CHICAGO (February 17, 2010) – The control and perfectionism that sets Olympic athletes apart from their peers at lower levels of competition often have a darker side, according to a leading psychiatrist specializing in eating disorder treatment.
The Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, discusses this problem in detail in the first of a two-part column on DailyStrength.org, where she serves as a medical expert. She takes a fresh look at the sport of figure skating from a medical perspective, citing comments from a former national champion estimating that greater than 80% of national level competitors suffer with eating disorders or serious body image issues.
The medical director believes that aesthetic sports like figure skating and gymnastics often sanction behaviors more consistent with eating disorders than healthy living. The result impacts more than just the athletes themselves, who often risk injury to compete at unhealthy weights, and who may suffer life-long physical and psychiatric complications. Olympic athletes also project an unrealistic body image that influences younger competitors and the public watching on television.
“It’s a unique coincidence that the Ladies’ Olympic figure skating competition will take place next week, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA Week).” “Olympic figure skaters will get lots of attention for their artistry and technical skill, and much will be said about their stories of hard work and sacrifice. Viewers should also realize how unrealistic the images they see on TV are, and how severe are the costs paid by many of those women to achieve those results. The effects of an eating disorder will be with many of these women for life.”
She believes that over the last decade, figure skating officials have increased the likelihood of competitors developing anorexia or bulimia by implementing scoring standards that increasingly emphasize technically complex jumps and spins, which defy the laws of gravity. These changes inevitably favor younger competitors with pre-pubescent body shapes, and create an unlevel playing field for more mature women with fully developed hips and breasts.
“It’s no surprise that skaters with more womanly shapes have responded with unhealthy dieting and exercising. It’s also not shocking that coaches and loved ones have encouraged many of these practices, or at least fostered a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ climate around eating disorders.”
“These athletes have often dedicated much of their life to pursuing a spot in the Olympics. Skating officials should expect that many would respond in unhealthy ways, going to unhealthy extremes.”
About Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
Timberline Knolls is one of the leading private residential treatment centers for eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, and mood disorders, with or without a co-occurring disorder or addiction. Expert treatment staff offers a nurturing environment of recovery for women and girls (ages 12 and older) on a 43-acre campus in suburban Chicago. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 877.257.9611.
About NEDAwareness Week
NEDAwareness Week, sponsored by The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), is a collective effort of primarily volunteers, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, educators, social workers, and individuals committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment. NEDA is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA campaigns for prevention, improved access to quality treatment, and increased research funding to better understand and treat eating disorders.