Posted by: cindy | August 7, 2008

Athletes and Eating Disorders


The British Times On-line featured a story this week about British athlete Allie Outram who recently published her memoir “Running on Empty”.  The book describes Outram’s struggles with anorexia and bulimia and how her eating disorder and intense training regimens nearly killed her.  The former Olympic long distance runner developed anorexia in her teens.  She spent two years in an inpatient hospital setting being treated for her eating disorders but later developed bulimia while in recovery from anorexia.  According to Outram, she isn’t alone in her struggles.  In fact, she says, the athletic community and the nature of sports not only helped to conceal and legitimize her disorder, it also encouraged it:

“At one World Cross Country Championship, I can confidently say that, of six of us in the Great Britain junior women’s team, four had some form of eating disorder,” said Outram. “It is so common in the sport, yet no coach or team manager ever expressed concern.  I was never told that I was too thin, and was never withdrawn from a race because of my weight.”

“Outside of sport, people would think I ate too little and exercised too much, but within athletics my behavior was not only accepted but endorsed and encouraged,” she said. “There are lots of others like me so it was easy to hide.”

Last year a study was published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal, which revealed that almost one in five of Britain’s leading female distance runners has an eating disorder or has suffered from one in the the past, compared with just one percent of the general population.  Last month. researchers at the University of Denver revealed that female athletes and exercisers tend to exhibit eating disorder symptoms more often than those who don’t exercise as regularly.  At least one-third of female athletes have some type of disordered eating according to studies done completed by eating disorder experts.

Athletes who have spoken openly about their personal journey with eating disorder are Charlotte Dale, a former European junior cross-country champion, and Bryony and Kathryn Frost, 24.  The Frost twins were considered track medal contenders at the 2012 Olympics, but last year revealed how they survived on just a few pieces of fruit a day.  Liz McColgan counts her second place finish in the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics to her low body weight and eating disorder. “I was so weak and undernourished that I didn’t have the energy to sprint for the line,” she said.  Kimiko Hirai Soldati, a 2004 Olympic diver, struggled with bulimia and now performs public speaking programs to other women to create awareness about eating disorders.  Gymnast and Olympic gold medal winner Nadia Comaneci come forward and admitted struggling with anorexia and bulimia, along with 1972 Olympic gold medal winner Cathy Rigby, who suffered from anorexia and bulimia for 12 years and went into cardiac arrest twice because of it.

These females athletes are the lucky ones. They admitted they had a problem and got the professional help they needed at eating disorder treatment centers. Eating Disorders is a deadly disease however.  World class gymnast, Christy Henrich, died in 1994 at age 22 from multiple organ failure brought on by anorexia.  Seven years later, German rower and 1988 Seoul Olympic eight time gold medallist, Bahne Rabe, died at age 37 as a result of an eating disorder.  And in 2003, Helen Lee, a former Middlesex county and South of England cross-country champion died at the age of 18 from pneumonia and organ failure thought to be a direct result of her long-term battle with anorexia.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: