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Athletes - especially endurance athletes like distance runners and aesthetic athletes like gymnasts - are much more likely than the general public to develop unhealthy eating habits and even eating disorders.

This research will examine specific psychological traits - impulsiveness, the ability to delay reward, and cognitive flexibility - to see if these traits predict which athletes develop disordered eating during their competition seasons.


Eating disorders can lead to increased risk of injury, poorer reproductive health, dangerously low bone density later in life, poorer physical performance, and other ongoing physical and mental health problems. 

The ways people develop eating disorders are not well understood. This research could help identify who is at risk for disordered eating so that we can prevent problems before they occur. 


Nancy Williams

We believe that the stress of a competitive sports season will prompt eating behaviors in some athletes to worsen, possibly to the development of clinical eating disorders, and we want to understand whether basic psychological functions tell us anything about who is susceptible.

Nancy Williams

overhead shot of people running a marathon on a road

Study Methods

Researchers will follow 40 male and 40 female athletes over the course of their sports seasons. Psychological, physiological, metabolic, and hormonal data will all be collected and evaluated.  

Previous Contributions

The Women's Health and Exercise Lab has contributed over two decades of leading research on inter-related health outcomes of metabolism, reproductive function, and bone health.


Principal investigators:  Mary Jane De Souza, Nancy I. Williams

Post doctoral fellow: Jane Sharon Akinyemi

Graduate Students: Emily Lundstrom, Ana Salamunes, Keiona Khen

Key Collaborators

Prabhani Kuruppumullage Don, associate research professor of statistics at Penn State and Franziska Plessow of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical


 Social Sciences Research Institute

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