NEDA Focuses on Athletes and Eating Disorders


I hadn’t realized this was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and that in particular today is focused on Athletes … and by that they are not talking just about professionals – they are talking about US.

The focus today is on “Athletes and Eating Disorders”

Body image problems, disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders are common among athletes. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding, gymnastics, and running, which tend to place an emphasis on the athlete’s diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements.

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 (Johnson, Powers, et al, 1999). In weight-class and aesthetic sports about 33% of males and up to 62% of females are affected by an eating disorder (Thompson, PhD. 2010). The good news is that with information and awareness, coaches, parents and teammates can all play an important role in confronting eating disorders and ensuring that athletics are a positive experience for everyone.

Laura wrote a great post about this yesterday, and Meghan did as well today.

On Laura’s I wrote a comment: “I didn’t lose more than 100 pounds – twice – without being pretty messed up regarding my relationship with food.

I say I have ‘disordered thinking’ – and that it is PERMANENT.

And that is how I feel about eating disorders – they are like alcoholism except you have to eat every day. You are never cured of alcoholism, and I believe you are never cured of an disordered eating.

I am now at nearly 3 years within +/-5lbs of target, which for someone my size (6’1″, played line in high school football) is a pretty small and tight distribution. I eat 3 meals every day, enjoy chocolate and ice cream and pizza and even occasional fried foods. But as you mention, I am incredibly aware of what I am eating not just NEXT … but as a ‘5 day rolling average’ – and how it correlates with how I am feeling and my workout schedule.”

It took me until I was in my late 40s to realize that it was more than ‘just being weird about food’, or about being a ‘former obese person’, but that I had an unhealthy relationship with food … and that it extends to my relationship with exercise. It is something I feel I am in a good place with right now … at least relatively speaking. I find awareness is key.

I have to be honest that I see WAY too much disordered or borderline stuff out in the running and ‘healthy living’ community, and it is something I deliberately pulled back from in recent months. I have tried commenting and even the occasional message … but as I know myself, change must come from within.

I hope everyone reading takes a minute to look inward – maybe you have no issues, which is great. But maybe you are always hopping on the latest fad ‘diet’ – even if it is a non-diet like #eatclean or the latest fad cleanse or Paleo-based restrictions that seemed to be on half of the books at Barnes & Noble when we stopped in after Christmas.

Maybe you hop from obsession to obsession – diet to exercise to clean eating to … ? Who knows. Maybe you are constantly ending up injured for no good reason or have other warning signs. Maybe you have no warning signs and just feel everyone is out to get you. Maybe like another comment on Laura’s post said you want to be ‘just a bit too thin’ but not really too skinny.

Whatever it is, take a minute and think about yourself and your relationship with eating and exercise … and ask for help if you need it.

10 thoughts on “NEDA Focuses on Athletes and Eating Disorders

  1. A great way to spotlight a growing problem, especially in our community. I have seen this quite a few times with some of the blogs I used to follow and I had to walk away. I had disordered eating that occurred in college and took me through my early 20’s. I was unhappy and had a coach that constantly harped on me and it made me miserable and do terrible things to my body. I am happy to say that I no longer feel and cope with things the way I did back then, which had a lot to do with the fact that I was able to quickly recognize that it was an issue and address it head on (and quit playing soccer.) Today, I wouldn’t say I still struggle with these issues, I am in a good place with my body and food–but it took a while to get there. I hope anyone who struggles with this gets the help they need because its a tough (and sometimes dangerous) way to live.

    • Thanks Sara – and it is a reminder of how sports can have such a negative impact on people as well as the positives it brings. I am glad you are not in that place anymore … and you are so right about how hard it can be, and even hard to recognize the problem in the first place. 🙂

    • I LOVED your running and anxiety series, and when I saw the ‘Running is NOT therapy’ opening line, I was reminded of a post I almost posted (maybe still in drafts) that was reactive to an image that made rounds on Facebook and Instagram for a bit and even ended up on a blog I respect very much by someone who should know better. I exhausted myself trying to be respectful but clear in my comment … so I never posted 🙂

  2. I like your approach to this very important topic. I appreciate the call to action by asking people to look inward and evaluate their choices. I’m hopefully if we keep talking about this stuff it will help someone and maybe steer them towards a healthier path. Thanks for sharing my post too. I appreciate it.

    • Thanks Meghan – I had started a draft when I saw yours, which I thought was awesome. And I think about myself – I was late 40s before it really occurred to me, so imagine for others!

  3. Thank you for highlighting this. My previous job involved helping collegiate athletes with eating disorders. It’s both a scary and quiet topic and I’m truly glad this is the theme this year. It’s something that more eyes need to see.

  4. My husband tells me stories about “making weight” for wrestling from high school. It sounds so horrifying. Basically, he’d have to lose about 5-10 pounds in about a day to wrestle at the very top of the next lower weight class, and then he’d go back to normal the next day. And then repeat for the next tournament. He’s lucky he didn’t end up really screwed up from that.
    I think my most disordered habit is that I often plan to “zero out” big dietary splurges with exercise. So I might add a running commute home from boot camp to get 3 more miles if I know I’m going to get a cocktail that night or something. At Mardi Gras, I did a 10 mile run one morning partially because it was good for my training plan (though a weekend off wouldn’t have ruined it), partially because the weather was great and I love running in other cities, but also partially because I was eating garbage and drinking alcohol pretty much all weekend long and I figured a little dent in all those calories couldn’t hurt. But I’m pretty sure that counts as some disorder, however mild or serious…

  5. From my experience as an alcoholic and disordered eater, the people who say recovering are the ones who have a better time beating the diseases (which is basically being mindful enough to catch yourself heading down the slippery slope). I’m so glad you wrote this post and also that you brought up your obesity as an eating disorder as well.

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