“Why Aren’t We Talking About This?” Coaches & Eating Disorders

After my presentation at the cross country and track coaches clinic in Illinois (ITCCCA), I was told that one of the coaches who attended my talk appreciated the presentation, and had heard “nothing like it” before. In fact, she thought it to be so unique and important, that she wondered why this wasn’t being told at all the other conferences.

That’s the obstacle right now. Many people don’t realize the monstrosity of the issue, and we are still at the beginning stages of awareness. We still have very little discussion on it, and most of the time the only coaches attending these kind of talks are those who know one athlete on their team who struggles with an eating disorder.
What I’ve been proposing is that this is an issue all coaches should be aware of, and openly talk about with their athletes each year. We cannot afford to wait for an athlete to approach us about an eating disorder (if they ever do bring it up), or only “look” for it in a skeletal frame. Most eating disorders don’t even necessarily HAVE an “appearance.”

Athletes are silent about this issue, often because the athletic staff is.
I emphasize that we as coaches don’t have to know everything there is to know about eating disorders. It took me eight years to discover what this is all about, and I’m still learning. What we can do is talk about the symptoms, misconceptions, and consequences each year, lead those who struggle to professional help, and be there to listen and support our runners.

There are therapists and counselors to do the psychology work. We are there to coach and support our athletes, and I stick to that. But we have a responsibility to look for an issue that happens so much in sports–an issue that is silenced by shame and fear.
This is something we should talk about with the team from the beginning, especially given the rate in which mental illness can develop even in the seemingly healthiest of bodies. With eating disorders this prevalent and widespread in sports, we cannot afford to be ignorant. Mechanics, mileage, strength, and speed can only take an athlete so far if they are struggling mentally.
An eating disorder can wipe them out forever.
Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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