A leading sports and eating disorders dietitian says she has seen a five-fold increase in the number of male cyclists referred to her with eating disorders in the past year.
Renee McGregor says in the sporting world, where performance is so often prioritised over health, unmanaged eating disorders are becoming a serious problem.
In the last year every new male client she has seen is a cyclist.
The problem in cycling, she says, stems from irresponsible and ill-educated coaches, the ‘Type A’ perfectionist personalities in sports, a culture of winning at any cost, the influence of social media, and groups of competitive young men spurring each other on.
Many young cyclists aim to lose weight because of the theory that carrying less body weight on hill climbs will make riders faster.
Ms McGregor told Sky News: “It’s a very fine line between being light enough to perform optimally and being so light that it starts to affect mental and physical health.
“I don’t think enough coaches and sporting teams and sporting bodies have the information and the education they need, so when that is line crossed, it’s often crossed at the expense of the athlete.”
Oscar Mingay, 19, is a talented young rider and was selected for prestigious teams, but his love of the sport started to spiral into something darker when he was just 14.
He wanted to look like his idols.
“You want to be the best cyclist and you see the way these world tour riders look, how sculpted their legs look and how lean they are.
“Any day-to-day person would look at that and think it looks grim, but when you’re in the sport it’s all you want, that’s all I wanted.”
He restricted his meals when he started proper training so, at first, he saw results.
But as he ate less and less he became weaker and his body was less able to cope. At his lightest he weighed just 45kg.
“When it was at its worst, I would have a small bowl of porridge, like 20g of oats, go out on a three-hour ride, maybe with a banana, by this point I’d have had at most 400 calories, get back from the ride, miss lunch and then just sleep because I was knackered but I thought if I sleep then I’m not going to be hungry.
“I had very low self esteem, if someone told me I was looking healthy, I would think ‘oh, I need to lose more weight, I look normal’. If someone told me I was looking unwell I would think ‘great, I’m doing everything right’.”
He has been seeing Ms McGregor for help and is recovering well but the weight loss caused a dramatic dip in his hormones, leaving him with osteoporosis. It’s just one of the physical consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).
RED-S is the result of insufficient caloric intake alongside excessive energy expenditure and can adversely alter metabolism, bone health, immunity and cardiovascular health.
Both Ms McGregor and Mr Mingay pointed to the impact of social media in encouraging young male cyclist to lose an excessive amount of weight.
Sam Woodfield struggled with eating disorders when he was living in Thailand and training as a cyclist, weighing just 55kg at his lowest point and close to breakdown.
He has now recovered and has set up his own cycling team. Active Edge focuses on helping young riders maintain a healthy balance.
He advises them to take a holistic view of how their lives differ to that of professional riders.
“The world tour guys are only at their lightest race weight for three, four, five weeks max a year,” he said.
“They’ve got nothing else to do, they get on their bike, ride their bike, their lunches are made, their protein shakes are made, they don’t really have to think about anything else. We do: we have jobs, we have other halves, we have things in our lives that require energy.
“In the UK, you really don’t need to be skin and bone.
“You can afford to carry a little bit more muscle mass, in the winter especially, you can afford to carry a little more fat mass and in the end you will be a happier person.”
While Ms McGregor is pleased eating disorders in sport are being discussed, she said that the culture must shift to prioritise athlete health.
Source : Sky News : http://news.sky.com/story/rise-in-eating-disorders-among-male-cyclists-blamed-on-winning-culture-11899464
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