The Truth About Eating Disorders
By Kathryn Mellon – iNSPIRE Psychologist
As soon as anyone starts talking about disordered eating people automatically assume anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. Now before anyone switches off and stops reading, this weeks blog isn’t focusing on these disorders. These are examples of eating disorders at their worst. However, this does not mean that you are always maintaining a healthy relationship with food and weight. Disordered eating is a term used to describe unhealthy eating behaviours and worries about body image. Any unhealthy obsession or negative view towards your body image or food can have an impact on the way you fuel your body.
We have all had that little voice in the back of our head at times saying “you shouldn’t eat that” or “I better not eat for the rest of the day after eating a lot of junk food.” When this starts to become a regular or daily occurrence however it’s time to sit up and take notice. Has this been a long term thing for you or have you noticed it as a result of an external influence such as coach, training environment or negative responses from other people towards you?
Sometimes it isn’t about the food or the weight loss, but the power and control behind it. For example, Olympic gold medallist Cate Campbell talked about a loss of identity during a period of extended sickness from glandular fever. At that point she had no control over her swimming or her health and was desperate to be able to control something in her life. She was training 4 hours a day but restricting her diet to 1000 calories, purposely serving up her own dinner so as to control portion sizes and took victories when people commented on her losing weight or current body image.
Disordered eating doesn’t discriminate so it is important to become aware when you may be heading down that path. “I was always the very strong, powerful, muscly, bulky gymnast and I felt like people always wanted me to be thinner and lighter and leaner. And as a 12-year-old, the only way I really understood how to achieve that was to eat less and restrict myself.” That’s Shawn Johnson who let’s remember won an Olympic gold medal on the balance beam in her strong, powerful, muscly, bulky gymnast form.
Neither of these two athletes were ever formally diagnosed with an eating disorder but the behaviour they share around how they viewed eating, gives you an insight into how disordered eating can be present whilst still maintaining the life and routine you always have. Common warning signs for disordered eating include the commonly known ones including low energy, vomiting, restricting food and skipping meals. However, there are other signs and symptoms that could be leading to you having an unhealthy relationship with food. Avoiding certain food groups, compulsive exercise, feeling anxious around meal times, using food as a punishment or as comfort. If you notice food the way you view food is interfering with your social life, used to help you cope or causing you anxiety, it may be time to start looking at what you are doing.
Compulsive exercise is another sign of disordered eating that doesn’t even involve eating and can be particularly common in men who struggle with body dysmorphia. Exercising to an excessive point in order to be able to justify what you have eaten “I need to work off that doughnut I just ate”, “I exercise so I can eat whatever I want” are two common examples of an unhealthy attitude towards food and exercise. Most of you will be doing more than enough exercise through training and your body requires food to fuel that training. Food is what makes us strong, healthy and helps us perform at our best. You may get conflicting advice from coaches/teammates or others in the sporting environment so it is important to educate yourself on what you should and shouldn’t be eating, what is healthy for your body type and a positive attitude towards food.
Check out the nutrition programs on the iNSPIRE Sport app for more information about maintaining a healthy balanced diet. If you find yourself worrying about your
current eating habits after reading this article and think you may need assistance addressing your eating habits don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to your coach, parent or peer or if you don’t feel you can, seek help from a professional; a psychologist or a nutritionist who can help you understand what is best for your body to perform at optimal level for your training and competition and why you make be having these thoughts and feelings about your body.