Why Athletes Need Specialized Eating Disorder Treatment
While speaking at the Eating Disorders in Sport 2018 Conference hosted by The Victory Program at McCallum Place, Patrick Devenny spoke of the pressure to perform and the toll it takes on athletes. A former NCAA Division I football player, Devenny felt overwhelmed as he prepared for being evaluated by NFL scouts on Pro Day. In an interview with Born Fitness he talked further about this experience:
“I became obsessed about my body,” he says. “By the time I had my Pro Day, I had to be perfect. You walk into a room full of scouts and you’re shirtless and they’re grabbing every inch of your body, measuring body fat, measuring your hands, doing all this stuff, so in the months leading up to that I knew I had to present this image that would blow them away.”
Devenney coped with these pressures through disordered eating and dangerous behaviors.
Living in a culture that idealizes a fit body shape, praises self-control over diet, and rewards perfectionism can trigger many individuals to pursue eating disorder behaviors as a way to create a sense of safety, accomplishment and emotional regulation. This is true for athletes and non-athletes alike.
Additionally, athletes may feel extra pressure that results in restricting, purging or over-exercise. These pressures include revealing uniforms, expectations to fit the norms of a specific sport or the belief that weight loss will increase the chances to win, excel, or earn a scholarship to college.
Historically, athletes who sought treatment for an eating disorder were given a difficult choice: choose your sport or recovery. Many clinical treatment providers were doubtful that an athlete could return to sport and remain healthy. Unfortunately, many athletes rejected treatment or completed treatment but returned to their sport feeling unprepared to navigate recovery in a competitive environment. On top of that, their coaches, teammates, trainers and other sport personnel lacked education on eating disorders.
Unique Vulnerabilities = Unique Treatment
Athletes who perform at a high level possess many qualities which also make them vulnerable to the development of an eating disorder. Consider the following list: