.It was hypothesized that a majority of the football players would engage in disordered eating with would be highly correlated with negative thoughts about the self.Significant difference was found among two groups, those that indicated a high height/weight ratio and those that indicated a low height/weight ratio on body dissatisfaction and asceticism.

The results lead themselves to various interpretations.They may indicate that these males are just too young and not yet vulnerable to weight changes due to increase in diet.In addition these males may feel their body mass is sufficient for the field but in social settings their self-esteem declines.

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Body Image

Males and females differ on their desired body shape. Parkinson, Tovee & Cohen-Tovee(1998) investigated age and gender effects on body figure perceptions in a preadolescent and young adolescent population found gender differences in desired body shapes.This study consisted of 1150 school age children who provided self-ratings of body shape, choices of current ideal body shape and choices of ideal older adolescent body shape from a range of line drawings and figures.The results indicated that girls in all age groups desired to be leaner than their perceived current shape.Boys in the younger age groups indicated a desire to be heavier than their perceived current shape, whereas boys in the older age groups desired to be leaner than their current body shape.

O’Dea & Abraham(1999),had similar findings as that of the previous study.The study investigated the interplay of puberty, gender, weight, and age in regard to body image and attitudes in a sample of early adolescents.It was found that after menarche, females increased personal expectations and were dissatisfied with weight and shape changes.They wanted to reduce their weight and between-meal eating which was associated with increased feelings of inadequacy, loss of control, and decreased self-esteem.Young males at puberty desired to build up their bodies, believing that appearance was important to their sexual appeal. 

In all, these concerns about one’s self image is enough to lead someone to engage in disordered eating patterns.If these patterns are persistent and endanger an individual in any way they are usually diagnosed and treated accordingly by a physician

Prevalence of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are illnesses that have affected both women and men alike for many years.Anorexia nervosa is one type of eating disorder which first appears in many during the adolescent years.Anorexia is a serious mental disorder which primarily affects woman in approximately 90% of the cases reported.Anorexia is identified by abnormal body weight, 25% below the original body weight, fear of fat, body image distortion, and amenorrhea.The sex ratio of female to male sufferers lies between 20:1 and 15:1.The higher incidence of anorexia nervosa in females is suggested to be because of social factors affecting them, which are different to those affecting males (Furnham &Manning, 1997).The disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, is still on the rise affecting thousands of males and females around the world.

Bulimia, is another type of eating disorder that is identified by episodes of overeating or binge eating in which a person may consume 3 to 7 times the recommended daily food allowance.Binges are often followed by purging through self-induced vomiting, the use of diet pills, laxatives, diuretics or excessive exercise (Killian, 1994).The DSM-III-R outlines 5 criteria for bulimia.These include menstrual irregularities, dental enamel erosion (from exposure to stomach acid), and acute gastric dilation.The prevalence of bulimia is more difficult to determine than anorexia because bulimics, unlike anorectics, typically do not exhibit weight loss, and very much like those suffering from anorexia, are highly resistant to seeking help for their problem.

Anorexia and Bulimia as Disorders of the Self:

The anorectic patient derives his or her satisfaction through food, mainly through mirroring self-object experiences.His or her need for importance is not met by approval from her peers of family members, but instead from his or her own personal notion that he or she possesses special powers that enable him or her to avoid food.Those who work or live with anorectic patients become aware with the joy that is associated with losing a single pound.

The bulimic patient derives his or her satisfaction for self-object needs through food, mainly through idealizing self-object experiences.Food is thought of as “all powerful” by these individuals.They believe mentally and physically that is supplies soothing calmness, and comfort and regulates painful emotions like anger, depression or guilt.

Disordered Eating in General:

More often than not, when the term disordered eating is mentioned most typically we as human beings associate this term with the female gender.However, like many females, males too show patterns of disordered eating.These disordered patterns might not be quite as noticeable among the male gender but that is not to say that they are not prevalent.This may be due to the fact that most if not all eating disorder inventories are geared toward females.

The term disordered eating does not necessarily have to mean that one is anorectic or bulimic; it encompasses all types of disordered processes such as not eating enough, eating too much, or something as simple as not eating the right foods for a healthy lifestyle.Accompanying these disordered eating patterns more often than not are negative thoughts about one’s self image.However, it is important to note that if one’s eating patterns and thoughts about oneself are so severe, more often than not they are categorized as either suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia and are treated professionally.

