WHEN NUTRITION BECOMES A SOURCE OF ANXIETY
Along with training, physical and mental preparation as well as sleep, nutrition occupies an important place which can help to optimize sports performance. However, although sport is often synonymous with physical health and well-being, the fixation on body image and weight, as well as the adoption of optimal nutrition as an athlete, can contribute to increase the risk to developing eating disorders.
At first glance, it is quite normal for an athlete to place some importance on their diet, body composition and weight. However, for some people, it is possible that this desire to always want to do better translates into concerns; thoughts about food and the body will then begin to take over and influence all daily decisions and actions. Thus, depending on the behaviors adopted to manage these concerns, the athlete may experience a great deal of anxiety or even distress, which can even lead to feelings of guilt and shame. This is the whirlwind of the eating disorder. At this stage, getting help is crucial.
Alexia de Macar
Profession : Nutritionist
Specialization : Eating disorders
Alexia de Macar knows this reality well. Nutritionist since 2005 and collaborator at the Institut national du sport du Québec since many years, Alexia has cutting-edge expertise with high-level athletes and artists with an eating disorder.
“It is essential to underline that many athletes with eating disorders go undiagnosed because they consider their symptoms to be ‘normal’. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the behaviors of a highly motivated athlete and those suggesting an eating disorder. The nuance between the two is often thin. It should be remembered that the suffering and negative consequences of an eating disorder are real to them as an individual, but also as an athlete,” says Alexia.
Dispelling misconceptions about athletes
Several misconceptions still exist today due to a lack of explanation on the subject which leads to some misinformation. Let’s try to break the taboos and clarify some concepts to better understand this problem and continue the discussion.
Misconception 1 : Eating disorders are not very common among athletes
It has been recognized for several years that the prevalence of eating disorders is higher among the athletic population than among the general population.
Misconception 2 : Male athletes are not affected by this disorder
Although the prevalence of eating disorders is higher among women (both among athletes and the general population), studies show that it is higher in male athletes, when compared to the non-athletic general population. Many male athletes take to much time to seek help because they believe that only women can suffer from eating disorders. It is therefore important to talk about it in order to break this misconception.
Misconception 3 : Someone living with an eating disorder is extremely thin
This is one of the most persistent misconceptions. This is also one of the main reasons why there is a denial of the situation which gives the impression that it is not necessary to seek help or that it is not worth talking about. It is important to note that an athlete with an eating disorder does not have a specific “weight”, “figure” or “size”. The seriousness of the situation or the level of distress is not automatically related to their weight.
Misconception 4 : If we ignore the problem, it will disappear of its own
By fear of addressing the situation or making the problem real, those around them (teammates, coaches or members of the team) will take too much time to start discussing the situation with the athlete. When an athlete is “trapped” in the vicious cycle of eating disorder, it is wrong to think that they will be able to cope on their own. This is a real and complex medical problem that requires specialized interdisciplinary intervention. Many athletes mistakenly believe that the problem will go away when they retire. Unfortunately, this is not true.
In other words, it is important to bring up the issue of eating disorders more frequently, so that athletes dare to talk more quickly about the eating difficulties they are experiencing. As the general population, eating disorders among athletes are common. Early detection and prompt, skilled intervention will make all the difference.