Eating Disorders | A “mega taboo” in the world of sport

Eating disorders are a growing concern in the sports community. The problem is that Sports Quebec offers a very first online training to its coaches.

Posted at 6:00 am

Simon Drouin

Simon Drouin
The Press

For sports nutritionist Alexia de Macar, who will give it to fellow psychologist Jodie Richardson, the initiative is more than welcome.

“I get so many requests, it’s crazy,” worries the co-founder of Dare to Fuel Performance, which has made it its mission to educate and equip all players in the field on the subject.


PHOTO FROM ALEXIA DE MACAR’S WEBSITE

Alexia de Macar, sports nutritionist

“Right now there is too much eating disorders,” insists de Macar, who has been a nutritionist with Diving Canada for the past three Olympic cycles and still follows the athletes recognized by Skate Canada.

“But it’s not just at the elite level: our provincial federations are struggling with states of crisis in many, many sports. »

The specialist in acro-artistic disciplines – he also works with artists from Cirque du Soleil – points out that eating disorders are not limited to sports such as figure skating or gymnastics, far from it.

We should talk about it because it exists in all sports. There is football, hockey, tennis, alpine skiing. It is in every sport.

Alexia de Macar, sports nutritionist

Endurance sports, where weight maintenance is a constant concern, are obviously not allowed.

According to studies, he said, the prevalence of eating disorders is higher in sportsmen and athletes than in the general population, especially on the male side. “There are so many risk factors associated with sport, said the specialist. It is an environment where unbalanced or unhealthy eating behavior is normalized. “Ah, are you a top athlete or do you want to be? You have to sacrifice food. If you eat dessert, you have to do extra cardio…” »

With a doctorate in sports nutrition, Alexia de Macar has been advising top athletes for over 15 years. He quickly realized that many of his clients had an unhealthy relationship with food.

It’s a bit funny to say, but in nutrition, we don’t really have training in managing eating disorders. Athletes come to me who need to lose weight and they eat 600 calories a day… I don’t know what to do.

Alexia de Macar, sports nutritionist

So he turned to clinical training in eating disorders, but none of it was suitable for sport. Her meeting with Jodie Richardson, a clinical psychologist who conducted her doctoral research in the Eating Disorders Program at the Douglas Institute, was the perfect combination.

“I coached him for a decade on how to work with athletes and he taught me on eating disorders. We developed this expertise in screening, but also in the treatment of eating disorders specific to this client . »

Dare to Fuel Performance

Their appointment book fills up at lightning speed and they have no waiting athletes to refer to. The idea therefore came to them to establish Dare to Fuel Performance, “a platform to educate all health professionals, but also sports”.

“If you work with a developing athlete or an elite athlete, you have a responsibility, a role to play in relation to this problem, because it exists, Macar pleads. We know this, but eating disorders are scary to everyone: doctors, psychologists, coaches. You have to normalize the fact that it’s okay as a worker or professional to have that kind of anxiety. »

The fear of making a mistake, breaking a relationship of trust and, above all, causing a stop in training was specifically mentioned by the coaches.

The line between a true eating disorder and a dysfunctional diet is not clear to anyone. This helps with the problem.

Alexia de Macar, sports nutritionist

Early detection, however, is a major prognostic factor for recovery. “Athletes think it’s just a normal sacrifice,” says the nutritionist. They tell themselves that the day they retire, it will just be gone. This is not the case. An eating disorder, you have a window of one to two years to easily treat it. Otherwise, it becomes chronic. People get stuck with it and it can take years of treatment to get over it. »

The fact that athletes “rarely look very thin” contributes to the difficulty of screening. The same goes for rejection, which is a diagnostic criterion. “It’s not that they’re lying, they just really think they’re okay. I’ve had athletes in the hospital with a heart rate of 30 beats per minute telling themselves, “I’m fine”. »

While cases of abuse, anxiety and mental health have been in the news recently under the umbrella concept of “safe sport”, eating disorders often remain a blind spot, says Alexia de Macar. They are lip serviced, athletes, often retired, speak calmly about food issues, and the articles usually focus on dramatic symptoms like vomiting, he says.


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

“Everyone underestimates the eating disorder today. You must understand that it does not release the athletes, that it follows them from morning to night and it destroys their life,” supports the sports nutritionist Alexia de Macar.

“Athletes who have been through this for a long time tell me: I wish it was written that I missed all the birthday parties in my family for years because of my eating disorder. And I will never find those moments again. There are also all the times I isolate myself, that I don’t get to hang out with my teammates at training camp. »

“Mega taboo” in the sports world, the problem of eating disorders is “serious, but treatable”. “Everyone underestimates the eating disorder today. You have to understand that it doesn’t let go of the athletes, that it follows them from morning to night and it ruins their lives. For me, it’s a professional mission, but also a personal one : we see so many athletes in anxiety. »

Books, podcasts, newsletters, conferences: Alexia de Macar and Jodie Richardson have many plans to share their unique expertise across the country. Sports Québec coaches will be among the first to benefit.

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