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Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Updated: May 27, 2019

This week at UoNCC we are helping raise awareness by wearing our favourite socks to #sockittoeatingdisorders. Some of you might by asking why are eating disorders relevant to me? Don't they only happen in teenage girls who want to be skinny? Nope. As endurance athletes we are at really high risk of developing an eating disorder, particularly something called RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). (Please note this blog was written by a medical student not a professional so if you are worried about anything or want more information seek expert advice).

What is RED-S?

It used to be known as the female athlete triad, before getting renamed because it can also affect men. It is essentially the combined effects of under-fueling and over-training on the body and mind.

What signs do I need to look out for?

Some key signs and symptoms are:

Over-training: constant fatigue, not actually wanting to train/not enjoying your training, becoming "tunnel minded" and placing a high priority on your training, constantly thinking about training, doing more than your coach advises because you want to get ahead, becoming irritable when others comment on your training

Under-fueling: anxieties around food and/or weight (hill climb specialists beware), skipping meals, actively trying to lose weight, cutting calories, placing high emphasis on eating "clean" or "healthy" or "cutting carbs"

Girls: irregular periods or no periods can be a sign that your body is under too much stress or your weight is too low.

Constant illness or injury can be a sign your body is under too much stress from over-training and/or under-fueling.

Stress fractures! I really hope none of you get to this stage. But if you get a stress fracture, take it seriously. Make sure you recover for the time you have been advised for. Get a health check up to look for osteoporosis and your hormone levels and seek advice from a specialist

How can I look after myself and prevent it?

Don't think "it will never happen to me", it can happen to anyone! Look after yourself. Make sure your health is your priority, always.

Seek medical help if you are worried. Nutritionists or dietitians can be hugely helpful with the fueling aspect as it is very easy to underestimate how much and know what you need to be eating whilst training. See your GP if you are experiencing symptoms.

Chat to your coach if you are worried about over-training. Take rest days if you are feeling exhausted, unmotivated or are just really busy with uni work and life in general.

Don't compare yourself to others. So some skinny guy has just flown past you on Bradmore bumps, so what? You could probably beat him in a flat 10 mile TT. If you are healthy and happy don't try to obsess about losing weight to be a good climber, some people just aren't meant to be climbers.

Remember we are not professional athletes.

Some personal stories from UoNCC athletes

"In my 3rd year cycling was my coping mechanism when everything else was falling apart. I became completely obsessed with training. Whilst I still loved food, time constraints and wanting to stay at a self set "race weight" meant some days I was perhaps not eating as much as I should have. Then, one week I fainted twice on placement and was sleeping 15 hours a day. I went to the doctors and was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. It took me a while to recover and highlighted the importance of nutrition and rest"

But it's not all bad news, sport can be a hugely positive thing for those recovering from eating disorder:

"After years of suffering from anorexia, triathlon was the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite being weight restored I still struggled with the mental effects of the illness before finding sport. After finding triathlon I quickly learnt that fueling properly lead to massive performance gains. By stepping away from the scale (both for weighing my food and myself) I found freedom from restrictive eating. Suddenly I could eat what ever I wanted in the knowledge that my body would know how to turn it into fuel for my passions. When I eventually stepped on the scale again (to calculate W/kg for a FTP test) the weight gain no longer struck me with panic. Instead I was proud in the knowledge that along the way I’d gained so much more than weight. Slowly I found energy, freedom from an eating schedule (if someone offers me cake I can eat it whether it fits into my schedule/plan or not!) and the return of my periods marked a return of my health. Now even on my darkest days I can’t imagine punishing my body with food as I now know that being able to perform provides me so much more happiness and freedom than anorexia ever did."

Where can I find out more?