Athletes Can Be More Vulnerable to Eating Disorders

black and white - Olympic statue and symbol - athletes

black and white - Olympic statue and symbol - athletes

The Olympics

Last Friday, July 27, 2012, it is estimated that 40 million Americans tuned in to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony that took place in London. Did you watch? The appeal of the Opening Ceremony is that it gives the viewers from all over the world and opportunity to learn about the host country, to cheer for their country’s contingent, and to take a few hours to imagine a world where all countries can come together to celebrate and work toward a common goal. It is magical!

As the games begin we are often treated to athlete profiles that give us an understanding of what is required to train for the Olympic Games. These up close and personal biographies usually focus on the athlete’s upbringing, how they got their start in their specific sport, their training schedule, their previous accomplishments and awards, the road they traveled and their hopes and dreams. If the profile is more detailed, the reporter may even highlight the athlete’s eating habits, daily caloric intake, favorite foods and exercise schedule.  Olympic Game viewers often marvel at the sheer determination displayed by the athletes and the physical fitness of the Olympians.

You might be surprised to learn that many of these athletes, particularly women, focus so intensely on their physical fitness and body image that they eventually begin to zero in on looking the part and find themselves suffering from eating disorders.

Case in Point (Houston, TX) profiled this issue in their coverage “Hunger games: Some female athletes battle eating disorders.” For this article KHOU interviewed Whitney Post, former Olympian and now president of the Eating Healthy Alliance. Post is a rower and she says her rowing career and her own eating disorder began simultaneously. She battled bulimia for almost 15 years. Here are a few points to consider:

  • One in five elite female athletes suffers from eating disorders.
  • Additionally, one in four college-aged women binge and purge to manage their weight.
  • Athletes that suffer from eating disorders often experience less energy, frequent strains, high risk for injuries and long term fertility issues.
  • Often these athletes experience shame, become secretive; these traits of shame and secrecy often transfer to the athlete’s parents, coaches and teammates.
  • It is reported 33% of male athletes also suffer from eating disorders.

Talking about eating disorders is an important first step; learning more about the disease and discovering resources that focus on how to seek help can be the next important step. Here you can watch KHOU’s Mia Gradney’s report on this important topic.

When to Pay Attention

Eating disorders frequently begin during adolescence, a time when young people, particularly young girls, begin to fine tune their process of fitting in with their peers in academics, sports, dating, and planning for college. As a parent, if you begin to notice unhealthy behaviors being exhibited by your teen, then seeking professional counsel and researching treatment programs may serve to help your teen refocus on healthier coping mechanisms and begin their recovery.

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