THOUGHT FOR FOOD
The amazing thing about triathlon is the variety of people who participate showcasing a range of body sizes and physiques. Not everyone looks like, or has to look like, a “model” of excellence. What is universal is the tenuous balance between fuelling with food versus becoming beholden to it.
Triathletes may suffer from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder. These are medical conditions. On the border of these formal diagnoses sit a great range of idiosyncratic eating habits, some of which lead to marginal performance gains in the short term, while others highlight the dangerous side of the drive to excel that culminate in burnout.
Jodie Swallow is an excellent triathlon ambassador – talented, generous, and honest. She has talked about struggles with bulimia and continues to advocate for athletes to find a balance between physical and emotional health. She also stresses that athletes should be attentive to “extreme weight coercion,” either internally driven or externally encouraged. In Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits, she also explores similar pressures and how that intersected with her career. Three-time Ironman Hawaii winner Peter Reid opined in the triathlon documentary What It Takes that he had “somewhat of an eating disorder” and goes to bed hungry with headaches from food restriction as he prepared for the 2005 Ironman World Championship. These three professional athletes share an openness that is not often seen. There are many other triathletes whose voices have not yet been heard.
Disorganized eating behaviours are seen in both women and men and, while the prevalence rates differ, the awareness of your own eating habits and those of friends and family you care about can make positive changes. Healthy weight maintenance and regular eating routines, while frightening to those in the grip of an eating disorder, are attainable. Those who are striving for the ultimate triathlon performance won’t achieve their goals if they short change their energy needs.