Rock Climbers—Another Group At Risk?


As in other sports, some climbers think lower weight gives them an advantage.

Many groups are believed to be at risk for eating disorders, including those who are in certain sports or artistic pursuits where lower weight is perceived by some to confer an advantage. Figure skating, gymnastics, endurance sports, and dance are but a few of these sports and arts.

There is previous evidence of disordered eating among sport climbers (Front Sports Act Living. 2020. 24:2:86). Rock climbing is an anti-gravitational sport in which a low body weight may seem beneficial. In one sample, 604 climbers first completed the EAT-26. Then, using a cutoff score of 20, 8.6% of the climbers (6.3% of males and 16.5% of females) met criteria for disordered eating.

There is also evidence for some restrictive eating among climbers (Front Nutr. 2019. 6:64). This survey of 22 rock climbers showed interesting mixed results: generally low scores on the EAT-26 but lower overall food intake than expected in terms of kilocalories. This trend seemed to be largely explained by low consumption of carbohydrates and fat, while protein intake was mostly unchanged. A documentary film on the topic was recently released (see LIGHT—The Documentary; YouTube,

Although most clinicians in the field likely do not make any connection between rock climbers and eating disorders, a recent descriptive study expands on the very limited existing literature on this topic (J Eat Disord. 2022.10:96). This fascinating descriptive study provides context on the variety of views on the idea of ED in the rock-climbing community, which appear to span the gamut from insightful, informed and concerned, to dismissive. The author’s essentially observational study of internet discussion on the topic is both reassuring and worrisome.

Although it has not yet garnered a lot of attention, it seems reasonable to add climbers to the list of groups at high risk for ED.

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