Canadian Running

Fuel Station

Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

- By Rachel Hannah

although eating disorders are not limited to competitiv­e at hletes, those who train in a competitiv­e sporting environmen­t and care deeply about their performanc­e are particular­ly at risk for disordered eating patterns. The cultural emphasis on thinness and the high stress of competitio­n contribute significan­tly to the risk of developing full-blown eating disorders. Some athletes turn to controllin­g their food intake when other things in their life may feel out of their control.

Disordered eating and eating disorders may be said to exist on a continuum; all eating disorders involve disordered eating, but not all disordered eating meets Diagnostic and Statistica­l Manual of Mental Disorders ( dsm) diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. The difference lies in the frequency and severity of behaviours and the level of distress they cause the individual.

The Australian Institute of Sport and National Eating Disorders Collaborat­ion position statement on disordered eating in high performanc­e sport offers some useful definition­s and distinctio­ns. Disordered eating (DE) is defined as “problemati­c eating behaviour that doesn’t meet the clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder,” involving “a wide spectrum of harmful and often ineffectiv­e eating behaviours used in attempts to lose weight or attain a lean appearance.” An eating disorder (ED) is defined as “a condition characteri­zed by a consistent disturbanc­e of eating or eating-related behaviour that significan­tly impairs physical health and/or psychosoci­al functionin­g and meets dsm- 5 diagnostic criteria for a feeding and eating disorder.”

According to Ottawa-based registered dietitian Shawna Melbourne’s “ED for RD’s” course (designed to help dietitians identify clients with possible eating disorders), EDs may involve any or all of the following:

• extreme concerns about weight and body shape

• extreme weight-control behaviours

• evaluating worthiness by body shape and weight

• an abnormal relationsh­ip with food

• strongly held but problemati­c beliefs about food • purposely starving oneself, bingeing and/or purging

• a way of coping with painful emotions

• self-loathing, pain, sadness, fear, guilt, shame and anger

Athletes should keep in mind that carbohydra­tes are the main fuel source for our brain and muscles, and that they need adequate amounts for health and performanc­e.

Many experts have commented on the role of social media in the rise of disordered eating, especially during the pandemic, when increased social isolation can make eating disorders harder to manage. Athletes are encouraged to surround themselves with positive online messages and teammates, coaches and friends who are supportive of healthy eating.

It ’s ver y i mportant to ident if y and appropriat­ely manage disordered eat ing and eat ing disorders early, to shorten t heir duration and severity. A proper care team for managing problemat ic eat ing includes a physician, mental health support and a registered dietitian trained in eating-disorder management. Severe eating disorders may require in-patient treatment and/ or hospitaliz­at ion.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their eating behaviours, see: nationalea­ting for an online screening tool to assess whether further help is needed. The nedic help line is 1-800-931-2237.

Rachel Hannah, RD, is a five-time Canadian champion, a Canadian Marathon Championsh­ips silver medallist and a Pan Am Games bronze medallist in the marathon. She is a full-time registered dietitian at the University of Guelph’s Health and Performanc­e Centre. She can be reached at rachelhann­

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