Exploring the athletic-ideal body image and eating disturbances in a selected South African sample
The athletic-ideal and associated behaviours have not yet been adequately addressed in current literature. For the past two years researchers focused on the thin-ideal internalization. This researcher explored the extent to which the athletic-ideal, body image, and eating disturbances affected on a selected South African sample. This research study is presented in three manuscripts. The aim of the first manuscript was to explore the relationship between the athletic-ideal internalization and its association with clinical aspects, such as body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and maladaptive exercise behaviours. This quantitative cross-sectional study included on-campus female students (N = 476) from the three campuses of the North-West University (NWU) in South Africa. Participants completed four online self-report questionnaires (The Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Scale-4; The MBSRQ Appearance Scale; The Obligatory Exercise Questionnaire; The Eating Attitudes Test). Findings suggested that the athletic-ideal is gaining popularity. Furthermore, significant relationships between athletic-internalization, obligatory exercise and dieting were evident, yet yielded a poor relationship with body dissatisfaction. As with other studies, it appears that the athletic-ideal is less harmful to body dissatisfaction and dieting than the thin-ideal. A stronger association between obligatory exercise was found with the athletic-ideal than with the thin-ideal. The aim of the second manuscript was to explore the subjective experiences of individuals that have internalized this ideal and investigated the behaviours associated with reaching the athletic-ideal. This qualitative study followed a phenomenological approach to explore nine participants’ perceptions of their athletic-ideal internalization. Data from semistructured interviews were analyzed using the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis methodology. Results indicated a prominent theme of balance with regard to eating and exercise. In this study, it was evident that participants’ pursuits of the athletic-ideal body are more focused on health-related goals than on appearance-related ideals. Following the guidelines of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced exercise routine appears to act as protective factors against body image disturbances, maladaptive eating and compulsive exercise. In the third manuscript the aim was to explore how practicing psychologists in clinical practice make sense of the athletic-ideal. This study explored how they classify, diagnose and treat their patients who have an athletic-ideal internalization with pathological associated behaviour. The qualitative study followed a grounded theory approach to explore nine psychologists’ understanding of the athletic-ideal and subsequent implications for diagnostic classification and treatment. Results indicated that, if the athletic-pursuit includes balance and flexibility, the pursuit can lead to positive psychological and physical benefits. When the inverse is present, obsessive-compulsive and rigidity in the pursuit start to affect psychological, physiological, social and occupational functioning. In the absence of clear, evidence-based diagnostic classification guidelines for a pathological pursuit of the athletic-ideal, diagnostic classifications of eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia and associated depressive and anxiety disorders are often used. Psychologists follow an individualized form of treatment that includes cognitive behaviour, family systems and psychodynamic approaches. Research on the athletic-ideal internalization in clinical practice is still in its early stages and peer-reviewed evidence is needed to establish diagnostic criteria and course descriptions of a pathological pursuit of the athletic-ideal. In conclusion, the study primarily contributed to the exploration of the athletic-ideal and its associated outcomes in a South-African sample.
- Health Sciences 
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