‘They’re not just 'fat’- emotional eating takes a toll on athletes too

By Melissa Talbert September 13, 2020

Using food to cope with emotional distress or emotional eating, as it is called, is part and parcel of a typical existence for many people.  Although stereotypically classified as physical specimens, surprise, surprise, our elite athletes are no different.

Presently, many athletes are sitting at home severely impacted by uncertainty. They are stressed because of it. Some are even adjusting and readjusting to ever-changing curfew guidelines that affect stadia where they often workout.

An article published by SportsMax titled, ‘Are they T20 cricketers or Pillsbury doughboys?’ even admitted that the CPL 2020 teams would have faced some uncertainty at some point before the tournament started.

Though the article focused on how an athlete’s attitude plays a significant role in performing at their best, it didn't do anything to address their mental and emotional states.  Instead, the article compared the cricketers to blowfish.

Athletes get paid to look their best. Their appearance influences their performance, brand deals, sponsorships, I get it. But it’s likely some of the athletes were just reacting to their reality since eating is therapeutic and brings comfort.

Nutrition coach, Gabrielle Julal, who recently accompanied sports nutritionist, Mrs. Patricia Thompson, at the Jamaica Olympic Association's Eat Fit Stamina Workshop, said restricted diets can make it difficult for an athlete to resist certain foods, especially in vulnerable and stressful times.

“A lot of athletes over restrict themselves - they have a lot of restrictions and certain rules in order to maintain their body image. But what most people don't recognise is that when we have these restrictions/mental restrictions it increases our desire to eat certain foods," Julal said.

She suggests, in this case, eating is the way to deal with the constant desire for food.

Julal explains, “A good way to deal with urges is to first remove the rules from your mind - allow yourself to eat. The more you start to eat certain foods that were restricted before, the less likely you'll desire them because you no longer have this ‘forbidden fruit mentally’ towards the food.”

 She added that “It's important to be sensitive to them [athletes] because people expect them to look a certain way and when they don’t, that can fuel disordered thoughts towards eating then can cause them to restrict themselves more.”

Athletes should not deny themselves the physical and the equally important emotional needs that are required as a human being. Still, when eating is the only form of coping, that's a problem.

According to Julal, eating is supposed to be a source of comfort and enjoyment for us but when it’s the only form of coping, she would encourage athletes to seek other ways of coping with difficult emotions like:

Talking to another athlete who is also going through ‘it’ as that will encourage both athletes to share their experiences in a space that allows them to relate to each other.

She also hinted that sharing doesn't have to take place between athletes but can be through honest conversations with a family member or a friend as well.

Julal even suggested that doing some form of exercise, learning new ways to prepare food, and finding other fun activities can lift spirits.

 

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

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