Three slices of bread a day: Male athletes and eating disorders

By Connor Busby, Reporter

 What is the picture that comes to most of our minds when we think of someone struggling with an eating disorder? A cheerleader? A model? Most of us tend to picture a woman, but actually there is another common victim of this affliction that rarely gets much representation: men.

The National Eating Disorders Association has stated that of the thirty million people who will grapple with a clinically significant eating disorder in the United States, a third of those sufferers will be men. While such a statistic might seem shocking on the surface, further investigation into the factors, which contribute to the widespread nature of this issue, sadly reveals this statistic to be all too understandable.

One of the portions of the population most at risk for these sorts of disorders consists of athletes. With the extreme amount of pressure placed upon them to perform at superhuman levels, it makes complete sense that athletes tend to have a very different relationship with their bodies than the rest of us, pushing them well past their limits in an effort to go for the gold. And, unfortunately, sometimes this overpowering drive to win causes competitors to try either gaining or losing significant amounts of weight in a relatively short amount of time.

These issues often come to light during high-publicity times like the Olympics, but it’s important to understand that eating disorders among athletes are prevalent regardless of the season. During the 2018 Olympics, eating disorders among athletes has finally been thrust into the spotlight, particularly in relation to male figure skaters. Adam Rippon, a favorite for many on the United States’ team, recently opened up about his own personal tribulations in an interview in The New York Times. He revealed that at one point his regular daily intake consisted of only three slices of whole-grain bread with a thin layer of margarine on top. Some might think that Rippon’s intensive diet regimen must be out of the ordinary, but in reality all the skaters interviewed had witnessed fellow competitors fighting with bulimia.

But if this problem is so widespread, why is it not more openly discussed? Ron A. Thompson, a psychologist associated with Indiana University athletics, suggests that this may be in part due to the constraining expectations our society has made inherent with the concept of masculinity: “Males are supposed to be stronger and not need psychological assistance”. The first step to making progress in combatting this problem though is vocal acknowledgement in order to raise awareness. But even more than that, we need to change the current culture surrounding both athletics and masculinity. We need to create spaces free from the extreme pressures of performing at impossible levels of skill and self-sufficiency!

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