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Revista Brasileira de Educação Física e Esporte

Print version ISSN 1807-5509On-line version ISSN 1981-4690

Rev. bras. educ. fís. esporte vol.30 no.3 São Paulo July/Sept. 2016 

Pedagógica e Comportamental

Disordered eating behaviors and perfectionist traits in track and field athletes

Leonardo de Sousa Fortes* 

Lenamar Fiorese Vieira** 

Santiago Tavares Paes*** 

Sebastião de Sousa Almeida**** 

Maria Elisa Caputo Ferreira*** 

*Centro Acadêmico de Vitória, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Vitória de Santo Antão, PE, Brasil

**Centro de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade Estadual de Maringá, Maringá, PR, Brasil

***Faculdade de Educação Física e Desportos, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Juiz de Fora, MG, Brasil

****Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brasil


The aim of the study was to analyze the influence of perfectionism in disordered eating behaviors of track and field adolescent female athletes. Fifty-two track and field athletes of clubs in the city of São Paulo/SP aged between 12 and 17 years were participants. We used the subscales of the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) to assess disordered eating behaviors and perfectionist traits, respectively. We conducted stepwise linear multiple regression to analyze the influence of perfectionism on disordered eating behaviors. The results indicated the influence of MPS on subscale Diet scores (F(1. 44) = 5.74; p = 0.05) and Oral Self-control (F(1. 44) = 6.13; p = 0.04) the EAT-26. However, there was not an impact of MPS on subscale Bulimia and Food Concern scores (F(1. 44) = 1.26; p = 0.22). Thus, it is assumed that the track and field athletes with perfectionist traits may be more susceptible to dietary restriction and environmental influence food intake.

Key Words: Disordered eating; Body image; Adolescents; Athletes


Food restrictions, binge eating disorder, laxative usage, diuretics and anabolic steroids are considered disordered eating behaviors12. It highlighted that this behaviors, body dissatisfaction and low body weight are diagnostic criteria for disordered eating3. Evidence indicates high risk behavior prevalence in disordered eating of adolescents45. However, female individuals are more affected by risk behaviors when compared to males67. According to Fortes et al.8, age-group, body morphology, sociocultural environment and personality traits can be associated with food restriction for long periods, binge, purgation (laxatives/diuretics usage) and environmental influence to food intake, are considered disordered eating behaviors.

One personality trait is perfectionism, which characterizes high exigency standards in conjunction with a tendency to be critic when evaluating its own behavior9. Perfectionist individuals tend to show high level of organization, persistency, control and motivation to achieve their goals. Such characteristics, as perfectionism, are often found in sports community3.

Studies have shown that the larger the perfectionist trait in athletes, the higher the risk of disordered eating1011. However, these investigations were developed with dancers. Considering dance modalities as aesthetic sport modalities, one cannot generalize the findings to athletes from other sports. It should be noticed that perfectionism is not necessarily related to adoption of disordered eating behaviors in athletes. For instance, Rouveix et al.5 investigated judo athletes and did not find association between perfectionism and disordered eating behaviors. In the same vein, Filaire et al.12 analyzed judo and cycling athletes and did not find association between perfectionism and risk of disordered eating behaviors.

Although scientific inquiries demonstrate a positive relation between perfectionism and disordered eating behaviors in general population, researchers underline that, when athletes are considered, being perfectionist does not necessarily result in vulnerability in terms of adopting disordered eating behaviors12. This, in a sense, justify the importance of conducting a study to analyze whether perfectionism has relation with disordered eating behaviors in athletes.

Another essential variable for triggering disordered eating behaviors that deserves emphasis is body dissatisfaction. Findings demonstrate that body dissatisfaction is the variable that better accounts for the variance of risk behavior in females1314. Furthermore, evidence points high prevalence of body dissatisfaction in teenager girls 1516. Researchers stress that body dissatisfaction in young women show strict relation to body morphology6, 17. Accordingly girls with high body adiposity tend to present higher dissatisfaction when compared with teenagers with lower body-fat percentage18. Thus, Fortes and Ferreira6 advise to control using statistical tools (covariates) the body dissatisfaction level and body-fat percentage to remove these effects on disordered eating behaviors.

