Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

Red and Yellow Flags: Understanding Body Image in Young Athletes

As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the impact that negative thoughts around body image can have on young athletes. These thoughts can quickly escalate into serious health problems if not addressed early on. In this article, we will explore some common ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ flag behaviors related to body image in young athletes, providing insights from TrueSport Expert and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Melissa Streno.

Mental Signs

Yellow Flag: Increased Negative Commentary Around Body Image, Food, and Exercise

Pay attention to the language your athlete uses when discussing body image, food, and exercise. Do they make comments that equate the amount of exercise they do with what they’re ‘allowed’ to eat? These seemingly innocent remarks may indicate a negative internal dialogue about their body image.

Red Flag: Disordered Eating Behaviors

If an athlete consistently talks about skipping meals or ‘earning’ treats after practice, it’s a cause for concern. Behavioral patterns like strict dieting or skipping meals with teammates are signs that the athlete may be developing disordered eating habits. Any noticeable change in eating patterns should be addressed before they become more severe.

Physical Signs

Yellow Flag: Change in Appearance and Attitude

Pay attention to any sudden changes in an athlete’s dressing style, such as wearing baggier clothing or avoiding mirrors and photos. These actions may indicate a shift in their body image perception or the presence of body dysmorphia. Isolation from the team and negative self-talk around body image can also be signs of underlying struggles.

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Red Flags: Physical Changes, Signs of Purging, Emotional Changes

Body image issues can lead to severe eating disorders. Look out for physical signs like paleness, brittle hair and nails, and rapid weight loss. However, remember that weight alone should not be the sole indicator of an eating disorder, as many athletes with eating disorders maintain a normal weight. Emotional changes, like increased isolation or signs of depression and anxiety, should also be taken into consideration.


Don’t Base Concern on Weight Alone

While weight can be a red flag, it’s not the most reliable indicator of an eating disorder. Many individuals with eating disorders are within a ‘normal’ weight range. Moreover, adolescents may experience regular growth spurts, making weight an unreliable metric. Look out for other behavioral and emotional signs.

Err on the Side of Caution

If you sense that something is amiss with your athlete, seek help sooner rather than later. Pay attention to shifts in behavior and be proactive. Remember that each athlete is unique, and it’s important to address concerns about body image and potential eating disorders promptly to protect their well-being.


Q: How can I distinguish between ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ flag behaviors when it comes to body image in young athletes?

A: ‘Red’ flag behaviors require immediate intervention and potentially professional treatment, as they indicate a more chronic and potentially life-threatening problem. ‘Yellow’ flag behaviors, while less severe, still need attention and can be addressed through working with coaches and counselors to improve body image before it becomes a dangerous issue.

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Q: What are some physical signs to look out for in young athletes struggling with body image?

A: Physical signs may include changes in appearance, such as wearing baggier clothing, avoiding mirrors and photos, and experiencing signs of body dysmorphia. Additionally, physical changes like rapid weight loss, pale skin, brittle hair and nails, and signs of purging should be taken seriously.


In this article, we have explored the ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ flag behaviors associated with body image in young athletes. It’s crucial for parents to be vigilant and address any concerning signs early on. By fostering a supportive environment and seeking help when needed, we can protect the health and well-being of our young athletes. For more expert-driven articles and resources, visit Alpinetgheep.com and join the movement to promote positive values and lessons through youth sports.

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