At the outset of this project, I knew a fair amount about eating disorders through co-authoring The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders with Dr. Marcia Herrin. But I learned a lot more about athletics and eating disorders, including useful general information about sport, fueling and hydration that I have taken every opportunity to pester Son about, and even the children of other people.
Organized sport, often as early as at the middle school level, emphasizes the achievement of lean muscle mass, peak fitness levels and winning at all costs. The most successful athletes are driven, highly competitive and intensely perfectionistic, traits that just happen to be risk factors for disordered eating and eating disorders. For a genetically susceptible child or adult, the combination of these traits and sport can be dangerous; it’s no surprise that there is a high incidence of eating problems among competitive athletes.
The very nature of some sports can be damaging to the body image of both women and men, girls and boys, for example, gymnastics, figure skating, diving (aesthetic sports) and wrestling, rowing and distance running (weight-sensitive sports). Yet despite this pile-up of risk factors, there has been scant education about eating disorders within the world of sport. In part this is because of the feeling among coaches and trainers that eating disorders education contains an implicit criticism of what they do.
One of the goals of the toolkit is to balance an understanding of the goals and methods of coaches and trainers with the perspective of the eating disorder professionals who treat affected athletes. Attempting to do that, I included interviews with coaches and athletes, as well as physicians, psychologists and nutritionists who specialize in both eating disorders and sport, and worked with an advisory committee of experts in the field.
The toolkit, which has won the endorsement of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, will be officially launched at NEDA’s national conference this October in New York City.