There is evidence of increment of body fat in females through adolescence, which encompass life from 10 to 19 years of age18. Maybe, for this reason, teenagers use sport practice as a strategy to decrease body adiposity, depreciated aspect in occidental culture17. Above all, competitive sport is full of requirements to maximize athletic performance. Notwithstanding, there are findings that point that coaches, parents and sponsors are the main actors on the observed adoption of disordered eating behaviors by athletes2, 67. Authors suggest that participating in competitive sport modalities might influence negatively eating behavior1, 3. Nevertheless, Rouveix et al.5 and Filaire et al.12 argue that personality traits, for instance, perfectionism, can induce adoption of disordered eating behaviors as life habits by adolescents. In this light, the goal of the present study was to analyze the influence of perfectionism on disordered eating behaviors in female adolescent athletes.

Consequently, we formulated hypotheses based on previous discussions5, 12: 1) perfectionism is positively associated with food restriction (Diet subscale of EAT-26); 2) perfectionism influences binge and purgation (Bulimia and Food Concern subscale of EAT-26) and; 3) perfectionism shows strict relation with encouraging environmental forces and food intake (Oral Self-control subscale of EAT-26).



The sample was selected by convenience and not probabilistically. Fifty-two female adolescents (between 12 and 17 years of age), athletes of track and field (running, jumping and throwing modalities) in sport clubs from São Paulo, SP – Brazil. The inclusion criteria were to have signed the informed consent, to train five times per week with 2 hours per day, to participate in anthropometric assessments. Seven athletes were excluded provided that they did not fully answered the questionnaires. The sample was, then, constituted of 45 athletes [100 m sprint (n = 7), 200 m sprint (n = 5), 100 m hurdles (n = 5), 400 m hurdles (n = 4), pole vault (n = 6), long jump (n = 7), high jump (n = 5) and javelin throw (n = 6)], with a mean age of 15.26 (± 1.78) years of age and 18.33 (± 2.43) body-fat percentage.


To evaluate the disordered eating behaviors, we utilized the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) in its validated version for females by Bighetti et al.19, presenting internal consistency of 0.82. The questionnaire is composed of 26 questions distributed in three factors: 1) diet – refers to pathological refusal of high caloric food and physical appearance concern; 2) bulimia and food concern – refers to binge episodes followed by purgative behavior to reduce/control body weight; and 3) oral self-control – refers to self-control in terms of food and evaluates environmental forces and social stimuli to food ingestion. The final score of EAT-26 is given by the sum of its items and the threshold that indicates risk behavior of eating disorders (ED) is 21. We calculated the internal consistency for the present study and we obtained 0.80 for the Cronbach's alpha.

Perfectionism was assessed by Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) validated for Portuguese language by Soares et al.9. The scale is composed by 45 items that evaluate behavioral traits related to perfectionism. The MPS questions are disposed in Likert-like scales ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 7 (completely agree). The score is the sum of each item. The bigger the score, the bigger perfectionism. The Cronbach's alpha obtained (for internal consistency) was 0.75.

To evaluate the body dissatisfaction, we applied the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ) in its validated version for Brazilian adolescents20. The instrument presents good internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha = 0.96) and correlation coefficient between scores of test-retest is significant (0.89 for girls). In the sample of the present study we found an α value of 0.91 – which demonstrates good consistency. Tue self-evaluative questionnaire is composed by 34 questions in Likert-like scale related to concern that the adolescent presents in terms of body weight and physical appearance.

To calculate the body-fat percentage, we used the protocol developed by Slaughter et al.22 for adolescents. The triceps and subscapular skinfold thickness were measured, according to the standardization determined by International Society for Advancement for Kineanthropometry23, using an adipometer (LANGE ® – Cambridge Scientific Industries Inc.) with precision of 1 mm. Each measurement was taken rotationally three times, being considered the mean of the values.


This research was submitted and approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras of University of São Paulo (USP-Ribeirão Preto) (protocol n. 119/2019 – CAE –05166712.8.0000.5407). The guardians, as well the athletes, signed an informed consent that explained the goals and procedures of the study. Anonymity was guaranteed and the procedures and data analyses were confidential.

At first, the researchers contacted track and field coaches from São Paulo/SP. The procedures and goals of study were explained and authorization was requested to allow participation of the team in the research.

After coaches' consent, a meeting with each team of athletes was organized to clarify the ethical procedures of the study. In this meeting, the informed consent form was provided for parents or guardians of the athletes to authorize participation (through signature of the consent form).

Data collection was performed in two distinct moments in adequate rooms offered by the sport clubs. In the first moment, athletes answered the questionnaires (EAT-26, MPS and BSQ), and in the second anthropometric measures were taken (skinfold thickness). In this way, athletes received the same instructions and had their questions answered. Also, the questionnaires provided written instructions on how to fill them. The questionnaire application occurred at the same time for all but each one answered its own questionnaire, which took approximately 30 minutes.

