Which sports seem to produce low self-esteem?
A strange paradox of sporting activity is that participation often leads to higher self-esteem. In certain sports, it can also lead to an increased risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, both of which are usually associated with low self-esteem. Individual sports seem to carry an increased risk of eating problems.
For example, in the United States, about 93% of collegiate athletes who develop eating disorders are female, and these athletes are usually found in a small number of sports, including gymnastics, cross-country, swimming, and track and field. The few cases reported in men are clustered in the sports of cross-country, track and field, gymnastics, and wrestling.
What causes eating disorders?
A combination of individual and family factors is often involved in producing an eating problem, and cultural factors put females at exceptionally high risk. Over the past three decades, the socially acceptable weight for women in Western societies has progressively decreased, while the incidence of eating disorders has steadily risen.
Why are eating disorders linked with certain sports?
Individuals dissatisfied with their bodies may be drawn to "calorie-burning" sports like running and swimming. Also, scientific research suggesting that "lean is better" for performance may contribute to the problem, and aesthetic sports such as gymnastics probably place far too high a premium on being super-thin. Recovering from an eating disorder is a complex process involving counselling and the raising of self-esteem and self-acceptance. Athletes can do many things to reduce their risk of developing an eating disorder, and coaches should realise that they can take steps to help prevent eating disorders in their athletes.
Alice Lindeman, an eating disorder researcher at the University of Indiana, recommends that athletes be aware of the following facts:
Coaches should de-emphasise weight and refrain from commenting on body weight as they speak with their athletes. Coaches should also avoid group "weigh-ins", which can heighten humiliation and embarrassment for the athlete who feels too fat and may push an athlete onto the road leading to a full-blown eating problem.
You wake up in the morning with a bad cold, but you have been planning the day's workout for a long time, and you do not want to miss it, or you have been overeating during the holidays, and you need to lose some weight. Should you go ahead and complete your training session, or take the day off?
To answer that question, a little common sense is in order. The reality is that if you are ill, you are probably tired, and your muscle strength is below par. That being true, you might as well face the fact that your workout is going to be sub-optimal, so why do it? Some additional rest will leave you in better shape to train intensely in a day or two.
From a health perspective, insisting on working out when you are sick can be downright dangerous. Instead of having a rhinovirus infection (rhinoviruses are the ones that produce the common cold), you might be infected with something more lethal, like a virus that can cause pneumonia, or a "Coxsackie" virus, which can infect your heart and even cause sudden death as you train.
If you do not buy these first two arguments for rest, then use what exercise and health experts call the "neck check" to determine whether you can train. If all of your symptoms are above the neck (stuffy or a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, or scratchy throat), it is okay to start your usual workout at about half speed. If you feel better after 10 minutes or so, you can increase your intensity and finish your workout.
Otherwise, take some chicken soup, vitamin C, and fluids to bed with you, and try again in a day or two. However, by all means, do NOT work out if you have a fever or symptoms below the neck (aching muscles, a hacking cough, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea). Working out under those conditions is risky, and you will recover much faster from your illness if you rest.
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About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.