Skip to toolbar
brisbane-news

Australian Institute of Sport partners with specialists to combat eating disorders among elite athletes

At the peak of her swimming career, Jessica Smith stood on the blocks at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and felt defeated.

“I knew that mentally I wasn’t there, physically I wasn’t there, my body basically failed me, or I’d fail my body at that crucial moment,” she said.

The now UAE-based Paralympian was battling a crippling eating disorder and failed to make the finals in an event where she was expected to have a podium-finish.

She returned from the games knowing if she wanted to combat the disease, her swimming career was over.

Brisbane Structural Engineers Brisbane Structural Engineers

“I knew at that point, it was a moment of life or death, in the sense that if I continued to go down the road of anorexia and bulimia, I wouldn’t be here today,” Smith recalled.

Now a mother-of-three, it took retirement to ensure recovery from her eating disorder, which she had struggled with from the age of 14.

At the time, she felt that leaving the world of competitive sport was her only option.

Loading…

“There were people there, but they weren’t really working together, I think that we realise now that it has to be a team approach,” she said.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has acknowledged the lack of awareness in disordered eating among high-performance athletes.

The AIS’s Chief Medical Officer Dr David Hughes said there are fears athletes could be at an increased risk of developing the crippling mental illness.

“Sport attracts people who have, you know, some personality traits around perfectionism and, you know, obsessive behaviours,” Dr David Hughes said.

“Almost certainly in high performance sport there are some environments which increase a risk for those who are already vulnerable.”

That’s why this week the AIS, partnering with the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), will make a call for action around awareness of the issue in high-performance sport.

A man wearing a blue blazer and business shirt standing outside the AIS building
Dr Hughes says each sport should have its own policy for eating disorders.(Supplied: Ian Cutmore)

The AIS has developed a position statement aimed at helping all sports and codes address the seriousness and prevalence of the disease in Australia’s most promising sports men and women.

Dr Beth Shelton, director of the NEDC, said athletes in certain sports will be more susceptible.

“High-performance sports are what they call aesthetic sports, where your appearance, weight and shape play a role in how you’re judged,” she said.

“That kind of singular focus can be really problematic.”

What’s being done about it?

The joint position statement by the AIS and NEDC will provide a toolkit for sporting organisations to better understand the signs and symptoms and improve their position to help athletes.

Dr David Hughes said the recommendation is for each sport to develop its own sport-specific disordered eating policy.

“The aim is that we have a healthier, more robust high performance system and that’s good for athletes, it’s good for their health, it’s good for their mental wellbeing and in the long run it’ll be good for performance as well,” he said.

A woman in a black swim suit sitting on a pool edge
Jessica Smith says athletes need to be worked with on an individual basis.(Supplied: Jessica Smith)

Kerry Leech is the nutrition lead for Netball Australia and said her team is aware there’s a prevalence of disordered eating among the cohort of athletes she’s dealing with.

Kerry Leech has welcomed the action being taken by the AIS and said it will be crucial to her operations moving forward.

“It will give everyone a launch pad to be able to have a look at their own response,” she said.

She said Netball Australia hoped to adapt its policy to be applicable to players at all levels.

“A response that is sport-wide, so that we can have it from our Diamonds to our development programs, and extend it out to our state sport organisations as well,” she said.

All sports and disciplines working together

Dr David Hughes said as well as providing educational resources, the AIS wants all medical professionals and coaching staff to recognise tackling eating disorders in athletes was a collaborative effort.

“So this is not just a role for doctors, not just a role for dietitians, not just a role for psychologists. Often these behaviours will be picked up by teammates, by coaches, by physiotherapy staff,” he said.

Even though Jessica Smith had a nutritionist telling her what to eat and when, she said it just wasn’t enough.

“We have to be able to work together and it really comes down to communication — being able to work with athletes on an individual basis,” she said.

“Food and what you’re eating is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so many underlying issues that need to be addressed first.”

If you need support with an eating disorder or body image please contact the Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au


Source link

city guide

The publication focuses on fashion, style, and culture for men, though articles on food, movies, fitness, sex, music, travel, sports, technology, and books are also featured

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button