Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog
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Athletes Under Pressure: An Everyday Struggle

By any standard, Gracie Gold is an accomplished skater and an admirable athlete—yet her 2016 hasn’t been quite as smooth as she may have hoped. Gold recently came in fifth place at this year’s Skate America competition, certainly nothing to sneeze at but also not quite the victory she might have imagined. What’s more troubling, though, is her ongoing struggle with body image, weight perceptions, and the pressure imposed by athletic competition.

Under Pressure

To her credit, Gold has opened up about these issues and really done a lot to fight back against the stigma that so often accompanies discussion of body image and weight ideals. “You don’t often see — there aren’t that many — you just don’t see overweight figure skaters for a reason,” Gold has said. “It’s just something I’ve struggled with this whole year and in previous seasons. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to do the difficult triple jumps. It’s something that I am addressing, but it’s obviously not where it should be for this caliber of competition.” Gold’s performance at Skate America involved a couple of falls, something she attributed at least partly to her body type. “It’s just not what’s required for this sport. It’s a lean body sport, and it’s just not what I have currently,” she notes. She has also said that, in order to perform better at future competitions, she would need to “adjust [her] physical shape.”

Body Image and Athletics

Gold’s experience—which she later clarified a bit in an Instagram post—is one that will surely ring true with many who have participated in sports at any level—from high school on up through the pros. Simply put, most sports come with pre-conceived notions of what a real contender must look like—leanness for skaters and gymnasts, bulky muscles for football players and boxers, and on down the list. The thing is, not everyone who participates in these sports is going to match that ideal 100 percent—yet the pressure to conform, and the ease of attributing poor performance on a suboptimal body type, are all too real. Those who play sports often find themselves under constant pressure to look a certain way or to hit a target weight—and it’s no surprise that that pressure, and the associated stress, often lead to struggles with eating disorders. “When the pressures of athletic competition are added to an existing cultural emphasis on thinness, the risks increase for athletes to develop disordered eating,” notes the National Eating Disorder Association. NEDA continues: “In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports that tend to place an emphasis on the athlete’s diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements, such as wrestling, bodybuilding, crew, and running.”

An Everyday Challenge—and Everyday Hope

We began this post with a story about a fairly well-known athlete—but the truth is, this is something that impacts many people every single day. It’s an all-too familiar story, one in which people feel pressured to conform, pushed to fit a certain mold, going beyond their means and ultimately facing enormous consequences for their own health and wellbeing. Because this problem is so ordinary, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of eating disorders—but also to know that a truly healthy lifestyle is possible, and ongoing recovery is attainable. If you find yourself in a position where you need help, contact Castlewood right away. Contact us to learn more about eating disorder recovery.