But on the track or on the river, often the only statistic in an athlete’s mind is that of a personal record or a team-best. This emphasis on the now rather than the later is what many believe perpetuates disordered eating.
If practices aren’t changed and this fixation on weight remains a part of athletes’ collegiate experiences, the research demonstrates that their nutritional restrictions and disordered eating will endure even after they cross the final finish lines.
“Those patterns are going to continue after college,” Austin said. “They’re not going to stop after track season is over or after they stop competing in whatever sport. Those patterns are set, for most people, until they get treatment.”
Kroshus’ work indicates that it is within the abilities of coaching staffs and team leaderships to change how athletes think about food.
“[Coaches need to] make nutrition a normative conversation,” Kroshus explained. “They shouldn’t dance around the issue of nutrition and let the team interpret it…. I think there isn’t enough conversation about how teams can play a really positive role—because they can.”
While the possibilities for improving team cultures are becoming apparent, the first step to alleviating some of this disorderly behavior is for athletes to recognize that the norms set forth by their sports are anything by normal.
“For me, I never questioned it or was surprised by it because I was living it,” Flynn said. “When you’re in it, it’s really hard to see anything else because you are living it yourself, you’re living it with the team, and you’re living it with the whole culture that you’re ingrained in. It can be really hard to break out of.”
—Staff writer Orlea L. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at email@example.com.