Earlier this week I came across this article from USA Today about the prevalence of body image concerns and eating disorders on the United States Olympic swimming team. In the article, Olympic Gold Medalist Misty Hyman opened up about how her training, expectations and role as a competitive athlete led her into the depths of her eating disorder.
“Binging and purging was my, I guess, outlet…Part of it was my own insecurities; part of it was my own control, the sense of being in control or something I could control. It wasn’t strictly just a body image issue or strictly just, ‘I’m trying to perform better.’ As an athlete I think there were other emotional challenges that I manifested into my eating disorder as a way of coping. It wasn’t something that I was necessarily secretive about. My coaches were aware, my parents were aware, and I wasn’t shy about it. One of the things I’d always prided myself on was discipline. I thought that was a big part of my identity, and when my eating issues got out of control I felt like I was not myself anymore, like, ‘I normally can control this.’” -Misty Hyman
An estimate one in five women struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating (citation) and that rate is even higher among athletes. This includes student athletes. The NCAA estimates that approximately 25 percent of female and 20 percent of male collegiate athletes have disordered eating symptoms or eating disorders (citation).
Even though the prevalence of eating disorders is so high, there is still a huge stigma attached to the topic. WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT IT.
Why aren’t we using this huge international outlet where people from all around the world are watching, cheering and idolizing these athletes to open up and talk about this topic that has likely plagued several of them. Misty Hyman was brave enough to open up and let us into her struggles and prompted other athletes on her team like Missy Franklin and Maya DiRado to comment and open up the conversation about this taboo topic. If young men and women around the world saw these athletes competing, succeeding and using this international event as a platform for raising awareness and combating stigma around eating disorders and other mental illnesses, young kids around the world might be inspired or influenced by these athletes’ of self-love, positivity and triumph over their demons.
Obviously, not every athlete has dealt with an eating disorder or disordered eating symptoms, but for those who have, and are in a place of recovery, I urge you to take the chance to tell your story and share some hope for those who suffer and hopefully create a culture for those looking up to you where they can not only understand the realness of mental illness, but also help them learn to love and respect themselves.
Why aren’t we using this incredible opportunity to generate awareness and lessen the stigma around this important topic? We should be.