Eating disorders: an unspoken reality for student-athletes

Still depicting the ideas of dieting and size control for a person daily life. (Mathias Fengler/Zoonar Picture Alliance)

Student-athletes are under pressure to maintain a high performance in their sport, and in certain cases, the pressure results in the athletes developing eating disorders due to the relationship between their athletic performance, their nutrition intake and training schedule.

An article by Eating Disorder Hope states 35 per cent of female and 10 per cent of male college athletes struggle with anorexia.

Lauren Acorn, fourth-year student from St. Thomas University and former figure skater, recovered from anorexia and said she had a difficult time dealing with her body image during the 14 years she practiced the sport.

“There was a lot of bullying from the other girls for my size, my height, everything,” she said.

Acorn said her problems started with the bullying, which pushed her to be in the gym up to four hours every day and stop eating to improve her performance on the ice. In the end, she was hospitalized because she hadn’t been eating. 

“I was struggling so much with trying to lose weight and look different than I’m supposed to,” she said. 

Acorn highlighted the importance of knowing how difficult it is to address someone with an eating disorder because of how delicate the topic is. She goes on to give advice on how to approach the topic. 

“Tell someone they are not alone. I’m sure it would be nice to hear, and I wish someone told me I wasn’t alone,” Acorn said. 

Ty MaGee, a graduate of STU who started competitive speed skating at eight years old, said the diet he had was overwhelming and it affected his mental health not being able to reach the targets he had given himself.

“They [Canada’s Food Guide] tell you what you need to do, but then they don’t take into account what that does to you,” MaGee said.

As one of the leaders, MaGee felt pressure and put him at a point where practicing the sport he loved was not about him anymore; it shifted to “what everybody else wants, expects and is doing.”

Though, MaGee said one of the things that helped him get through his struggles was to talk to his old teammates. From the talks, he realized he was not the only one who experienced an eating disorder.

“We all went through periods of dysphoria, where you have that expectation of what you’re supposed to look like and what you can do,” said MaGee.

Anna Jackson, the registered dietician from the University of New Brunswick Fredericton’s Student Health Centre, said an eating disorder is a mental illness that involves body image disturbance.

“Eating disorders are very isolating; they consume your life,” Jackson said. 

She assured nutrition has a major impact on sports performance and a good diet is crucial for student-athletes, but the diet varies with everyone, so it is important to take the first step and contact a professional.

“Don’t be afraid to get help … We are all here for you,” Jackson said.