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“My daughter, Stacey, was a dynamic dancer. Toward the middle of her freshman year she started not wanting to eat the dinners that I made for our family. I began to notice her clothes sagging on her, and she was falling asleep while trying to keep up with homework. I thought it was normal since she was so involved in school and sports. When I approached her about not eating with us and the idea of cutting a couple school activities, she got upset and told me she was fine.”
But she wasn’t. This mother was noticing the tell-tale signs of Female Athlete Triad Syndrome.
Female Athlete Triad Syndrome, What Is It?
Female Athlete Triad Syndrome is a combination of three symptoms that include:
- Disordered eating
- Amenorrhea or abnormal/absent menstruation
- Osteoporosis or brittle bones due to hormonal changes or deficiencies
Javed et al. (2013) states, “the original definition of the triad as disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis was updated by the ACSM in 2007 to include a spectrum of dysfunction related to energy availability, menstrual function, and bone mineral density.”
The female triad is common in high school and college level athletes. Your child may only be exhibiting one or two of the symptoms, but without intervention, your daughter could end up developing the full triad.
The percentages of young athletes who exhibit all three symptoms are low. However, Javed et al found that “23.5% have menstrual dysfunction, 18.2% exhibit disordered patterns of eating (with or without a diagnosed eating disorder such as anorexia), and 4.1% have a low body mass index.” The different components of the triad can have lasting, long-term effects if they are not properly addressed by medical professionals.
Does This Mean My Daughter Has An Eating Disorder?
Some teens do develop an eating disorder that accompanies female athlete triad. All eating disorders need to be addressed by a doctor.
Other athletes simply do not know how many calories they should be consuming for the amount of rigorous exercise they complete each day. Some female athletes need up to 3,500 calories per day to stay healthy. That seems excessive, but it’s necessary.
Your general practitioner, a registered dietician, or a specialized sports physician can help you determine a healthy diet for your daughter. It would be beneficial for both of you to be educated regarding diet. Then you, as a parent, will know what to prepare for dinner, and you will be able to watch your child eat to make sure they are consuming enough calories. You child should also be aware of their dietary needs.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand.
What Are the Long Term Consequences?
The first cases of female athlete triad syndrome were diagnosed in adolescents in the 90s. Thein-Nissenbaum (2013) states these women are now in their 30s and 40s and “negative long term effects of the female athlete triad, such as low bone mineral density, are now starting to manifest.”
Low bone mineral density can lead to osteopenia or even osteoporosis. In an advanced state, both of these bone disorders can cause body disfigurement or lead to loss of movement. Imagine being an athlete as a young woman and then not being to move as an older woman. That would be disheartening.
Female athlete triad can be prevented with a proper diet and training schedule. Medical treatment can reverse the side-effects if your daughter already has full-blown female triad syndrome or just certain components of it.