Eating Disorders (ED) Related to Sports: When the Body Doesn’t Compete

“The term TCA includes eating behaviors other than those normally adapted, with both physical and psychological consequences,” explains Cindy Ribeyre, a dietitian.

“I’m afraid of getting fat, is this normal?” : Answers at the Eating Disorders Referral Center in Clermont-Ferrand

How can athletes be affected? Without stigmatizing them, as the source of EDs appears to be multifactorial (psychological, genetic, etc.) and more difficult to identify, studies reveal three more important targets: endurance sports, weight categories, and aesthetic purposes…

“Pros and amateurs are affected”

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“Knowing that we still have the stereotype of the thin woman, many sportswomen are affected because this environment still often associates thinness with performance. The goal is to achieve a low weight, usually below the ideal weight, in order to be more efficient.” On the man’s side, on the other hand, the more muscular he is, the more attention he gets,” explains Cindy Ribeyre.

Julia Dru, her colleague, calls out in abundance these “often young men, bad in their own skin because they are hyper-thin and mocked. There’s the difficulty in eating.”

As for the population in question, the studies provide some clues: “Pros and amateurs alike are affected, but it seems that when there’s a performance goal, appearance and weight, we have them in mind a lot more,” notes Cindy Ribeyre. Dissatisfaction with the body, such as difficulty dealing with emotions, stress when approaching an event for which one has trained hard for several months, can become vulnerabilities. †

There remains the switchover moment in the process: “Restriction (calorie intake below the body’s actual needs) is what needs to be worked on the most, as studies have shown that 75% of EDs started with a restrictive behavior that often being pushed too hard, which is the metabolism, a source of fatigue, injury and even danger…”

Julia Dru agrees: “You have to make the patient in disability, who deprives himself, understand that first eating better will help him to be more awake, more efficient, more ‘everything’ really, better about himself. And only there we will get into be able to make up for this deficiency, so that the weight will drop without danger.”

Various sources and targets. Eating Behavior Disorders (TCAs) include anorexia (low or falling weight), bulimia (normal or sometimes high weight), binge eating (high or increasing weight). Whatever the type of TCA, one may find calorie restriction and/or bulimia attacks (or binge eating) and/or purging behaviors. If perfectionism and low self-esteem are at the core of their development, the multifactorial sources (socio-cultural, ecological, biological, hereditary, psychological, etc.) disrupt understanding and studies of this pathology, involving the populations involved, athletes in particular, can be very specific. According to their protocol, the results of the latter differ widely on the number of people affected.

“All this calls for real follow-up”

While endurance sports that mainly involve “eating miles” is Cindy’s specialty, Julia, she’s very much involved in another segment that’s (again) considered “risky,” that of weight-rated sports. There, the TCA invites itself into the hunt like… the quest for kilos: “Patients want to gain mass. Here’s the other side of the TCA: For them, it’s food, always more, even if they’re not hungry, or haven’t even finished digesting what they’ve already swallowed. But what they need is muscle mass, which takes time to build. Gaining weight quickly means getting fat, so not qualitatively. And then, if you want to degrease, it’s complicated…”

Relationships: a need for trust. “The first step is trust,” says Julia Dru. In fact, you have to be understood in front of the coach and accept the good and the bad food. But by making it clear that there is no forbidden food. Because often such a list is intended to land the athlete in a crisis of frustration compensation. Among coaches, the idea of ​​the power of food on performance is starting to emerge, but when it comes to professional athletes, there are still a lot of problems. †

Especially since we cannot omit the specific requirements for disciplines where, in addition to the work of training, there is the need to be present on the day of the famous pre-competition weigh-in: “You must be closest to the limit, to be the strongest in the competition. And it’s hard. A lot of people do everything, with methods that really put a strain on the body.”

Problem that repeats itself when the competition is over: “The body used to be so frustrated that it is now ‘no limit’: we eat compulsively and quickly gain weight again. And there we fall into the extreme of compensatory behavior, “consuming” energy, starting to exercise excessively, wanting to eat less. And this is the vicious circle. †

There is a guideline for all of this: “What you need to do above all is support in the long term, help to achieve a much higher self-esteem than she and she,” judges Cindy Ribeyre. “All this requires a real follow-up, to be very monitored,” emphasizes Julia Dru.

When everything stops. Eating disorders can affect elite athletes, such as amateurs or simple recreational practitioners. But what happens when the former stop their careers? “As for food, it’s usually first in terms of amounts. They keep the same as when they were exercising, they don’t realize they don’t have the same energy expenditure. And by many?! It’s a healthy way of living to “The aftermath is often complicated,” confirms Julia Dru, developing following the example of one of her patients: “There was no more frame. So his life was determined on a rhythm, one or two training sessions a day, a strictness to adhere to. There everything had been taken away from her: there were no limits, nothing, she was left to herself, to herself. She no longer knew how to eat, whether she was really hungry or not. There must have been a lot of balancing work. She had lost the sport, which was her life, it was my job to get her back on the ground.”

Athletes and health professionals: they too have suffered from TCA, they testify

Cindy Ribeyre (athletics, long distance and middle distance): “When I got into running late, at age 22, I was 20kg heavier than I am now, and I only wanted one thing: to lose weight. Why have I made mistakes? Because I didn’t know about it and I also said to myself, “I’m never going to make it if I weigh that much.” Today I am not a very skinny athlete, let’s say “thin”, but I perform at my level, I set times (37’35” over 10 km, editor’s note) I never realized that and yet I weighed much less: up to 7 kg less than today! But I hurt myself all the time and I didn’t do the same gigs. I still limited myself a lot, I felt too weak and especially not myself.

I thought to myself, “No, it’s not okay!” And, supported by my coach, I was accompanied by a health professional because, in the nutrition field, the coaches are not necessarily the right people. I gained weight then, and I’m having so much fun and that’s what I want people to understand: yes, I don’t have visible abs, I don’t focus on my weight, unlike I used to. I eat everything and have fun on the track! †

Julia Dru (weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding): “I, if I started in powerlifting, i was more at 53-54kg for my category which was “under 52kg”. At the very beginning a coach gave me a diet plan to prepare me for a competition without any knowledge in this area and basically it was 0 carbs. I went to the TCA because for me even eating fruit was sugar, so it was wrong. In fact, we shape ourselves into it. The concern is that we will gain weight after the race, but we say to ourselves, “It doesn’t matter, for the next one I’ll do the same, and I’ll go down again.” Except that the body does not forget…

Nowadays I don’t compete in weight categories with bodybuilding anymore, but it’s still body worship because we look at the body image, physically. It is therefore always necessary to be very strict with food. But now, with my experience and my view of dietetics, achieving a goal is achieved in mastery, in programming, in a healthy way and without ultimately getting frustrated. †

Jean-Philippe Beal