Eating Disorders among Athletes

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Today, as we continue National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I want to highlight eating disorders among athletes. As a therapist who works in college mental health, I have seen many athletes with disordered eating or negative body image. As I work with these students, it is clear that the culture of some sports teams reinforces an unattainable and unhealthy body type. Particularly troublesome can be sports that emphasize a lean, muscular body type (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, cross country track, etc.). The significant and regular emphasis on attaining a shape or weight that maximizes performance can make it even more difficult to break free from maladaptive behaviors once they start. Some individuals I’ve counseled have made the difficult decision to take a break from their sport in order to focus on recovery.

In recent years, in order to address the challenges faced by student athletes, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has issued training manuals and programs for coaches, as well as awareness campaigns for student athletes. Take a look at their pamphlet, “Mind, Body, and Sport” to learn more about the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder and to learn about what coaches are being encouraged to look out for among their athletes.

As awareness and discussion of eating disorders among athletes increases, so does the number of professional and college athletes who are publicly sharing their challenges with eating disorders. Take some time to read their stories below:

Figure skater Adam Rippon speaks out about the severe restriction of calories that takes place among figure skaters: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/sports/olympics/figure-skating-adam-rippon.html

Penn State University kicker Joey Julius shares his struggle with bulimia and binge eating: http://www.espn.com/espnw/culture/feature/article/20182262/former-penn-state-kicker-joey-julius-opens-struggle-binge-eating-depression

Former Michigan State University soccer player Erin Konheim Mandras discusses her development of and recovery from anorexia: http://statenews.com/article/2016/02/michigan-state-athletic-eating-disorder

Do you know any athletes? “Let’s Get Real” and start talking with them about the fact that healthy bodies come in many sizes. Let’s advocate with coaches for environments that support slow (sustainable) and healthy athletic training. Let’s keep the conversation going in order to reduce the stigma around help-seeking among athletes. There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s go!

–Megan

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