The female athlete triad is a common nutritional disorder among female athletes caused by the drive of girls and women to be unrealistically thin in an attempt to improve performance. The disorder is most common in sports judged by build (e.g., gymnastics, diving, figure skating), sports with a weight classification (e.g., light-weight crew), and endurance sports (e.g., distance running). It is characterized by three interrelated conditions: (1) disordered eating, such as bingeing, purging, or severe calorie restriction; (2) amenorrhea, or the absence of normal menstrual periods; and (3) osteoporosis, a condition marked by reduced bone density.

Physical signs of the female athlete triad include: amenorrhea for more than three months, irregular or slow pulse, skipped heartbeats, fainting, loss of greater than 10 percent of ideal body weight, and recurrent stress fractures. The condition is also marked by depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, excessive exercise, and a preoccupation with food and weight management.

Treatment for those with the female athlete triad is multidisciplinary and includes medical care, counseling and nutritional services, and an adjustment in exercise. Some athletes require hospitalization if there are coexisting medical problems, and counseling is done on an individual basis and in support groups.

Leslie Bonci


Otis, Carol, and Goldingay, Roger (2000). The Athletic Woman's Survival Guide. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.