Gymnastics and Eating Disorders

By: Murray Hughes

Emotional and Physical Distress

Emotional distress can most certainly develop as a result ofpeer judgment or insults and even from off-color commentsmade by coaches. You need to keep close watch over whathappens here, because extreme emotional distress can resultin more serious problems in the future, including bulimiaand anorexia, two of the most common -- and most dangerous-- eating disorders known today. We will discuss thoselater, however. Be sure to talk to your child about how heor she is feeling. Talking will usually bring problems outinto the open, so that you can work toward correcting themand restoring the confidence that is inherent in yourchild. Self confidence is one of the many keys to goodhealth and to success in gymnastics.

Physical distress is sometimes more easily spotted thanemotional distress. If your child has been injured in anevent or during practice, you can usually see the bruises,the scrapes, or the swelling. Sometimes, though, physicaldistress in a gymnast can be somewhat puzzling. If yourgymnast has suddenly taken ill, feels muscle cramps orstiffness, is fatigued all of the time, or complains ofgeneral soreness, it may be wise to check up on his or herprogress with the coaches. Overexertion can definitelylead to problems--sometimes, it may even be necessary todecrease the amount of strenuous exercise until conditionsimprove. In the meantime, you should make sure that theirnutrition is proper -- that they are eating enough, and,certainly, that they are taking in enough fluids.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that stems bothfrom physical and emotional distress, in most case, as aresult of judgment passed by peers or coaches or by societyitself.

In today’s world of stick-thin models, whereappearance is everything, your gymnast may be pressured todrastically and quickly reduce body size. Typically, thebehavior associated with bulimics is binge eating and thenpurging. In other words, they may take in thousands ofcalories of fatty food, only to vomit it back up again; allthe while, they may also use laxatives. This will eat awayat the enamel of the teeth, causing the gums to recede(eventually, all of the teeth may need to be removed), andalso cause the salivary glands to swell. The laxativeseventually cause rectal bleeding. A person who has thisdisorder may retreat to the bathroom for long periods oftime or keep large stashes of high-calorie food around thehouse.

Those afflicted with bulimia nervosa are typically easier tocoax out of their routines than those who have anorexianervosa. They are also more responsive to therapy. Itmight not even be necessary for hospitalization, save forthe severest of cases, which typically include dehydration.Good communication can help prevent all of this fromhappening.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is certainly the more severe of the top twoeating disorders that afflict young gymnastics athletestoday. Anorexia is rather like bulimia in that an anorexicdoes not allow food to be digested -- but they take it onestep further, and avoid food completely. Laxative use maybe present, as well, which is exceedingly dangerous. Ananorexic will shy away from situations that involve food.Eventually, the malnutrition will get to a point whereblood pressure drops, body temperature drops, bone densitydecreases, hair falls out, and the skin becomes grayish andscaly. Lanugo, a downy body hair, may also develop.Anorexia is fatal in up to ten percent of cases, and if itis not, it may require hospitalization and psychiatrictreatment in the end.

This is, of course, why you must maintain communication withyour gymnast and his or her coaches. Encourage your childor children. Don’t let emotional distress develop intosomething far more serious. Let them know that they arealready incredible for their involvement with gymnastics.They don’t need to take mean comments to heart -- and theydo need to relax occasionally. Have fun with them! It’sbest for all involved.

And with that, good luck to you.

By Murray HughesGymnastics Secrets Revealed"The book EVERY gymnastics parent should read"

Eating Disorders
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