Monday, October 26, 2015

Athletes and Eating Disorders- Retired Athlete Problems

Throughout my athletic career I'd go straight to practice from class, quickly changing in a bathroom or in the car so I wouldn't be late. When I was 15, my volleyball club would track our weight and body fat percentages on a weekly basis before practice, which means Mondays were extra tight on time. One Monday traffic was particularly bad, and I ran into the bathroom to change in the farthest handicapped stall and saw some poor sick girl puking in the toilet. I felt for her, because coming to practice sick was a pretty regular occurrence. You were expected to be praticing unless you were contageious, and even then you'd have to sit on the side and watch. I quickly changed, weighed in, and went on with practice. I was about 10-20% heavier than the rest of my slender team, so needless to say this wasn't one of my favorite activities, but figured as long as my volleyball skills were also 10-20% better than those smaller than me, the two would cancel out and I'd be okay.

After practice I went up to my friend, and asked how she was feeling and asked how long she'd been sick since she was looking extra rough. When she replied "About 2 years" my heart sank, and in that moment looking into her sad and empty eyes, I knew she was suffering much more than just the flu. Remember, I was 15 years old, and if I could go back in time and tell her all the right things to say, I would have. But all I did was give her a hug and said I'm sorry, and spent the rest of the year looking around wondering who else was suffering silently.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that about 5-10% of women are diagnosed with some form of an eating disorder, and suggests 19-30% of female college students could be diagnosed with one. How the media portrays beauty is not helping, and athletes participating in weight-class sports (like wrestling, rowing, horse-racing) and aesthetic sports (gymnastics, swimming, volleyball) have significantly higher rates of diagnosed eating disorders than non-weight dependent sports. From these two categories, 33% of male athletes are impacted by eating disorders, and up to 62% of females exhibit these habits according to NEDA. In sports where uniforms are revealing- like track, gymnastics, and volleyball the fact that people are watching in these body hugging outfits are not ignored. I'd like to think of myself as a confident individual, in fact I can proudly say I won't wear makeup for dates, class, work etc... but you better believe if we were playing on ESPNU I'd be throwing on some eyeliner and blush, just because the world is mean.

Throughout my athletic career I've had coaches get on me about my weight, and when I worked my ass off (literally) to lose the weight, was then questioned if I was doing it healthy. I've had coaches comment on what my teammates were eating, while these same teammates a few weeks later would be ordering food at team meals just to throw it away without the coaches noticing. 

Reading articles of athletes who suffer from eating disorders often blame something a coach has said, or the pressures mentioned before. They blame being told their body fat percentages and having it compared with teammates, and it's easy to blame coaches for putting so much emphasis on tracking athlete's weight. However I don't blame the coaches. Should they be more aware on the impact of their words? Probably. But no different than offering a silent hug when I was 15, when I'd witness a teammate throwing out food, or even bragging about how much weight they'd loss, I'd always be at a loss for words in my 20s. Why should coaches be responsible for MY friends? Why do I allow my teammates to hide these things from my teammates and coaches, while others discuss their issues while never confronting the individual. 

Teammates are supposed to be there for you and hold you accountable. I would get on my teammate if they skipped a summer workout, but why is it not as easy for me to get on them about skipping a meal? If someone's physical injury is preventing them from performing I have no issues telling them to go in early for rehab to get it taken care of, but I never considered my teammate's mental injury and telling them to go in and get help. It was my teammates, not my coaches, who I count on to have my back. My teammates are the ones I'm still in contact with today, and there's no reason for a teammate to sit silently and watch a teammate in pain. 

Early Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Athletes
  • More frequent muscle strains, sprains, or fractures
  • Perfectionism
  • Preoccupation with one's food or other's foods
  • Frequent Weighing
  • Excess Exercising/Training more than the coach recommends
  • Avoidance of water or excessive water intake
  • Increased Isolation
  • Issues in School or Personal life
All I can encourage is to approach your teammate or athlete in a private, non-judgmental way and let them know you care and want to help. Katherine Beals, an associate professor of nutrition at Ball State University who also was a competitive athlete for 20 years has seen disordered eating firsthand in both teammates and competitors. Although directed at professionals, her book Disordered Eating Among Athletes : A Comprehensive Guide for Health Professionals is an easy read and goes way deeper than what was briefly touched on here. As long as the media continues to encourage athletes to look like the girl on the left vs. the right, we still have a long way to go. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I Don't Miss Playing a Sport- The 10 Perks of Quitting a Sport

It's easy to look back at your glory days and remember times of laughter, winning, and no real-world responsibilities. Next time you look at your bank account and want to cry, just remember that those days weren't always that great.

Perks of Being a Retired Athlete

1. You're never sore. Sure, if you lift some weights, or sleep funny you may feel it the next day, but nothing can compare to being sore in places you didn't know existed after two-a-days. I don't have to think twice when I raise my arms to wash my hair or collapse when I sit on the toilet ever again.

2.You'll lost weight. All those days of telling yourself muscle weighs more than fat are actually proven to be true, and you can compare weight with non-athletes like normal without having to "round" your weight by 5-25 lbs.

3. This.

4.  Free time. Growing up playing a sport you, and all your non-athlete friends are pretty accustomed to never making solid plans. I can't really give much advice since I've yet to do anything productive with this time other than discover netflix, but I'll save that for later... 

5. No more Ice Baths. I will never forget the first 30 seconds slowly submerging yourself down into the ice bath. Even the toughest athletes have met their match vs. these guys, and it's nice to know the only standing body's of water in my future are hot tubs, warm baths, or oceans. I'll also include no more ice packs here, which means no more leaking in your car, bed, or class.

6. No more punishments. Sure, my credit score my get a ding if I pay a bill late- but that does not compare to the sinking feeling of the unknown when your coach tells you to get on the line. For this same reason is why you can now finally celebrate Tequila Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursdays, Fireball Fridays, etc... without fear of repercussion. 

7. You can date. With the amount of time you're either in the gym or out of town, you're basically a magnet for people who are emotionally unavailable or cheaters.

8. You can have a job. A definite double edge sword on this one, but sometimes it's nice to have an option to do something other than ask your parents to fund your Chipotle habit. And in the real world there are no "optional" meetings, practices, summer workouts you aren't paid for.

9. You can watch television. I feel like a whole new world has opened now that I can watch series of shows, netflix, live sporting events, etc... You can even watch the news and be able to pretend you are concerned about wordly-issues or who's running for President. 

10. Unbreakable bonds. Although these people were your teammates by fate, over time these are the people who have proved to be there through the ups and the downs, spending nearly waking moment together. Whether it's because they've seen you at your worst, grew to appreciate their sense of humor, or simply don't judge how much food you eat in a single sitting, they are officially your people for the rest of your life.