Disordered Eating Among Athletes:

When taking males into consideration, the lifestyle most highly correlated with disordered eating patterns is that of an athlete (Braun, Sunday, Huang & Halmi, 1999).Interestingly, lightweight football players are said to engage in the highest rate of dysfunctional eating patterns among all male athletes. Lang (1994) conducted a study at Cornell University that focused on lightweight football players.She surveyed 131 lightweight football players in which 42 percent of the athletes engaged in dysfunctional eating patterns.More specifically, 74 percent had experienced binge eating and 17 percent had self- induced vomiting and 10 percent were at risk for an eating disorder.

Parks and Read (1997), also conducted a study which focused on football players, body image, diet and exercise.This study consisted of 44 football players who responded to surveys covering eating attitudes, weight concerns, physical traits, perceived and ideal body shape, and reasons for exercising.Each athlete completed a packet of questionnaires which consisted of the Body Esteem Scale (BES), the Body Size Drawings (BSD), the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), and the Reasons for Exercise Inventory.The BES and BSD were used as measures of self-esteem.The BES consists of three dimensions-physical attraction, upper body, and condition.The EAT had three subscales: Factor I (dieting), Factor II (bulimia and preoccupation with food), and Factor III (oral control).There are seven dimensions for the Reasons for Exercise Inventory:weight control, fitness, mood, health, attractiveness, enjoyment, and tone.In addition, a personal information form provided data on current (self-reported) and desired weight, player positioning and conditioning activities. Of the football players, 80 percent desired an increase in body weight, 15 percent wanted to lose weight, and the remaining five percent were satisfied with their current weight.

In relation to the study conducted by Parks and Read (1997), DePalma, Koszewski, Case, Barile, DePalma & Oliaro (1993), focused their study on football players.However, the only variable being looked at in this study was weight control practices.The study consisted of 131 male, college lightweight football players.Each subject was administered a 45-item version of the Diagnostic Survey For Eating Disorders (9).Results revealed that 74 percent had experienced binge eating, and 17 percent had experienced self-induced vomiting.During the month preceding the questionnaire administration, 66 percent had fasted, nearly four percent had used laxatives, and less than 2 percent had used diet pills, diuretics, or enemas for the purpose of weight control.Another interesting finding is that the “coach” appeared to be the individual who motivated dieting behavior, and more than 20 percent of the subjects stated that their weight control practices often interfered with their thoughts and extracurricular activities “often” or “always.”The findings also indicated that 42 percent of the sample evidenced a pattern of dysfunctional eating, and 9.9 percent of the subjects engaged in binge-purging behavior to the point where an eating disorder might be diagnosed. 

The present study will utilize a within subject experimental design.The variable being measured is disordered eating.Subjects will be randomly selected from a Division II undergraduate football team.All subjects will be given the Eating Disorder Inventory, the SCL-90, and a food and activity log.It is hypothesized that a majority of the subjects will show disordered eating patterns and negative thoughts about one’s self image.

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Twenty-nine volunteer male football players were randomly selected from an undergraduate football team at a small northeast liberal arts college.The subjects ranged in age from 18-22.The average height was 71.68 inches and the average weight was211.96 pounds.These subjects vary in intelligence, emotional characteristics, and physical characteristics.These subjects were all of the male gender and each subject had undergone previous levels of education and athletic training.


The materials used for this experiment are as follows: a consent form, the Eating Disorder Inventory-II (EDI 2) (Garner, Olmstead,& Polivy, 1984), the Symptoms Checklist-90-R (SCL-90) (Derogatis, 1975), a food and activity log, Nutrigenie 2000 and a debriefing statement.The informed consent form provides a description of the study.The subject will be notified that participation is voluntary and that he can withdraw at any time without penalty.Finally the subject will be reassured that all the data will be kept confidential.

Eating Disorder Inventory II

The EDI-II is an instrument that screens for eating disorders.It provides detailed information regarding the frequency of specific eating symptoms such as binge eating, self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, and exercise patterns.The EDI-II consists of 11 subscales: drive for thinness, bulimia, body dissatisfaction, ineffectiveness, perfectionism, interpersonal distrust, introceptive awareness, maturity fears, asceticism, impulse regulation and social insecurity.

The administration of the EDI-II requires an item booklet, an answer sheet and a profile form.The item booklet consists of four pages.The first page of the booklet contains questions concerning demographic information.The second page of the booklet contains the set of instructions for each item, the subject is to decide if the item is true about themselves, ALWAYS (A), USUALLY (U), OFTEN (O), SOMETIMES (S), RARELY, OR NEVER (N).After deciding, the subject is asked to circle the corresponding letter on the answer sheet.The subjects are asked to respond to all of the items and not to erase.If a correction is to be made the subject should place an “X” through the wrong letter and circle the right one.An example of an item on the EDI II is, “I have gone on eating binges where I felt that I could not sleep.”

