by Melissa Stoakley
“I believed that the extra hours of training and refusal to rest were what I would need to lift me above the competition. In truth, it was an addiction.”
Involvement in organized sports can offer many benefits, such as improved self-esteem and body image, and encouragement for individuals to remain active throughout their lives. Athletic competition, however, can also be a factor contributing to severe psychological and physical stress. When the pressures of athletic competition are added to an existing cultural emphasis on thinness, the risks increase for athletes to develop disordered eating. In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk.
A source that wishes to stay anonymous was choking back tears as they reflected on their brother’s uphill battle with anorexia. In the outline of his abs, the jutting endpoints of his ribs and his visible clavicles, they said you could practically see the disorder taking over who he once was.
Eating disorders are psychological disorders, not nutritional disorders, even though the symptoms show up in food-related issues. Eating disorders often start at the time of puberty, when the body is changing and maturing. The skinny gymnast who starts to grow up and gain some body fat–a normal part of puberty–can feel out of control, imperfect and scared that they’ll get fatter and fatter. Add a critical comment from a parent, coach or teammate like, “Maybe you should lose a little weight,” and the kid believes they are not good enough. The “simple” solution is to eat less and exercise more. But that can become a vicious cycle of anorexia, bulimia or other variations of obsessive dieting.
Weight issues tend to be “I’m not good enough” issues. Feeling imperfect or out of control is an unhappy place to be, leaving athletes feeling that discomfort by keeping busy tracking calories, exercising to burn fat and obsessing over what, when and how much to eat.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder the NEDA organization has a toll free confidential helpline open - and from . Give them a call at 1-800-931-2237. Common psychological characteristics of anorexic-like athletes include but are limited too: perfectionism, high self-expectations, competitiveness, hyperactivity, repetitive exercise routines, compulsiveness, tendency toward depression, body image distortion or a pre-occupation with dieting and weight.