Posted on July 27, 2012 at 3:25 PM
HOUSTON—Swimmer Amanda Beard, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, and skater Nancy Kerrigan at their peaks were some of the fittest and fastest in the world, but behind their public victories were private battles with eating disorders.
Much emphasis is placed on numbers at the Olympics from mere meters, seconds, scores and pounds.
“I do have to watch what I eat. You have to look the part,” says Olympic hurdler Damu Cherry Mitchell.
It’s the public pressure to look the part as an Olympic athlete that could be fueling an unhealthy trend.
“Eating disorders are at epidemic proportions these days and athletes are a population that is increased risk,” said Whitney Post, former Olympian turned president of the Eating Healthy Alliance
One in five elite female athletes suffers from eating disorders. And it’s not just the professionals. One in four college-aged women binge and purge to manage weight.
Post says competitive traits make athletes more vulnerable. Post reveals her rowing career and eating disorder started at the same time. For nearly 15 years the World Champing rower and Olympics alternate battled bulimia.
“My weight would swing like 40 pounds or so, in the course of one year,” she shared.
Athletes with eating disorders can be difficult to recognize because of their training.
“It’s very shameful, it’s very secretive and you don’t want to be doing it,” Post said.
Tell-tale signs include less energy, more frequent strains, and needing longer recovery time are all signs that there’s a problem.
“There’s higher risk for injuries, there’s long term fertility issue risks,” said Post. She contends the biggest mistakes parents, coaches, and teammates make is keeping quiet. “The longer eating disorders go on the harder they are to treat.”
The former Olympic rower says of all of her victories, the biggest came without fanfare or medals.
“The accomplishment that I think was my most important accomplishment was my recovery from an eating disorder. My life really turned a corner when I found what I needed for a full recovery,” she said.
It’s a strong statement and message she hopes to share with girls everywhere; including her own.