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When the Hunger to Win Becomes Unhealthy

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Last week, Mary Cain, a young running prodigy star from the 2013 World Championships team and former Nike teammate published a controversial article in the New York Times, titled "I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike".  If you haven't read it, you should read it here

In the article, Mary references times when her coach urged her to lose weight in an attempt to boost her running performance. The consequences to this approach were many--Mary lost her bone integrity (she broke 5 bones), hormonal imbalance (she disclosed an absence of menses for 3 years) and psychological damage (she had suicidal thoughts).  Luckily, Mary removed herself from this unhealthy environment.

We thought it would be important to share a few observations and information about disordered eating in sports--especially for the benefit of of our readers, coaches and athletes:

-Coaching styles that support healthy sports performance regardless of body size should be sought out by parents and athletes. 

-The assumption that disordered eating is exclusive to female athletes is false.  The pressure to maintain a desirable physique in many sports (wrestling, baseball and long distance running--just to name a few) affects both genders in sport and can transcend across age groups.

-There are experts in sports nutrition to help athletes achieve their desired sports performance goals--they are registered dietitians with the credentials "CSSD" which stands for Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. Athletes and coaches should seek them out for guidance before planning an intervention which may or may not increase an athletes risk for developing an eating disorder. To be connected to a CSSD at North Texas Nutrition Associates, email us.

-If a parent, athlete or coach suspects that an eating disorder is affecting a teammate, there are a multitude of resources that can be helpful--

  • First and foremost a physician should be involved in the swift assessment of the teammate. This is extremely important.
  • The National Eating Disorder Association has an abundance of helpful information on their website including a screening tool and hotline as well as a detailed, "What to Expect" page that outlines the various treatment plans for eating disorders.

Mary Cain's candid article has shed light on a very sensitive topic. We applaud her bravery and support athletes of all sizes who wish to fuel healthy participation in sports in a manner that nourishes the body to engage in movement for a lifetime.


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