By Catherine Lemel
Teenagers and eating disorders are linked in the endless battle of body image. In the past, eating disorders have been associated with girls, mainly because of pressure to look extremely thin like the airbrushed and photoshopped models prevalent in mass media. However, new light is being shed on the fact that not just girls are put under pressure to weigh certain amounts. There have been cases of eating disorders appearing among sports teams. Eating disorders affect all genders in all kinds of sports and it has been going on for a lot longer than what is realized.
John McDaris, assistant football coach at Brevard High School (BHS), said that throughout his years of playing at the high school and college levels, many football players have dealt with overeating. He said that there is a lot of pressure, especially for offensive and defensive linemen, to weigh as much as possible. McDaris said that cases of overeating are more common than not. “I would argue that well over half of all linemen, regardless of playing level, overeat because of the pressure to be bigger than everyone else,” he said. McDaris also relayed that there is a lot of pressure to weigh more than the competitor, and, on the state level, there could be hundreds of cases related to overeating.
McDaris said that education is the most important thing when it comes to dealing with the eating disorders. He said that it is okay to be a bigger person if that person is building muscle through regular fitness and proper weight training. “There is a difference in health,” McDaris said, “between a guy who is 280 pounds with a low body fat percentage and a guy who weighs 280 pounds because of overeating.”
Candice Owen, BHS English teacher and coach of the cheerleading team, said that currently she is not dealing with any cases of eating disorders, but she has in the past. There was one case that she dealt with alongside the head coach of cheerleading team and it ended in the girl leaving the team to focus on healing, and she did get better. She believes eating disorders are still an issue in cheerleading because there is a lot of pressure to weigh less so they can make it on the team. Owen said that most of the uniforms are pre-ordered by the school so the cheerleaders have to be selected according to fit and many girls may be turned down because there is not a uniform that will fit them. She also said that there is weight competition to be a flyer. A flyer is a person who is thrown up in the air for stunts. Owen said, “In order to be a flyer you have to be light enough so that other girls can hold you and that also creates the pressure to be thinner and weigh less.” She said that she promotes healthy eating and exercise instead of just promoting an ideal size. Owen said that they do this through classes and workouts.
Jessica Merrill, BHS volleyball coach, said that she has been around sports for a long time as a coach and as a player. She said that she had more insight as a player, but she does see issues as a coach. Merrill sad that she doesn’t necessarily deal with full blown eating disorders but she does see girls comparing themselves to their teammates and friends on a daily basis. She said that these body issues could lead to more serious eating disorders over time. Merrill said that she believes that habits adopted today affect what happens tomorrow and that having unhealthy habits today could develop into more severe problems in college and when they enter the workforce. She said that as a coach she stresses to her players how important eating healthy and fueling their bodies is. Merrill said that healthy eating is only a part of the big picture. She said, “It is important for women to support each other and make each one of us feel beautiful on a daily basis. Your actions toward others can drastically affect them.”