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Body Image and Mental Health For Young Athletes (Part 1): 4 Warning Signs

A top down view of a track runner and their long shadow. Learn how therapy for teens in Branchburg, NJ can offer support for young athletes by searching for online therapy in New Jersey or “therapist branchburg, nj”. They can offer support via online therapy for teens and more.

Our body is our vessel

A teen hits a fastball with a bat during a baseball game. Learn how therapy for teens in Branchburg, NJ can offer support by searching for online therapy for teens. A therapist Branchburg, NJ can offer support today.It stores all of our energy, power, memories, and is what keeps us going from day to day. As an athlete, it is incredibly common to have a love/hate relationship with our body. The pressure to be a certain body type and weight is constantly on our minds and sometimes taken to the next level for athletes. 

Body image is ingrained in our way of living. We are constantly viewing thin, lean, muscular body types on social media, in movies and television, and by influencers, professional athletes, and celebrities. Some research suggests that our female youth are negatively impacted the most by body image stereotypes. These messages can look like the need to be skinnier, leaner, and have a “pretty” body image. These misconceptions link the idea that being skinnier means we will be happier, creating this constant drive to lose weight at all costs. 

Although females may be impacted the most, males and trans young athletes are also dealing with body image stigmas regularly. These molds may look like the need to be muscular enough, strong enough, fast enough, and if not, we are not good enough for our sport. For our trans or nonbinary athletes, there is pressure to have a cis male or female body image, and if not they do not belong amongst the sport. These stigmas are relentless. With all of these external pressures, our own internal critic can become louder and louder on what we “should” look like as an athlete. 

Below are 4 potential factors that could contribute to an unhealthy body image.  If you find yourself identifying with any of the below factors, these may be getting in the way of your athletic performance and your overall wellness.

Controlling Food Intake

The biggest concern related to an unhealthy body image is our food intake. As an athlete, fueling our body properly is a priority. Without proper nutrition and healthy eating patterns, we can become fatigued, lose unhealthy amounts of weight, or even have our organs shut down. In some cases, athletes have been medically advised to no longer compete in their sports due to a lack of nutrition. On the other hand, if we become hyper-focused on clean eating, this can sometimes lead to orthorexia or an obsessive and unhealthy fixation with eating healthy foods.

Some warning signs to be mindful of related to controlling food intake could be: 

  • Minimizing food portions
  • Not finishing meals or playing with food
  • Skipping meals
  • Calorie counting
  • Avoiding meals altogether

Excessive Exercise

As an athlete, we are constantly participating in some type of exercise whether it is a game, meet, practice, or extra conditioning. However, fitting in extra gym sessions on top of all this has become standard in the competitive athletic world. Finding the appropriate amount of exercise as an athlete is like walking a tightrope. We can get caught up in the latest exercise trends or techniques. However, it really comes down to each individual person and what their body needs.

Some warning signs of excessive exercise include: 

  • A young woman holds her leg while wincing in pain. This could represent a symptom of over-exercise that therapy for teens in Branchburg, NJ can offer support with overcoming. Learn more about Scotch Plains therapy and how online therapy in New Jersey can offer support. Increased injuries
  • Recurring injuries
  • Requiring longer periods of rest and recovery time due to complete exhaustion
  • Low energy and burnout
  • Increased irritability. 

Exercise takes up time, energy, willpower, and so much dedication. When we overdo it, we are only working against ourselves.

Anxiety and Depression

As previously mentioned, having a negative body image can become consuming. This can lead to increased anxiety and depression. Increased anxiety related to body image can then hurt our performance as an athlete. We can feel all eyes on us and judgment from others about how we look. We put ourselves down even if we have no evidence to support these worries. 

When we become depressed, our negative body image can lead us to feel disgusted with ourselves. When these signs progress, this can lead to symptoms of body dysphoria. Body dysphoria is categorized by obsessing over our body’s flaws. This could look like: 

  • repeatedly checking in the mirror
  • dressing a certain way to hide a particular part of the body
  • avoiding social settings

Anxiety and depression can take us to irrational places, leading us to doubt our abilities on the field. 


Our internal critic is natural and we all have one. Yet, some of ours are a little louder and more distracting than others. Athletes are constantly being judged by themselves and others, making it hard to quiet self-criticism. If you find yourself only pointing out your flaws, mistakes, or performances that were not your greatest, this could be a sign your self-criticism is holding you back. When our internal critic doesn’t shut off, we are totally missing out on all the great accomplishments and strides we have made. 

In part 2, we will dive into different ways to support and create a healthy body image.

A close up of a woman smiling at herself in a mirror. Learn how therapy for teens in Branchburg, NJ can offer support via online therapy for teens and in person by contacting a teen counselor Scotch Plains, NJ.

If your child or teen athlete is navigating body image concerns, we are here to help and support. With counseling for teens as well as parenting help and support. I would love to connect and listen to the challenges you are facing and tackle some of these obstacles together. Please reach out for a free consultation.

A Teen Counselor in Scotch Plains or Branchburg, NJ Can Support Your Teen Athlete

If your child is an athlete our teen counselors in Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ can provide them with extra support. We know navigating your teenage years can be hard. However, with the right support, it can be extremely rewarding. Online therapy for teens can help from anywhere in New Jersey. Our therapy practice is here to support you and your teen. Start by following these steps.

  1. Reach out to us to talk with a teen counselor.
  2. Make your first counseling for teens appointment at Brave Minds Psychological Services.
  3. Watch your teen thrive.

Other Services We Offer in Scotch Plains, NJ and Branchburg, NJ

Online therapy for teens isn’t the only service that we offer at Brave Minds Psychological Services. For adults, we provide trauma therapyfood allergy therapy, and couples counseling. Additionally, we have postpartum counseling and birth trauma therapy. We offer teen anxiety treatmentsocial phobia therapy for teenschild sexual abuse therapychild anxiety treatment, and more. Our services are offered in person at our Scotch Plains, NJ office and through online therapy in New Jersey

Teen Therapist, Adolescent Therapy, Teen Depression, Teen Anxiety