It has been a busy spring with much of my non-client time spent either attending conferences on eating disorders or participating in book events for wITHIN. This past weekend, I drove to St. Louis, MO to attend the first ever Eating Disorder in Sport Conference. The conference was hosted by the Victory Program at McCallum Place, Dr. Kim McCallum, Dr. Ron Thompson and Roberta Trattner Sherman, gurus in understanding athletes and eating disorders.
The conference looked at the importance of treating athletes with eating disorders in a specialized format as sport is a large part of their identity, lifestyle, career and passion. The type of athletes specifically discussed at this conference were competitive, collegiate or Olympic level as well as adult. I say this because treatment incorporating eating disorders and athletes is in its early stages and research has not specifically looked at outcomes geared towards adolescents and sport as of yet. Often times in treatment, there is a tendency to want to remove all exercise or greatly reduce it without fully reintegrating it back into their treatment due to a number of reason (i.e.: insurance runs out leading patients to return home without having address this issue, lack of recreational therapists, clients discharging him or herself, etc). In the early stages of treatment, reducing movement and exercise is necessary until one becomes medically stable again as eating disorders can effect electrolytes, blood pressure, weight, heart, etc.
I want to make very clear that it is important to not return to exercise until medically stable and cleared by a physician, willing to comply to the nutritional requirements while gradually increasing exercise and are monitored by a treatment team.
Here are some points I took away from the conference:
- sport in and of itself do not cause eating disorders. There are many who enter sport who do not develop eating disorders and many who are not in sport who do
- coaches are not to be blamed in the development of eating disorders. Often times, the most intense body pressures and judgment comes from one's teammates. Both coaches and teammates need to be informed and encouraged to use positive body language in and out of the change room. Often times within sport, there is a lack of information as to how such normalized talk about the body and weight within sport culture can be unhelpful and unhealthy
- body politics play into sport, especially for females. There has been an increasing trend for women athletes to wear attire that has more to do with sex appeal than it does to enhance the mechanics of their sport. Check out the differences in attire between male and female runners in running and beach volley ball. Not only is there a pressure to perform well in sport, increasingly there is pressure to look good as well, which indoubtedly affects one's body image and body esteem
- exercise is shown to increase cognitive functioning, quality of life, decrease anxiety and depression, increase bone density
- athletes have two senses of body image: outside of their sport and within their sport
- sexual abuse within sport is high
- each athlete who is incorporating sport back into their life during treatment must be viewed on a one on one basis as each case and demands of their sport is different
- athletes have two families: sport family vs outside of sport family. Each need to be included in treatment of eating disorder
- many skills within sport (i.e.: goal setting, "coachability", practice, psychological reframing etc) can be used in their recovery from their eating disorder