Women's Teams Combat 'Less is More' Attitudes

With the release of a Radcliffe study last year that showed seven percent of Harvard women to have some kind of eating disorder and the founding of a student support group for these disorders, the problems of anorexia and bulemia are being recognized at Harvard. And its effects on those women who have the most reason to be concerned with their health, athletes, are similarly beginning to receive attention from coaches and the Athletic Department.

"It's a real women's problem and doesn't go away in women's sports," says Katherine C. Dietz, varsity lightweight crew coach. "They're interested in preserving an athletic body image, but still have a body image problem," she adds.

Co-founder of Eating Problems Outreach Marsha E. Rorty '85 said that she has seen figures which say that as many as 50 percent of all women engage in some sort of bulemic behavior, and that 10 to 20 percent of female college students have some sort of relatively severe eating disorders.

"It's a difficult problem to have. It's an isolating one," says Rorty.

Coaches differ on the prevalence of eating disorders in Crimson athletics and on the method of educating their teams on diet and nutrition.


Women's soccer coach Robert L. Scalise sees the absence of eating disorders among his players as a "sport-specific luxury," he says. "You need strength and size to play soccer."

Heavyweight crew coach Lisa H. Stone echoes Scalise saying, "Crew might be a stressful enough sport that those who have eating disorders would be sick too much of the time to row."

In addition, Stone says, heavyweight rowers do not have the pressure of daily weigh-ins.

Stone says she has never been approached by a rower concerned about dieting. "It's not something you want to ask someone about," she adds

Members of the women's swim team appear to be free of eating disorders, says coach Maurah Costin '80. Costin, who as an undergraduate had a roommate on the track team who was anorexic, says that the nature of some sports such as track puts more pressure on athletes than others.

"If you feel being very thin in running will make you faster then you get thinner. A lot of coaches that think that way tend to be male and they don't understand what they'd do to a girl if they said she was fat," says Costin.

Costin says she goes over diet at the beginning of the season, treating each athlete individually. According to Costin, the nature of swimming does not emphasize thinness; the percentage of a woman's body fat is more important than her weight.

"Individual athletes associate with the coach, and some coaches don't get a grip on where eating disorders come from," says Costin, who sees bulemia and other eating disorders as part of a larger Harvard problem.

Track coach Frank Haggerty denies that the Harvard track program puts pressure on team members to diet. "We don't concern ourselves with weight. The heart weight indicates fitness. It is a fallacy with respect to this team that thinner is faster."

Haggerty adds that he has no concerns that his runners aren't eating regularly.