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21 NOVEMBER 2018


Boxing and eating disorders

By David Feinberg, MD, MBA

Boxing, like some other sports, requires participants to meet certain weight requirements. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t always co-operate with our need to achieve a desired weight. In addition to strict weight classes, coaches and trainers frequently comment on how a fighter’s body looks. Training for boxing, obviously includes increasing size through gaining muscle mass. The tension between the desire to increase size and maintain weight is a set up for the development of an eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most known eating disorders, yet the disorder remains relatively rare. In this disorder the sufferer refuses to maintain weight at a normal weight for height, has an intense fear of becoming fat, maintains a distorted body image and in females, menstrual cycles become irregular. This disorder usually affects females, but males can also develop the condition. Cases among ballet dancers, ice skaters, wrestlers, and swimmers are not uncommon. And unlike case among non-athletes, with athletes the cases can be precipitated by an injury. For example, a swimmer develops a bad shoulder and needs to stop swimming for some time. Prior to the injury the swimmer could eat thousands of calories per day and not worry about weight gain because the daily routine practice burned up the calories taken in by meals. With the injury, the athlete cuts down caloric intake in order to avoid weight gain and in some cases the decrease in calories is too much and anorexia develops. Also these injured athletes frequently have a loss of identity when injured because they have lost the sport that had defined their lives. Anorexia is associated with many medical problems and, in some cases, death.

Another type of eating disorder is called Bulimia Nervosa. In this condition, suffers have recurrent episodes of binge eating and recurrent inappropriate behaviors meant to prevent weight gain. Binges are eating a larger amount of food than what most people would eat in the same time period and feeling out of control during the binge. The recurrent compensatory behaviors include self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas, fasting, or excessive exercise. Suffers of Bulimia Nervosa, like those with Anorexia, unduly judge themselves based on body weight and shape. Bulimia can develop among boxers secondary to the pressure to meet weight requirements. The boxer limits food intake which literally sets up a state of starvation. This is followed by a period of binge eating and subsequently vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics. Bulimia can cause many medical complications and over the long term leads to weight gain, not weight loss.

Probably the most common disorder of eating is obesity, which affects more and more Americans every year. This problem is not usually seen among fighters because of the weight requirements, but may be seen among those in the heavy weight divisions. Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The best treatment for all of the eating disorder is to avoid them in the first place. In order to do this, athletes must not set themselves up to achieve weights that are not appropriate for their height and body make-up. Athletes must adjust their eating in according to their training routine. If a boxer does develop anorexia, bulimia, or obesity these conditions should take priority over their fighting. There are many specialized treatment facilities for these conditions, but the best place to start is with your personal physician.


Dr. David Feinberg is currently Medical Director, UCLA Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Services in Los Angeles, California. He is Associate Clinical Professor, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California. He has authored countless articles and texts on many aspects of Psychiatry including those dealing with eating disorders.


Dr. David Feinberg has been a practicing Psychiatrist since 1990. He has been on the UCLA Faculty since 1994, and is Medical Director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Health Services. Although he is a Clinical Professor and Faculty Member at the UCLA School of Medicine, all of the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained herein are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of other psychiatrists. All readers are strongly cautioned that the information contained herein is not intended to, and never should, substitute for the necessity of seeking the advice of a qualified medical, legal, or financial professional whenever a boxer or his/her representatives have specific questions regarding the best course of action that a boxer should take. Furthermore, since it is possible that general information herein may pertain only to a law, regulation, rule or acceptable standard of practice for a particular jurisdiction, a boxer or his/her representatives must always inquire with the appropriate licensing jurisdiction to determine the applicable laws, regulations, rules, and acceptable standards of practice for each jurisdiction.

All readers are advised that the information herein is intended solely as a general reference source, and to the fullest extent permitted by law, the information is provided “AS IS” without any warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, including without limitation, warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and non-infringement. No one may rely on the accuracy, integrity, quality or completeness of the general information herein. Accordingly, neither the authors, editors nor anyone else affiliated with this website may be held liable for damages of any kind whatsoever allegedly caused or resulting from any such claimed reliance.

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