Anorexia And Athletes
Anorexia And Athletes
Divya Kakaiya (Program Founder and Clinical Supervisor) gives expert video advice on: Why are athletes susceptible to anorexia?; What sports have more susceptibility to anorexia?; What is the female athletic triad? and more...
Why are athletes susceptible to anorexia?
When we think about what a good athlete is the thoughts that come to our mind is somebody who is compliant, coachable, and willing to suffer discomfort for the sake of the team. Someone who has high standards of excellence, a perfectionist. Someone who is competitive and has a drive to win. When we look at a person who is prone to an eating disorder, they tend to be very hard on themselves, which makes them push hard to achieve. They have a focus on athleticism where they can really deny pleasure in their body. Therefore, they can put their body under extreme amounts of stress in order to achieve a certain goal. For a person to become anorexic they really have to deny their body a lot of nourishment. They also have to reject the hunger pains in the service of what they have decided is a greater good. So when you find that the traits of an anorexic are the classic traits that define a good athlete, that's the reason athletes tend to be very prone to eating disorders. Because they have very similar traits to someone who would be predisposed to an eating disorder.
What sports have more susceptibility to anorexia?
Cross-country runners tend to be very high risk for anorexia, because if you look at running you know, it's a very individual kind of, you have your own drive, sort of a sport and it requires less lean muscle mass. Other sports are gymnastics, very high risk for eating disorders. We have wrestling, and swimming - synchronized swimming. Synchronized swimming, tend to, if you look at the symmetry, the exactness, the perfection - they're obviously in their swimsuits, you know they have to look just so, how the body looks. Sports that have a lot of aestheticism to them, well you'll find that's the sport - gymnasts - that's why classically, gymnasts tend to be so prone to anorexia. Because that, that likeness that they can have, and then, another sport are jockeys. Jockeys will be very high risk for developing eating disorders.
What is the female athletic triad?
When we look at working with athletes with eating disorders, we've got three components in there that define the female athletic triad. We have disordered eating, the loss of their period, and osteoporosis. So those are the things we talk about when we look at the female athletic triad. Now, within our field in working with athletes and eating disorders, we actually are tending to use that phrase a lot less because it doesn't allow us to look at male athletes with eating disorders. So there's a whole piece of controversy that we have where when we talk about the female athletic triad, we're really looking at these components and so basically what we're talking about is the way in which the eating disorder affects these body systems. So when we talk about the female athletic triad, we are looking at these three very substantial events that are present in the life of an athlete.
Why is it important for female athletes to pay special attention to menstrual cycles?
This is such a point of denial among female athletes because most runners will tell you, "when I clock in those miles, I stop getting a period." And my coaches have told me that it is very normal for me not to have a period. So what occurs is that it feels like denial because when that female athlete is not having her menstrual cycle, that means that she does not have enough nourishment in her body and does not have the right amount of fat deposits to have the estrogen that is going to protect her bone. So when the female athlete stops having a period she ought to get alerted about that because then that means her bone is going to get affected in the long run. She ought to pay attention to that, but it is very prevalent among female athletes to feel very good about the fact that you are not having a menstrual cycle and not to worry about it.
What is the difference between healthful exercise and exercise addiction?
The majority of my patients who use exercise in a dysfunctional way will say that I only feel deserving of eating if I exercise. There's a thinking pattern that's changed in their mind over here. What we want to do is have them explore within themselves what it is that makes them want to exercise. Most people will exercise because they know it makes them feel good afterwards. They also know it's good for them. Sometimes they hate to do it, but they do it anyway because they know it's good for them. They also know that ultimately they start to feel good after they exercise, whereas the person who's addicted to the exercise, or using the exercise for the wrong reason, is actually addicted to the high they get from the exercise. When they don't exercise, they feel depressed and they go back to the exercise in order to counter that effect of depression.
What are the signs that my child is exercising too much?
I think that as soon as you guys are finishing your meal and your child starts to say, "Oh my god. I'm really eating too much. I think I need to go work out. I think I need to go for a long walk. I need to go run." Then what's happening is they've formed an association with needing to purge those calories in some way. And you will know when your child is exercising too much, because they come back from soccer practice and they feel like they have to go for a run. Hello! Something's going on over here! They're not feeling like that running around they did on the field was enough; they are needing to do more. Or you might walk into your child's room and you find them doing sit-ups in their room or something like that. A child who is doing sit-ups in an isolated way in their room has some sort of a compulsion going on with their exercising.