Olympians Speak Out About Eating Disorders and Body Image

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Body image can be a difficult issue for anyone. Teenagers and adults frequently struggle with body image because of the societal pressures and everyday life. When you’re an Olympic swimmer, the pressure can be even more intense.

U.S. Olympians Misty Hyman and Maya DiRado spoke recently to USA Today about the pressures swimmers can feel from a young age to maintain a certain body and how that often manifests into eating disorders.

Source: Sportscoachradio

Hyman at the Sydney Olympics Source: Sportscoachradio

Hyman is best known as a gold medalist who shocked the world when she won the women’s 200-meter butterfly at the 2000 Olympics game, but she is also an eating disorder survivor who used bulimia to cope with the intense pressure for nearly 10 years.

“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,” Hyman said. “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.”

DiRado, a competitor in the Rio Olympics that begin this weekend, also has struggled with eating disorders and says it is common in the world of swimming. In fact, many of the swimmers bond over their issues with their bodies and experiences with eating disorders.

As she explained to USA Today, “I’m sure a lot of it has to do with being in a swimsuit every day, but I think also it seemed like they wanted control.”

Maya DiRado Source: USA Swimming

Maya DiRado
Source: USA Swimming

While it is an unfortunate link for the swimmers, the shared experience allows the swimmers to help support each other both physically and emotionally. Hyman credits the support from others with helping her become confident about her body, saying “now I see that as something that’s beautiful and strong, and I celebrate that.”

People often think of athletes – especially Olympians – as the epitome of health, but these women’s stories show that isn’t always the case. The intense pressure and scrutiny of being an elite athlete can push both men and women to turn to disordered eating. Some use eating disorders to stay within a weight class, while others turn to disordered eating habits as a way of seizing control over their busy and strictly planned life.

It is important to remember that eating disorders don’t always look like you might expect. People with anorexia or bulimia are not always “sickly” thin and those who binge eat are often underweight. However, eating disorders can still be devastating to a body, especially when an athlete is constantly pushing their body to its limits without the proper fuel and nutrition.

Schools and sports organizations need to be vigilant to ensure their athletes are maintaining healthy life habits instead of masking a serious health condition with over-exercising, abstaining, bingeing, or purging.

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