Food and Activity Diary

The food and activity diary was also used in this study.The instrument was given verbally by the experimenter to the subjects.Questions were asked about the duration and intensity of practice on a 1-7 scale, 1 being no physical exertion and 7 being high physical exertion.The subject was also asked to tell the experimenter what he had for breakfast, lunch, dinner, if a snack was eaten the night before, and if any medications were taken during the day.

Symptom Checklist-90-R

The SCL-90-R is a 90-item self-report symptom inventory which reflects psychological symptoms.Each item is rated on a five-point scale of distress (0-4) ranging from “Not at all” to “Extremely.”The SCL-90-R is scored and interpretedby nine primary symptom dimensions and three global indices of distress.The primary symptom dimensions are as follows: Somatatization(SOM), Obsessive Compulsive (O-C), Interpersonal Sensitivity (I-S), Depression (DEP), Anxiety (ANX), Hostility (HOS), Phobic Anxiety (PHOB), Paranoid Ideation (PAR), and Psychoticism (PSY).The three global indices are as follows: Global Severity Index (GSI), Positive Symptom Distress Index (PSDI), and Positive Symptom Total (PST).

Nutrigenie 2000

Nutrigenie 2000 was another material used in the present study.This is a computer program which allows for tabulation of calories, fats ( monosaturated, polysaturated), carbohydrates and proteins.The option is given to pick a meal time such as breakfast, lunch and dinner along with the option to pick an afternoon or evening snack.When the meal is selected the menu to choose a food is given.The food option is then highlighted and transferred into to the meal category.Upon this placement, total calculations of calories, fats, carbohydrates and proteins can begin.


The 29 volunteer male participants were randomly selected from the football team at Saint Anselm College.The subjects were tested in the psychology lab where they were given a consent form upon entering.The consent form described the current study and made clear that the subject may drop out of the study if he wishes to do so.After signing the consent form, a coin was tossed and one subject was assigned to condition one and the other was assigned to condition two.The subject appointed to condition one underwent tests in the following order: Jasper which tests for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Wechsler Abberviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI), Nelson Denny which tests reading comprehension, Wechsler Memory II (WMS II) which tests logical memory, the SCL-90-R, Cognitive Performance Test (CPT) which tests attention and concentration, WMS II delayed recall, behavior observation checklist, sleep lab, Stanford, food and activity diary, the EDI II and finally the debriefing form.

Those subjects who are appointed to condition two underwent tests in the following order: consent form, sleep lab and lab checklist, Stanford, food and activity diary, EDI-II, Jasper, WASI, Nelson Denny, WMS-III, SCL-90-R, CPT, WMS-III delayed recall, behavior observation checklist and finally the debriefing form.

It is important to note that this study is part of a larger study where the previous tests mentioned were given to the subjects; however this study concentrates solely on the EDI-II, the SCL-90-R, the Nutrigenie 2000, and the food and activity diary.

Upon receiving the EDI- II the subjects were reminded that there are no right or wrong answers and that there was no time limit for completion.The subjects were asked to read the instructions and answer each question to the best of his ability.The instructions read as follows; for each item decide if the item is true about you ALWAYS (A), USUALLY (U), OFTEN (O), SOMETIMES (S), RARELY ®, OR NEVER (N).Circle the letter that best corresponds to your rating on the EDI 2 sheet. Respond to all items and make sure that you do not erase.If an answer change is needed, make an “X” through the incorrect letter and then circle the correct one.

After the administration of the EDI-II the subjects were given a food and activity log in which the experimenter asked them specific questions about their practice and diet.Finally after the study had been conducted, a debriefing form was given to inform the subjects as to what the study was about and ask for complete confidentiality.

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This study consisted of 29 volunteer male football players from a small liberal arts college in the northeast. The age of the subjects ranged between 18 – 22 years old with a mean of 19.28 years.The height of the subjects ranged from 67 – 75 inches, with a mean of 71.68 inches.The weight of the subjects also differed ranging from 

251 – 330 pounds, with a mean of 211.96 pounds.Fifty-one percent of the subjects were freshman, 17.2 % were sophomores, 27.6% were juniors and a remainder of 3.4% were seniors.The position that each subject held on the football team varied, however the linebacker was most frequent with 13.8%.

