I’ve just finished coordinating the first draft of the National Eating Disorders Association Coaches’ and Trainer’s Toolkit, which will be available on the NEDA website in early summer. There’s going to be so much good information in it--from top experts in the field-- that I’m brimming with thoughts about athletics and eating disorders. Much of the information in the Toolkit will be applicable not just to coaches and athletes, but to the parents, friends and family of anyone struggling with an eating disorder, and those struggling themselves.
Here is a distillation of some key suggestions I’ve gathered that really do bear repeating:
· If you’re worried, voice your concern. Kids and adults enmeshed in an eating disorder often say that they wish someone had noticed, said something, or reached out. In the next breath, they admit they would have denied having a problem, but that’s beside the point; it’s the reaching out that matters. Emphasize how you feel: worried, frightened, concerned, or sad.
· Eating-disordered group behavior is common, especially among girls. If you are a parent or a group leader, say something if you see signs of dangerous behavior (constant talk about body size and shape or dieting). Standing by and not intervening sends the tacit message that this behavior is acceptable.
· If you or your loved one is a typical perfectionistic, type A anorexic, focus on performance over perfection, being the best that you can be, not the best of all.
· If someone is telling your loved one she (or he) needs to change her size or shape in order to be able to play a role, get a job, excel at a sport or make the cut for a team, encourage her to consider changing goals, not her body.
· If you know your child/loved one/student is genetically susceptible to eating disorders (if there is a history of them in your family, for example), avoid weight-related talk and weight-related or aesthetic sports such as gymnastics, wrestling, crew, or figure skating.
· Make it clear that no foods are forbidden; there is a place for every type of food and snack, in moderation.