Do you see those scars? Those are my permanent reminders of the damage sports had on my body. From the beginning of my athletic career, I was influenced to diet and exercise in unhealthy ways. I restricted my calorie intake, practiced 3 hours a day, worked out every morning, and yet, there was always something more to improve about my body.
This lead to my eating disorder, which at the time I believed would help me reach the unobtainable expectation placed on me by coaches and family. As I started to become sicker and my body began to fall apart, the pressure was still there to keep pushing until I eventually injured myself into retirement. No one could see me slowly dying — they could only see a tennis player that could physically improve more.
Now I’m not saying that sports are evil or directly cause eating disorders, but I am saying they definitely encourage unhealthy behaviors, knowingly or not. One study discovered over 1/3 of Division 1 female athletes reported eating disorder related attitudes and symptoms.
Another estimated that 62% of female athletes from sports like gymnastics and figure skating are affected by eating disorders, and that was in 1992. So yeah, there’s something wrong here. The reality is that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, and yet little awareness and prevention have been done.
I am scarred from sports, both physically and mentally. And even though I haven’t picked up a racket in years, I’m still suffering the painful consequences. I can only hope that future coaches and parents can learn from our experiences and create a healthier environment for athletes because sports are supposed to be fun, not deadly.