Do a quick internet search for “eating disorder athlete story.” You’ll quickly stumble upon a long list of inspirational stories about young, Caucasian, female athletes who once suffered from an eating disorder but who have since recovered. I in no way want to diminish the struggles that these athletes have experienced and overcome, but in reading all of these stories, it would seem logical to conclude that eating disorders must be an issue that occurs exclusively in females. In reality, negative body image, disordered eating behaviors, and diagnosed eating disorders affect people across all ages, races, genders, sexual identities, socioeconomic statuses, as well as athletes and non-athletes alike.
When it comes to males, we tend to hear more about eating disorders occurring in homosexual males. So does being a heterosexual male make one immune to eating disorders? Definitely not. Studies show that the ratio of males to females who suffer from eating disorders is about 1 to 3. In addition, if you look across the entire population, there are more cases of eating disorders among heterosexual males than among homosexual males.
We also know that males often experience negative body dissatisfaction in different ways than their female counterparts. Males tend to idealize a stronger, leaner body type, causing them to obsessively exercise for hours at the gym, to waste excessive amounts of money on nutritional supplements, or to experiment with steroids. In addition, males are less likely to report disordered eating behavior or even to consider these behaviors as anything other than normal. Why? One, there’s a widespread misconception that eating disorders don’t occur in males. As a result, many males feel that coming forward as having an eating disorder will pull into question their masculinity.
Males also have higher rates of participation in weight-class sports such as wrestling, rowing, and some martial arts. In these sports, a particular pre-competition weight is required to qualify for participation. In these sports, weighing in one pound too many can mean facing a tougher opponent, or even outright disqualification. Manipulating body weight is often seen as a natural aspect of these sports, and behaviors such as calorie restriction, purging, use of laxatives, and extreme dehydration occur all too often. I see these behaviors all the time in my role as a college-level Athletic Trainer, and they’re certainly not limited to these sports. While recent studies suggest that these harmful behaviors do not tend to continue after the athlete retires, this is not always the case, and there have been many instances where athletes go too far, resulting in serious harm or even death.
In the end, there are a ton of eating disorder statistics, but the most important number is “one.” As in each person has his or her own unique story. Just as there is no perfect body, there is no cookie-cutter image of what an eating disorder looks like. It is important for all individuals to know how to spot disordered eating behaviors and when to seek help. I’m proud to lead a team dedicated to educating athletes and intervening when necessary. We need more of this in the world of high school, collegiate, and professional sports.
by Charlie Emerson MS, LAT, ATC
Charles is the the Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and leads the Eating Disorder Response Team within the Department of Athletics.
Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website to learn more about eating disorders in athletes.
To take a quick, confidential screening, click here.
I remember hearing a lot of different whispers when Ed (anorexia, my eating disorder) lived with me. Whispers like “No one will like you if you don’t lose more weight.” And like “You don’t really need to eat that.” These whispers played like a broken record in my head, rudely reminding me that I would never be good enough. And they became louder and louder until they were screams. Screams filled with lies. That’s what Ed does. He screams constantly until that’s all you can hear.
Ed made me give up everything to keep him. I lost a lot of things. I lost motivation. I lost joy. I lost relationships. My friends and family are the most important things in the world to me, and yet Ed made me choose him over them. I lost my ability to concentrate. I specifically remember a conversation with the secretary at my school and not being able to form cohesive sentences. Why? Because my brain was malnourished. That’s what Ed does. Ed made me lose self-respect. Because of that, he made me engage in self-harm. I was cutting myself. Why? Because I felt so unworthy and broken. That’s what Ed does. Another thing that Ed took from me is hope.
I feel like hope is ingrained in us. We grow up learning to hope. We feel hope for the little things and the big things in our lives. When that hope is taken away, life becomes confusing and a lot like a traffic jam. You’re stuck, and you can’t see a way out.
But as much as I believed that all hope was gone, that Ed had taken it from me and I’d never feel it again, I was wrong. I can promise you: HOPE IS REAL. Hope is real. Recovery is real. Self-love is real. Even at my worst, deep, deep inside there was a little flame of hope. And that hope led to a cry for help. Thankfully, people answered. I started to be able to hear the whispers of truth that my therapist, my friends, and my family members were speaking. Then those whispers became louder.
I was reminded that I was good enough. I was reminded that my worth was not based on my appearance, my weight, or the size of my jeans. I was good enough. Period. End of sentence. For a while, my life looked a little like a game of tug-of-war — my team of encouragement on one side and Ed on the other, fighting, pulling, straining to keep his hold on me. He was almost stronger than all of their strength combined. Almost.
Today, the whispers I hear are different. They’re both still there, but now Ed’s voice is quieter, and self-love is louder. Ed lost the game of tug-of-war.
NEDA’s Awareness Week fills me with a refreshed feeling of hope each year, but especially this year. The theme, It’s Time to Talk About It, pulls Ed from the shadows where he lives and sheds light on him. This theme allows messages filled with truth and hope to be spread far and wide, messages that link us together in the fight against Ed. Let’s beat Ed. How? We have to scream louder than him. Let’s scream — not whisper, but scream — messages of hope. Because even though it’s hidden, hope is there. Hope is real.
by Gabrielle Bridgeman
Oklahoma Christian University
We’ve been hearing for years about how the American fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness contributes to unhealthy weight control practices among models, right? Well, a study published recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that models do in fact feel pressured by their employers to lose weight and that this leads them to engage in not-so-healthy weight control practices that can be a catalyst for the development of an eating disorder.
In an open letter released just yesterday, the researchers, the National Eating Disorders Association, the Model Alliance, and more than 30 leading models are teaming together to challenge the American fashion industry to commit to promoting health as well as diversity on the runway during New York Fashion Week beginning on February 9th. They’re asking consumers to step up to the plate too to in support of these initiatives by signing an online petition.
Eating disorder advocates around the world are joining in, and REbeL is behind these efforts. Are you? We encourage you to read the letter below and to sign the petition by clicking here.
Dear Members of the American Fashion Industry,
As models, we care about each other’s health and wellbeing. As we look toward New York Fashion Week, we strongly urge you to prioritize health and celebrate diversity on the runway this season.
Concerns about the fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness are nothing new but a recent research study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders confirms that unhealthy weight control practices are a serious problem in the industry. Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health concern and survivors often suffer irreversible damage to their health. That is why we have teamed up with the Model Alliance and the National Eating Disorders Association to address this issue.
Together, we are challenging you to make a serious commitment to promote health and diversity on the runway. Through our social media platforms, which collectively reach millions of people, we will recognize the industry leaders who step up to this challenge. Specifically, we will keep an eye out for diversity of race, size, age, and gender status, and we hope to see diversity within and across all of those categories.
No one likes the hassle or expense of increased regulations and paperwork. However, data shows that the American fashion industry has yet to prove that it is capable of following healthy practices on its own.
Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to send the message that diversity is what makes us strong. We sincerely hope that all of you – from designers and editors to agents and casting directors – will collectively harness the industry’s creative power to be forward thinking, inclusive, and do the right thing.
Ingrid Sophie Schram
Also supporting the models in the effort is the JAG Modeling Agency and the We Speak Agency.
Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD