U works to keep athletes free of eating disorders

The importance of the body in athletics puts student-athletes at risk for the disorders.

Earlier this month, the National Athletics Trainers’ Association recommended collegiate athletics departments have proper measures in place to detect and treat eating disorders.

The recommendation, part of NATA’s position statement on eating disorders, says athletics departments should have a detailed management plan in place to address all aspects of eating disorders.

An early screening and detection program should be included in that plan, according to the position statement, which closely aligns with NCAA standards, as the two organizations work together.

The University’s athletics department has a staff in place to deal with eating disorders, Moira Novak, director of athletic medicine, said.

Athletes are screened by trainers and other personnel for possible issues, and there are opportunities to address athletes on the issue of eating disorders.

“Throughout the year there are a number of different educational opportunities,” she said.

Even though the department hasn’t seen many severe eating disorder cases in the past five years, officials still emphasize the use of screening and detection in addressing eating disorders, she said.

“We continue to work pretty hard both on the educational side and screening side to identify those issues, and jump on them pretty quick,” Novak said.

In addition to the educational programs and screening processes, athletics teams also have nutritionists who help tackle the issue.

Rasa Troup, a team nutritionist with the Gophers women’s track and cross country teams, said team personnel must be aware of University athletes’ possible struggles.

“Competitive college athletes are at a higher risk to develop eating disorders,” she said.

Troup also said eating disorders aren’t limited to sports where weight plays a key role – such as wrestling.

“Athletes’ perceptions about the ideal body for their performance may be associated with developing eating disorders regardless of the sport’s discipline,” Troup said.

As a team dietitian, Troup is not trained to diagnose athletes with eating disorders, but said she plays a role in educating athletes.

“I give (athletes) examples on how nutrition can ruin or help them to perform better, to maintain healthy body and mind,” she said.

Tina Bonci, lead author of NATA’s position statement and co-director of athletic training and sports medicine at the University of Texas-Austin, said even once trainers identify athletes with eating disorders, it can be difficult to guarantee athletes’ cooperation.

“The level of vigilance that is required to ensure athlete compliance with referral and recommended treatment protocols is high,” she said.

Bonci also said trainers and other athletics officials should also be aware that many male athletes might not be open about disorders.

“Many disordered eating cases in males go unreported because of their reluctance to openly discuss their eating and weight problems because of feelings of shame and embarrassment over having a ‘stereotypically female’ disorder,” she said.