Statistical analysis

The Shapiro-Wilk test showed no significant deviation of the distribution from a normal curve. In this way, we used central tendencies measures (mean), and dispersion (minimum, maximum, and standard deviation) to describe the research variables. Three multiple linear regressions were adjusted to data using the stepwise method: 1) to assess the influence of MPS, BSQ and body-fat percentage in the score of Diet subscale of EAT-26; 2) to assess the influence of MPS, BSQ and body-fat percentage in the score of Bulimia and Food Concern subscale of EAT-26; and 3) to assess the influence of MPS, BSQ and body-fat percentage in the score of Oral Self-Control subscale of EAT-26. Al analyses were performed in SPSS 17.0 software adopting a significance level of 5%.


The findings from EAT-26 show that 13% (n = 6) of the athletes demonstrated disordered eating behaviors. Additionally, the results point that 27% (n = 12) of adolescents presented some level of body dissatisfaction evaluated by BSQ, segmented in the following way: 21% (n = 9) lightly dissatisfied, 6% (n = 3) moderately dissatisfied, and 0% (n = 0) highly dissatisfied with their body. Beyond that, almost 40% (n = 19) showed high level of perfectionist traits (MPS > 168).

TABLE 1 Descriptive values (minimum, maximum, median, mean and standard deviation). 

Variable Minimum Maximum Mean SD
EAT-26 0 29 10.60 8.29
MPS 111 199 162.93 22.87
BSQ 40 119 68.83 19.36
Age (years) 12 17 15.26 1.78
%F 14 23 18.33 2.43

SD: Standard Deviation; EAT-26: Eating Attitudes Test; MPS: Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale; BSQ: Body Shape Questionnaire; %F: Body-fat Percentage.

The regression model presented in TABLE 2 showed influence of MPS (F(1.44) = 5.74; p = 0.05), BSQ (F(1.44) = 22.11; p = 0.001) and body-fat percentage (F(1.44) = 7.57; p = 0.03) on Dies subscale scores of EAT-26. These results indicate that perfectionism (17%), body dissatisfaction (46%) and body-fat percentage (3%) accounted for 66% of variance of the feeding restrictions to highly caloric food by female athletes (F (3.42) = 25.71; p = 0.001).

TABLE 2 Multiple regression with MPS, BSQ, and body-fat percentage as independent variables and diet subscale of EAT-26 in adolescent female athletes as dependent variable. 

Variável Bloco B R R2 p valor
MPS 1 0.10 0.42 0.17 ≤ 0.05
BSQ 2 0.16 0.79 0.63 ≤ 0.01
%G 3 0.19 0.81 0.66 ≤ 0.01

R2*: Adjusted R2; MPS: Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale; BSQ: Body Shape Questionnaire; %F=Body-fat percentage.

TABLE 3 shows the regression model on bulimia and food concern as dependent variable. The results point statistical influence only of BSQ (F(1.44) = 11.61; p = 0.001) and body-fat percentage (F(2.43) = 5.52; p = 0.04), accounting for 50% of the variance. Then, the findings show that body dissatisfaction (47%) and body-fat percentage (3%) influenced binge and purgative behaviors on track and field female athletes. We underscore that MPS (F(1.44) = 1.26; p = 0.22) did not explain the variance from bulimia and food concern subscale.

TABLE 3 Multiple regression with MPS, BSQ, and body-fat percentage as independent variables and Bulimia and Food Concern subscale of EAT-26 in adolescent female athletes as dependent variable. 

Variable Block B R R2 p value
MPS 1 0.03 0.30 0.09 ≤ 0.22
BSQ 2 0.10 0.69 0.47 ≤ 0.01
%F 3 0.49 0.71 0.50 ≤ 0.01

R2*: Adjusted R2; MPS: Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale; BSQ: Body Shape Questionnaire; %F: Body-fat percentage.

The last regression model results – which had as dependent variable the Oral Self-control subscale – are presented in TABLE 4. Only MPS (F(1.44) = 6.13; p = 0.04) showed significant impact (19%) on the Oral Self-control subscale. In this sense. BSQ (F (2.43) = 2.05; p = 0.16) and body-fat percentage (F(3.42) = 1.35; p = 0.47) did not account for variance of self-control in terms of food in adolescent track and field athletes.

TABLE 4 Multiple regression with MPS. BSQ. and body-fat percentage as independent variables and Oral Self-Control subscale of EAT-26 in adolescent female athletes as dependent variable. 