The participants underwent one of two conditions.The condition was arrived upon by a simple coin toss.Those subjects who were placed in condition one underwent cognitive screening first.This condition consisted of tests in the following order: Jasper which measures attention deficit, Woodcock Johnson, WASI, 

Wechsler Memory II, SCL-90, CPT, Wechsler Memory II (delayed recall), Behavioral Observation Checklist, Sleep lab and lab checklist, Sleep Latency study, Behavioral Observation Checklist, food and activity diary, EDI-II, and debriefing.

Those subjects in condition two underwent the Electroencephalogram sleep latency testing first.This condition consised of tests in the following order: Sleep lab and lab checklist, sleep latency study, behavioral observation checklist, food and activity diary, EDI-II, Jasper, Woodcock Johnson, WASI, Wechsler Memory II, SCL-90-R, CPT, Wechsler Memory II (delayed recall), Behavioral Observation Checklist and finally debriefing. 

It was hypothesized that the majority of these 30 subjects would show some form of disordered eating which would be highly correlated with a negative self-image about the self.


Two-tailed independent t-tests were used to test the significance of height and weight with Eating Disorder Iventory-II (EDI II)subscales, selected EDI-II items and specific Symptom Checklist-90-R (SCL-90) items. Regression was used to assess the predictive value of the EDI II subscales of asceticism and body dissatisfaction to the height/weight ratio.For the independent

t-tests, The height/ratio ratio was calculated by dividing the weight of the subject by their height.Based on the median split they were split into 2 groups; those of a low height/weight median and those of a high height/weight median.All alpha values are 2-tailed, with p [less than] .05 considered statistically significant.

Height, Weight and EDI-II subscales: 

Results indicate (as shown in figure 1), that there is a significant difference between those of a low height/weight median and those of high height/weight median and their scores on the specific EDI-II subscales; body dissatisfaction and asceticism.Those with a higher height/weight median scored significantly higher than those of a low height/weight median on these specific subscales.

Figure 1

Note: Median split= 2.85. EDIBD= Eating Disorder Inventory body dissatisfaction,t= -3.18, df= 25, p=.004; EDIP= Eating Disorder Inventory perfectionism, t=1.97, df=25, p=.060 ; EDISI= Eating Disorder Inventory social insecurity, t= 1.85, df=25, p=.077 ; EDIA= Eating Disorder Inventory asceticism, t= 2.56, df=25, p=.017.


Height, Weight, EDI-II items and SCL-90-R items: 

Results indicate (as shown in figure 2), that there is a significant difference between those of a low height/weight median and those of a high height/weight median and their scores on specific items from the EDI-II and the SCL-90-R.Those with a higher height/weight median scored significantly higher than those of a low height/weight median on questions number; 7,11,12, and 19 from the EDI-II and on question number 1 from the SCL-90.

Figure 2


Note: SCL1 “headaches.” T= -2.14, df= 26, p= .042EDIOLD7 “I think about dieting.” T= 1.82, df=26, p= .080EDIOLD11 “I feel extremely guilty after overeating.” T=3.36, df= 26, p=.002EDIOLD12 “I think that my stomach is just the right size.” T=-4.97, df= 26, p=.000EDIOLD19 “I feel satisfied with the shape of my body.” T= -2.70, df= 26, p=.012


Based on the results of the regression, with R= .604, R Square= .365, and p= .004, it can be inferred that one-third of the height/weight averages can be predicted based on the regression predictors from the EDI-II subscales body dissatisfaction and asceticism. 

Height, Weight, Calories, Fats and Proteins 

Results indicate that there is no significantdifference in the two height/weight groups when looking at calories, fats(polysaturated, monosaturated), and proteins.

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The purpose of this study was to examine the eating patterns and self thoughts of undergraduate football players.It was hypothesized that a majority of the subjects would engage in disordered eating patterns which would be highly correlated with negative thoughts about the self.These eating patterns and self thoughts would be evident by the scoring on the Eating Disorder Inventory II(EDI II), the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90), and the food and activity diary. 

Height, Weight, and EDI II items and subscales: 

Among the 29 subjects, it was observed that those of a high height/weight median were more likely than those of a low height/weight median to score high on items and subscales from the EDI-II, and items from the SCL-90-R.The items from the EDI-II that these subjects with a high height/weight ratio scored high on were as follows; question number 7 which reads, “ I think about dieting”, question number 11, “I feel extremely guilty after overeating”, question number 12, “ I think that my stomach is just the right size”, and question number 19, “I feel satisfied with the shape of my body.”It is important to state that all of these question relate to the actual body, however there is one question, number 19, that focuses on being satisfied with the shape of the body.The high scores on this item indicate that those with a high height/weight median are not satisfied with their current body shape.

