It is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month and it is essential to address not only mental health struggles in sports, but how they impact our personal day-to-day lives as well. As we move through this month, we will dive into several different topics. We will look at issues including body image and body dissatisfaction, perfectionism, as well as general depression and anxiety.

Body image is a common topic that is consistently debated within sports. How often do we see a professional athlete gain or lose weight? Currently several athletes have been thrown into the spotlight for “dramatic” body transitions. Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa have both been trending on social media with comments directed to them such as “he looks unrecognizable” or “should he have lost that much weight with his previous history of injury?” These types of comments might seem harmless, but they can take its toll. In general, body image in sports has always been a topic of concern. Many athletes seek out nutritionist, specialized coaches and partake in a vigorous work out regiments to seek out their ideal shape related to their sport. So how does this affect our mental health? Does this lead to negative affect after we’ve retired from our perspective sport?

Body Dissatisfaction

One area of concern is body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction can include an individual’s own appearance and body size. It can also include discrepancies between actual and ideal dimensions in respect to our sports. This is often seen in aesthetic related sports such as gymnastics and bodybuilding. So how does something such as body dissatisfaction affect other parts of our lives? According to a study published by NCBI, “Body dissatisfaction has been found to be a predictor for the development of an eating disorder and occurs in individuals with different mental disorders, such as binge eating disorder or social anxiety disorder, as well as in healthy persons. It represents one of the two poles of the satisfaction-dissatisfaction continuum of body image disturbance, which encompasses measures of satisfaction (e.g., being satisfied with particular body areas) and dissatisfaction.” When we are dissatisfied with how we look or our progress towards our “ideal” look, it can create longer tern affects including stress related disorders or even eating related disorders. If an athlete allows the outside voices to get to our head, it can lead to increased body dissatisfaction any maybe even more, long term effects.

So how do we manage our expectations? First, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. It can go a long way. Human Beings are perfect at being imperfect—so allow yourself to be just that. Our body’s will grow with continued work and correct eating and it’s ok to use patience. Secondly, listen to your trainers/nutritionist. If you have the fortune to be working with a nutritionist or trainer, listen to them. They will help you reach your goals and encourage you to recover when you need it. Lastly, let’s use something I like to call the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time we are strict and calculated. 20% of the time, we are relaxed. We take a break; we allow ourselves to rest and recover. As an athlete, managing stress can be tiring—each athlete should have a self-care plan.

Body Image

Body image is another area of concern. While often connected with the female population, men also struggle with body image. Men who suffer from body image and eating related disorders often wish to be more muscular or a particular body weight. This can be seen in disorders such as muscle dysmorphia, a subcategory of body dysmorphia. Muscle dysmorphia is a pathologic preoccupation with muscularity and leanness and can affect anyone but is more prevalent in men. While difficult to calculate, over 100,000 people in the regular population meet the diagnostic criteria for this diagnosis. If you are an athlete, the likeliness to be undiagnosed and experiencing similar diagnostic criteria may be higher. Criteria may include, excessive body monitoring practices, unrealistic diet and exercise regiments, which can lead to significant stress and even anxiety. So how do we tell the difference between meeting expectations for our sport and body dysmorphia? This is a tricky question and one we might not have a perfect answer for.

Better questions to ask might be, how do we manage this? This question can be broken down into two parts. First, how do we manage healthy dietary and exercise practices during our careers? Similar to what has been brought up before, we can use our resources around us. Nutritionist and sports performance coaches are a great way to handle any body image related disorders. They also have the ability to provide insight and support in meeting expectations set by our coaches. If we don’t have the fortune to work with one of these, we can seek out help through a sports and performance therapist. Lastly, we can use self-reflections and, once again, the 80/20 rule to help take inventory over our own life. All are great options and can provide significant help in meeting our needs or to help reach our goals.

Secondly, how do we manage this after our careers are over? This is a very different question but might have similar answers. Mental health professionals can help us with our transition back into the real world. Nutritionists and dietitians might help us reset our eating habits and build to a more sediment lifestyle. Sports and performance therapists might be able to help us develop a healthy relationship with our perspective sport after our career is over. As a clinician, I work with both retired and former athletes. These athletes who are still involved in their sports, ie., coaching, recreation leagues, volunteer work. They all identify happier emotions and seem more fulfilled. So, if there is an opportunity for you, get involved.

As we continue to move through this month, I’m hoping you all can take inventory over your life. Check in on yourself and ask yourself how you feel? As someone who cares about exercise and healthy eating habits, there is nothing wrong with living a healthy lifestyle— just don’t forget to enjoy life too!

 Activity To Try

Engaging in a mirror exercise for positive body image and affirmations can significantly boost athletes’ self-confidence. This exercise, when performed consistently, can help male athletes develop a positive and empowering perception of their bodies,  enhancing both their mental and physical performance. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Find a Quiet Space: Choose a quiet, private place where you can stand comfortably in front of a full-length mirror without interruptions.

Relax and Breathe: Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and release any tension.

Stand Tall: Stand with good posture, shoulders back, and head held high, projecting confidence.

Observe Yourself: Look at your reflection without judgment. Notice your physical features, acknowledging each part of your body.

Express Gratitude: Silently or aloud, thank your body for its strength, endurance, and the athletic feats it allows you to perform.

Positive Affirmations: Speak positive affirmations while maintaining eye contact with yourself in the mirror. Examples include:

  • “I am strong and capable.”
  • “My body is powerful and resilient.”
  • “I am proud of the progress I make every day.”
  • “I honor my body and treat it with respect.”

Visualize Success: Imagine yourself succeeding in your sport, visualizing each detail of your performance while continuing to affirm your strengths.

Repeat Daily: Practice this exercise daily, ideally in the morning, to set a positive tone for the day ahead and reinforce a healthy body image.


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O’Connor PJ 1, 1, & ABSTRACTThe purpose of this investigation was to describe eating disorder symptoms in 36.6 +/- 3.8-y-old former college gymnasts as well as relations between body dissatisfaction and body composition. Former college gymnasts (n = 22) and age-(mean +/- SE . (1996, December 1). Eating disorder symptoms in former female college gymnasts: Relations with body composition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.,percentage%20body%20fat%20for%20gymnasts.

Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and treatment of muscle dysmorphia and related body image disorders. Journal of athletic training.,the%20imagined%20and%20actual%20self. (2024, February 21). Student-athletes in women’s and men’s sports report stark difference in perceptions of weight and body image.

Zaccagni, L., & Gualdi-Russo, E. (2023, March 22). The impact of sports involvement on body image perception and ideals: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health.