The high levels of stress, perfectionism, and anxiety experienced by musicians have been identified as triggers.

A new study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders has found that stress, anxiety, and perfectionism are factors which make eating disorders prevalent among musicians. Surveying 301 musicians over the age of 18, with 86 percent of the subjects classical musicians, the authors of the paper recorded that just under a third reported that they had, or used to have, an eating disorder such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge-eating. Those surveyed identified stress, perfectionism, and upcoming exams and concerts as primary triggers of eating disorders, with perfectionism mentioned by classical musicians more than non-classical musicians.

The lead authors of the report, Marianna Evangelia Kapsetaki and Charlie Easmon, said that the demands of a musician’s lifestyle produced in some subjects anxiety and depression, other possible factors leading to eating disorders. “A musician’s unpredictable work schedule, performing and low income are major factors which both from a mental and practical aspect draw them into a vicious circle of unhealthy eating”.

“Other possible risk factors for EDs in musicians are the cultural idealisation of thinness and attractiveness which is particularly common in the music industry…pressure from parents and teachers, competitiveness, peer pressure especially within groups of musicians, and puberty which constitutes a major transition and weak point in the control of musicians’ eating habits as this is a time when they attempt launching their careers and experienced heightened body awareness”.

The study also found that 41.6 percent of female musicians have had an eating disorder, compared to 18.27 percent of male musicians. Musicians also reported “severe levels of stress and depression” and “extremely severe levels of anxiety”. Furthermore, many stated that their relatively low income had a negative impact on their dietary choices, with 41.8 percent of those surveyed stating that they would change their diet if their income increased. Additionally, those who felt more socially isolated, such as soloists, frequent travellers, and students, were at increased risk of developing an eating disorder.

The study also raises the problem of eating disorders remaining underdiagnosed amongst musicians, adding that some may avoid reporting health issues because of pressure from managers or the fear of tarnishing a carefully established career.

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