Eating Disorders In The World of Sports

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The rise of the #metoo movement brought sexual abuse in the world of competitive sport squarely into focus. The bravery of prominent sportspeople such as Gabby Douglas speaking up about their experiences has led non professionals to share their horrifying experiences. It had been a day of reckoning for many sporting bodies and an opportunity to right historical wrongs and combat toxic cultures.


The conversations that #metoo started has led to the prevalence of eating disorders in the sporting world also being uncovered that the strictly regimented routines of high performance sports like gymnastics, swimming and running to name just a few have contributed to. 


Many athletes start training at a young age, often well before puberty. As bodies mature, they change and develop, pair this with coaches that value success and performance above all else and the perfect breeding ground for poor body image is created. For every coach that  provides responsible dietary information and a realistic expectation of weight gain and muscle growth there are others who do not handle the situation so sensitively. Athletes commonly tell of being told they are too big, too fat, too flabby. With pressures like this from adults they look up to is it any wonder that many young athletes develop eating disorders?


Anorexia and bulimia are the most common forms of eating disorders found in sport. Eating well below the recommended daily intake or eating and then purging are unfortunately seen by many as a way to prevent weight gain or lose weight quickly. Another often used technique is excessive exercising. For competitions where weight is measured, or if weigh-ins are a part of training, it is not unheard of for athletes to exercise to the extreme while wearing plastic bags over their normal work out clothes in an effort to ‘sweat off’ a few extra pounds.


What can parents of talented young sportspersons do to spot early warning signs of eating disorders? A great resource for parents can be found here https://www.newbridge-health.org.uk/eating-disorders-help/. Newbridge has years of experience in helping people of all ages, and especially young people, tackle and overcome eating disorders. Resources include a guide for parents that explains the signs to look for if you are concerned that your child is developing issues with food and their body. Also available are step by step guides that show what treatment for different eating disorders can look like. These resources are ideal for demystifying eating disorders and how to overcome them.


Parents that believe their child may be at risk of developing poor body image due to the demands of their sport should consider speaking to their child's coach as quickly as possible. If a coach is receptive to, or shares your concerns, they will be able to let you know how they typically handle issues like this as well as being another pair of eyes to look for any early warning signs. If a coach is not receptive to your concerns, it may be a sign that your fears are well founded. Next steps could include speaking to other parents or ex students. You may even want to reach out to the sports governing body to find a different coach that is more aware of the complexities surrounding these issues.


Hopefully your child is in safe hands and can enjoy, and excel, at their chosen sport with no serious repercussions and this article has given you tools to help deal with any concerns you may have.  


Eating Disorders In The World of Sports