Variable Block B R R2 p value
MPS 1 0.11 0.44 0.19 ≤ 0.04
BSQ 2 0.07 0.38 0.14 ≤ 0.16
%F 3 0.30 0.23 0.05 ≤ 0.47
All 13.34 0.52 0.27 ≤ 0.03

R2*: Adjusted R2; MPS: Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale; BSQ: Body Shape Questionnaire; %F: Body-fat percentage.


The present study had as the main goal analyze the influence of perfectionism on disordered eating behaviors in adolescent female athletes. Some authors have recommended to investigate whether personality traits can predispose athletes to disordered eating behaviors. However. studies conducted so far did not provide consistent data on the issue5, 1012. It is worth noticing that the aforementioned investigations were conducted with athletes from other sport modalities. Thus. we highlight that this is the first study on the issue with track and field athletes. Beyond that, this is a pioneering investigation in Brazilian athletes.

The results of the present research showed prevalence of 13% of disordered eating behaviors (EAT+). These findings are corroborated by other studies conducted in female Brazilian athletes14, 18. It seems that the prevalence of risk behavior in female athletes of sports that are not predominantly aesthetics (track and field. basketball and soccer) tend to be relatively lower when compared to the prevalence in aesthetic sports (synchronized swimming. diving. artistic gymnastics)24. Rouveix et al.5 argued that the imposed pressure on weight loss by coaches on athletes. aiming performance improvement. is the main triggering factor of abnormal eating behavior. Indeed. the scientific literature does not point track and field athletes as group in risk of disordered eating behaviors6, 17.

In terms of the first regression model (Diet subscale), the results show that 66% of the variance of food restriction can be accounted by perfectionism. body dissatisfaction and body-fat percentage (TABLE 2). These findings point that perfectionist traits can have an impact on long periods without ingestion of highly caloric food by female athletes, although the variance accounted for was small (17%). Maybe. female athletes restrict food intake with the aim of reducing body weight and maximize performance. Although perfectionism was a weak predictor for food restriction. athletes with perfectionist traits might associate decreased frequency of poor performances with body-weight decrease. Thus. an athlete with perfectionist traits who believes that body weight reduction results in performance improvement, is more susceptible to show disordered eating. This status might be worsened if expected performance is not achieved.

In terms of the regression model considering Bulimia as the dependent variable, the results indicate an influence of body dissatisfaction and body-fat percentage only (TABLE 3). Against what some authors had previously found1011, perfectionist traits did not relate to binge and purgative behavior in female athletes. These results can be explained by the fact that some items from Bulimia and Food Concern subscale of EAT-26 consider binge, an uncommon behavior within perfectionist individuals25.

In terms of the last regression model (TABLE 4). the results indicated that only perfectionist traits had influence on Oral Self-Control subscale scores. Notice that perfectionism was a weak predictor. accounting for 19% of variance only. Nevertheless. somehow, these findings show that perfectionism can influence the types and quantity of food that athletes ingest. According to Penniment and Egan25, youngsters who present perfectionist traits can learn with coaches and relatives the concepts of more and less healthy food with more ease than adolescents with lower perfectionist traits.

Although this investigation shows novel results. it is necessary to mention some limitations. We point the lower sample size which limits generalizability of results. However, considering studies on the issue, the literature presents similar sample sizes5, 12. We also underscore the usage of indirect method to estimate body-fat from athletes. Nevertheless, we stress the difficulty to access and cost when such apparatuses are used.

The results of the present study allow us to conclude that perfectionism influenced only food restriction and oral self-control on types and quantity of ingested food in female athletes. In this sense, there is evidence that athletes with perfectionist traits are more susceptible for food restriction and environmental influence for food intake. In sum, young athletes. in having personality traits related to perfectionism are more vulnerable for triggering ED.

Specifically. coaches must be attentive to perfectionist behavior of their athletes. Beyond that, it is recommended to track perfectionism by using MPS. In the case of an athlete with high perfectionist trait, it is recommended that the coach observe food restriction frequency. and type and quantity of ingested food by this athlete. If an abnormal feeding behavior is identified, the coach must refer the patient to professionals in the area of psychology, psychiatry and/or nutrition.


We thank coaches for allowing us to evaluate their athletes and the athletes for their collaboration when participating in the study.

Support: Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico.


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Received: July 24, 2013; Revised: May 12, 2015; Accepted: June 19, 2015

ADDRESS Leonardo de Sousa Fortes, R. Clóvis Beviláqua, 163/1003, 50710-330 – Recife – PE – BRASIL, e-mail:

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