Gymnastics and Eating Disorders

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Gymnastics and Eating Disorders by Murray Hughes

Gymnastics can be a high-stress and high-maintenance sport for even the most emotionally stalwart of children. After all, gymnastics pressures its participants for physical perfection --for flawlessness of form in gymnastics routines and, sometimes, in appearance. You should always keep an eye on the progress of your child or children. Meeting and opening up lines of communication with their coaches, speaking to their peers and their peers’ parents will help you keep watch over their physical and emotional states. Creating a network of eyes and ears like that will certainly take a load off of your mind, that’s for certain, especially if you find yourself unable to make all of your child’s meets or practices.

Emotional and Physical Distress

Emotional distress can most certainly develop as a result of peer judgment or insults and even from off-colour comments made by coaches. You need to keep close watch over what happens here, because extreme emotional distress can result in more serious problems in the future, including bulimia and anorexia, two of the most common -- and most dangerous -- eating disorders known today. We will discuss those later, however. Be sure to talk to your child about how he or she is feeling. Talking will usually bring problems out into the open, so that you can work toward correcting them and restoring the confidence that is inherent in your child. Self-confidence is one of the many keys to good health and to success in gymnastics.

Physical distress is sometimes more easily spotted than emotional distress. If your child has been injured in an event or during practice, you can usually see the bruises, the scrapes, or the swelling. Sometimes, though, physical distress in a gymnast can be somewhat puzzling. If your gymnast has suddenly taken ill, feels muscle cramps or stiffness, is fatigued all of the time, or complains of general soreness, it may be wise to check up on his or her progress with the coaches. Overexertion can definitely lead to problems--sometimes it may even be necessary to decrease the amount of strenuous exercise until conditions improve. In the meantime, you should make sure that their nutrition is proper -- that they are eating enough, and, certainly, that they are taking in enough fluids.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that stems both from physical and emotional distress, in most case, as a result of judgment passed by peers or coaches or by society itself. In today’s world of stick-thin models, where appearance is everything, your gymnast may be pressured to drastically and quickly reduce body size. Typically, the behaviour associated with bulimics is binge eating and then purging. In other words, they may take in thousands of calories of fatty food, only to vomit it back up again; all the while, they may also use laxatives. This will eat away at the enamel of the teeth, causing the gums to recede (eventually, all of the teeth may need to be removed), and also cause the salivary glands to swell. The laxatives eventually cause rectal bleeding. A person who has this disorder may retreat to the bathroom for long periods of time or keep large stashes of high-calorie food around the house.

Those afflicted with bulimia nervosa are typically easier to coax out of their routines than those who have anorexia nervosa. They are also more responsive to therapy. It might not even be necessary for hospitalisation, save for the severest of cases, which typically include dehydration. Good communication can help prevent all of this from happening.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is certainly the more severe of the top two eating disorders that afflict young gymnastics athletes today. Anorexia is rather like bulimia in that an anorexic does not allow food to be digested -- but they take it one step further, and avoid food completely. Laxative use may be present, as well, which is exceedingly dangerous. An anorexic will shy away from situations that involve food. Eventually, the malnutrition will get to a point where blood pressure drops, body temperature drops, bone density decreases, hair falls out, and the skin becomes greyish and scaly. Lanugo, a downy body hair, may also develop. Anorexia is fatal in up to ten percent of cases, and if it is not, it may require hospitalisation and psychiatric treatment in the end.

This is, of course, why you must maintain communication with your gymnast and his or her coaches. Encourage your child or children. Don’t let emotional distress develop into something far more serious. Let them know that they are already incredible for their involvement with gymnastics. They don’t need to take mean comments to heart -- and they do need to relax occasionally. Have fun with them! It’s best for all involved.

And with that, good luck to you.

By Murray Hughes Gymnastics Secrets Revealed ‘The book EVERY gymnastics parent should read’

If your child is a gymnast and you enjoyed this article, you will definitely enjoy reading the zero cost, 5-day course Gymnastics Tips Course written especially for gymnastics parents by a gymnastics parent.

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