They’re at the top of their game and seemingly in prime physical shape, but in pursuit of excellence some athletes fall prey to harmful practices like bulimia.
In this Olympic season, we hear so many inspirational stories of athletes training hard, pushing their bodies to the brink in pursuit of a gold medal. Many achieve the unimaginable, doing things that don't seem physically possible, but with so much at stake, these elite athletes are also more susceptible to taking health risks. Steroid use, sleeping pill abuse, unhealthy dieting and anorexia nervosa or bulimia are all potential pitfalls they need to avoid to have long-term success in their sport and maintain lifelong health.
All Olympic athletes need food to fuel those exceptional athletic performances, but the amount consumed varies greatly based on the sport, sex of the athlete and other factors. For example, endurance sports like cycling or distance running require more fuel than a sport like gymnastics, where the athletes need only short bursts of energy when competing. Just as there are differences in diet among athletes, some sports are more prone to abuse than others. In an arena like women’s gymnastics, the pressure is on to be petite and lightweight. This is unlike sports such as swimming, where all that matters is who touches the wall first, not how you looked doing it. Physical appearance arguably plays a more significant role in gymnastics. Obviously you need to have the required skills down, but presentation matters. A lithe, graceful form earns extra points from the judges. As a result, studies have shown that gymnasts, more than any other athletes, are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders.
A constant body awareness just comes with the package of being a female gymnast. That doesn't mean it automatically crosses the line into disorder for everyone, but other traits of elite athletes – everything from perfectionism and compulsiveness to high self-expectations – are all associated with eating disorders as well.
Christy Henrich was one of the nation's top gymnasts during the late ’80s until her bulimia and anorexia forced her to leave the sport. The 4'10" athlete reached as low as 47 pounds, eventually dying of multiple organ failure at 22. Gymnasts Kathy Johnson, Cathy Ribgy and Nadia Comaneci, all household names who excelled in their sport, have admitted to fighting eating disorders. In fact, according to a 1992 American College of Sports Medicine study, 62 percent of females in sports like figure skating and gymnastics suffer from eating disorders. It’s a staggering statistic. Fortunately, help is available and our understanding of these diseases continues to grow every day.
Help for Eating Disorders at The Canyon
If you or someone you love needs treatment for an addiction and/or eating disorder, call The Canyon at the toll-free number on our homepage. Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about process addiction treatment, financing or insurance.