Eating Disorders and Competitive Swimming (Part 2)

This weekend while coaching the state championship high school swim meet, I noticed things that I simply didn’t see prior to admitting that I had an ED.  Though I wouldn’t say it’s a problem for the majority, the environment is ideal to foster disordered thoughts on eating and body image.  If you haven’t read part one of this topic, you can view it here.

World champion swimmer, Dagny Knutson, was forced to quit swimming for 9 months and seek treatment to recover from her eating disorder.

Let’s just hash through some of the things I observed, shall we?

  • Exhibit A:  Female swimmer from a neighboring school is blatantly skinny.  Let’s call her J.  I see a lot of my former self in J.  She seems to make  a point of being outspoken – her mouth has no filter and she likes being the center of attention.  She is constantly body checking.  She has a few bad races and gets upset and frustrated about it.  I heard J’s coach tell her on more than one occasion to get something to eat.  I saw her eat once during the entire weekend.  A Tupperware of Cheerios.  She ate them one at a time – seemingly putting a great deal of thought into every bite.  My heart breaks for this poor girl because I see what she’s going through, but she probably doesn’t even realize that she has a problem.
  • Exhibit B:  Very talented female swimmer, who I will refer to as M, claims that she is worried about her races tonight because she has been throwing up all morning.  M claims that she has been having stomach problems all year, blaming it on gluten (though she has not even seen a doctor about it).  She says over and over that she is 10 pounds lighter than she was this summer.  I’m actually more concerned with the way she speaks about her weight than the actual throwing up (which is probably related to being nervous!).  I remember using a vegan diet as a way to restrict and I fear her doing the same thing with this gluten-free diet.  This is especially sad since M is so talented… she has big potential for a legit career in swimming and I don’t want an ED to rob her of her future!
  • Exhibit C:  Girls in general constantly talking about what people look like in their swimsuits!  Gah like seriously – stop adding fuel to the fire!  If you don’t want to be judged for your weight, then stop judging!  I must say that in the past I have been guilty as charged on this one.  Sad, but true.

I have realized that the Lord has gifted me with power and influence to make positive changes and has called on me to act upon it.  I recently came across this Coach and Trainer Toolkit from the National Eating Disorder Association that I am planning to read through.  I was thinking it might be a good idea to mention it to the athletic director at my school and ask him to distribute it to all the coaches.  I really feel like if coaches were better equipped to identify and handle ED’s, the incidence would decrease significantly.  Maybe in the future I could offer to conduct a free seminar on the subject?  I feel like now is not the time for that since I am still going through recovery myself, but I definitely see it as a goal to work towards!

What are y’alls thoughts?  Should ED education be required of all coaches, regardless of gender or sport?  Which sports do you feel are most at risk?


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