This dissatisfaction is also evident in the results obtained on the EDI-II subscales.Those with a high height/weight median scored significantly higher than those of a low height/weight median of the subscales body dissatisfaction and asceticism, with the subscales of perfectionism and social insecurity approaching significance.

Height, Weight, Calories, Fats and Proteins: 

Although there was significant difference among the high height/weight median and low height/weight median on the EDI-II items and subscales along with items from the SCL-90, there was no apparent significant difference among the two groups in regards to their caloric, fat, and protein intake.The mean for both of the groups was very similar with a slight variation in number.These results indicate that the two height/weight groups are still young and not yet vulnerable to weight changes due to increase in diet.



The regression results indicate that one-third of the subjects height/weight ratio can be predicted based on the scores of the subscales body dissatisfaction and asceticism from the EDI-II.


The sum of these results indicate that this nonclinical population of male football players are not dissatisfied with their bodies because of calorie, fat or protein intake.The subjects are not taking these aspects into consideration, instead they are focusing primarily on their observable weight.This is indicated by the scores received by those of a high height/weight ratio on the subscales body dissatisfaction and asceticism on the EDI-II.

These subjects are very concerned and unhappy with the size of their stomach, and shape of their body.This subset of the population also seems to think about dieting and feel extremely guilty after overeating.These subjects also indicated that they are ashamed of their human weaknesses, that self-denial makes them stronger spiritually, that eating for pleasure is a sign of moral weakness and that suffering makes you a better person.

These results support the hypothesis in the fact that they indicate a portion of male football players are dissatisfied with their body shape and do experience negative thoughts about their bodies.However, there is no evidence based upon caloric, fat and protein intake that supports the fact that these males engage in disordered eating patterns.Therefore, it can be assumed that these males do experience negative thoughts about their bodies however this dissatisfaction is not based on caloric intake but instead on current weight.

Results and Past Literature:

Much of the past literature focusing on disordered eating patterns has been directed primarily toward women.There have not been many studies conducted that focus on the male and disordered eating patterns.However those studies that havebeen conducted with a focus primarily on males such as that conducted by Braun, Sunday, Huang, & Halmi (1999), have stated that disordered eating among males is more common among athletes than non athletes.

In relation to this article, almost every article published concerning disordered eating and male athletes focuses solely on the weight control practices the subjects engage in.DePalma, Koszewski, Case, Barile, DePalma, & Oliaro (1993), conducted such a study where only the weight control practices of lightweight football players were examined.The study indicated results on binge eating, self-induced vomiting, laxative use, diet pills, diuretics and enemas.While weight was an important factor in this study, caloric and fat intake played an important role.

These findings are different from the present study in the sense that the results from the past study indicate that caloric and fat intake play a significant role in disordered eating patterns and behaviors.The present study however, found that caloric and fat intake did not play a significant role in disordered eating patterns.Surprisingly, disordered eating did not seem to play a significant role in the present study.The subjects did not report any type of disordered eating to the point that it was significant, however, half of the subjects reported body dissatisfaction based on their current weight.

The study conducted by Parks, & McKay (1997), focused not only on males and diet, but also on body image and exercise. The findings from this past study differ from the present study in many ways.The results from the past study indicate that male football players desire a heavier weight especially when concentrating on the upper body dimensions and that this desire for a greater weight suggests a desire for a greater “mesomorphic” profile, which is generally perceived as the male ideal body type.

The results from the present study on the other hand indicate that those males who are of greater weight are dissatisfied with their bodies.In no way do the results from the present study indicate that the subjects who are of a greater weight are happy with their body size and there is not a strong indication that those of a lower weight desire a weight gain.


Due to the lack of research on males and disordered eating, this study has provided many important implications for this area of study. It should be noted that almost all of the research available on males and disordered eating have to do primarily with weight control practices.This present study however, focuses on more than weight control practices, it also focuses for a large part on self-image and inner thoughts.This focus has allowed for great results that indicate that concentration on daily food intake does not necessarily mean that one will be either satisified or dissatisfied with their body, however, for most it is their current weight that decides whether or not they are satisfied or dissatisfied with their bodies.


In summary, the present study has resulted in many important findings however, there are things that could be further investigated in future studies.In this present study, subjects were looked at not relative to norms for males, but to each other.Future studies should look at norms in order to get a better idea about their findings.In addition future studies may want to focus more upon internal thoughts about the self and self-image, these factors may help to support findings that relate to disordered eating among males.

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Saint Anselm College Psychology Department Homepage

Saint Anselm College Football Team Homepage

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Association Homepage

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