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By Amanda Loudin
It's been two years since three riders came together to found the Lane 9 project to educate athletes about the prevalence of eating disorders. Heather Caplan, 32, Alexis Fairbanks, 27, and Samantha Strong, 24, played a leading role in this process. The three women suffered from hypothalamic amenorrhea – lack of menstruation – due to unhealthy relationships with food and sports.
Now, they can see the impact of their work in every way. "I really think the focus on this issue has changed a lot," says Caplan, a registered dietitian.
Nevertheless, as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25 to March 3) completes its 33rd anniversary, the 9th and other way invested in creating a positive impact know that a lot of work remains to be done. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), some 30 million Americans are struggling with a eating disorder during their lifetime. Slowly, however, a reaction against the American diet culture and its connection to physical exercise is needed.
The runners, many of whom are high-level competitors, are among those most involved in clarifying the question and for good reason: research has shown that as many as 47% of high-level female athletes practicing "skinny" sport have eating disorders. Men too can be victims. Esther Atkins, American marathon champion, is among those who raise their voices and express themselves in public.
Atkins herself has had healthy relationships with food and sports over the years, but she has known others who have not been so lucky, including her sister. "What I understood is that eating disorders are a manifestation and self-medication of another underlying mental disorder," she says. "I think the way to help prevent them is to eliminate stigma so that people can more easily recognize and accept the problem and get help much earlier than in the past."
This is where the Lane 9 project comes in. "We understood that we could educate athletes, teachers, coaches and parents, while providing a way for those involved to share their stories," he said. said Caplan. "It's a popular approach and as people share their stories and become aware of their social circles, the word is spreading."
Atkins and Caplan highlight the role of society in contributing to eating disorders. "There is so much social pressure to be skinny," says Atkins. "From an early age, fat means rooted and lazy. It's not fair and it breaks people. "
However, society is beginning to play a more positive role in this regard. "There are several movements that come together, like #metoo and body positivity, that take away shame and allow people to tell their story," says Atkins. "We need more of that."
The conversation must start early and everywhere
Conversations, social media awareness and education are all positive steps in efforts to reduce the prevalence of eating disorders. The same is true for raising awareness of risk factors, especially for coaches, parents and health care providers, who often contribute unintentionally to the problem. "The three people who founded Track 9 have experienced gaps in their health care experience with help," Caplan said. "Too often, health care providers just do not know what to do."
Atkins tells doctors who use BMI in adolescents over 18 years of age to determine the likelihood of a disorder. "A healthy BMI does not mean that someone has escaped a eating disorder," she says. "A disorder can affect your life long before you deteriorate."
Too often, health care providers simply do not know what to do.
Jody Whipple, a dietitian, a dietitian who often works with Penn State athletes, says that although eating disorders are different in every case, there are risk factors to note. "The family influence is huge, especially in adolescence," she says.
An integral part of this is the parental modeling of a healthy body image and the adoption of a "diet-free" approach. "Family meals are an important place to exhibit and communicate," says Whipple. "If there is a history of disorder, it is especially important to put on these glasses and use them as a preventative."
The type of personality is another factor. "Perfectionists are going to be more prone to a mess," says Whipple, "while a casual personality who sees gray and is more flexible in his thinking will be more protected."
With regard to external influences, sports coaches can have an oversized role. "In many sports, coaches have unfortunately all too often created toxic environments," says Whipple. "It's important for coaches to emphasize success as a whole person rather than just tie it to performance."
This is especially true in sports where weight is considered a factor of performance. In many arenas, weight reduction is considered better, and when coaches can get away from the conversation, athletes have a better chance of achieving a healthy body image.
Finally, there is the role of the media, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, many social media influencers, as well as mainstream media, have linked exercise and dietary restriction, with inaccurate results. "Such information is not helpful for a 95-pound athlete looking to go faster," says Atkins.
On the other hand, responsible elites such as Atkins Athletes and Lane 9 use platforms such as Twitter, Medium and Instagram to effectively promote unrestricted feeding. For its part, NEDA launched this week a social media campaign called Come as You Are. "The media can play a big role in influencing people in one way or another," says Whipple. "It's important to steer vulnerable populations in the right direction here."
The good news is that there is a substantive wave in the right direction and that Atkins is encouraged by this: "The more we talk openly about eating disorders, the more we take away shame and judgment."
Editor's note: If you are looking for help, please call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at (800) 931-2237.
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