Eating Disorders in Gymnasts
At a gymnastics meet in Budapest, a U.S. judge commented that gymnast Christy Henrich would have to lose weight if she wanted to make the Olympic team. On July 26, 1994, Christy Henrich died of multiple organ failure. She had lost a long battle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves extreme weight loss, restricted food intake, and an intense fear of becoming fat. The American Psychiatric Association outlines four diagnostic criteria for anorexia. The first is refusal to maintain body weight. The second is intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight. The third is denial of the seriousness of low body weight. The fourth is in postmenarcheal females, amenorrhea, for example the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.
There are many different characteristics associated with a person who has been diagnosed with anorexia. Anorectics have a distorted image of their bodies. In other words, they see themselves as fat even when they are emaciated. They also have an obsessive preoccupation with food and thinness. Anorectics suffer from depression, mood disturbance, chronic feelings of low self-esteem, and insomnia or other sleeping disorders. Another common symptom is amenorrhea. This is a loss of menses or not achieving menarche if the disorder begins before puberty. Anorectics also impose extreme dieting or exercise practices on themselves.
Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder that includes a behavior pattern of alternating extreme bingeing, or overeating, with self-induced vomiting, fasting or abuse of laxatives or diuretics. Eating in a short period of time and having a sense of control during the binge episode characterize an episode of binge eating. After the binge bulimics feel disgust, shame, and guilt, and they resolve to never binge again. They also resolve to diet rigorously to compensate for the weight gained during the binge.
Bulimia has many symptoms. Bulimics have a preoccupation with food and are usually secretive about their addiction to food. A bulimic’s self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight. Bulimics suffer from internal bleeding, including gastric ulcers due to trauma from forceful vomiting. Bulimics have tooth and gum decay caused by stomach acids. They also have swollen salivary glands, and broken blood vessels in their eyes, as a result of self-induced vomiting. Bulimics are typically high achievers.
Bulimia and anorexia have found their way into the sport of elite, or Olympic-level gymnastics. In a 1992 University of Washington study of 182 female college athletes, 62% of college gymnasts have practiced at least one form of disordered eating. This percentage was higher than that of any other sport. Many elite gymnasts have come forward to admit that they suffer from eating disorders. These gymnasts include: 1970 world medallist,...