Summer Olympics: Brittany Viola Inspires Awareness of Bulimia

Contributed article by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Founder / Director @ Eating Disorder Hope

The Summer Olympics 2012, July 27th through August 12th, will be a time of inspiring performance by dedicated athletes who have passionately pursued their dream to participate in the Olympics.  The sheer excellence of their performances transports us all to a higher plane where our own aspirations and dreams seem more attainable and possible.

It takes a special type of person to reach the heights of performance that Olympic athletes attain. These individuals are typically highly focused, disciplined, competitive and committed to excellence.  Attributes we all tend to admire.  So many outstanding athletes, artists, scientists, etc. attain monumental feats and accomplishments because of these very traits that nurture meaningful achievement that benefits themselves and society.  What is not to love about that?

These personality traits, so useful in succeeding in goals can also be a significant contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder and other conditions, such as anxiety and depression.  So, the talented athlete with drive, determination and commitment can be sidetracked or derailed by these mental health issues that may have been brought on, at least partially, by the very traits that made the athlete so successful.  We know that a predisposition toward anxiety and perfectionism can increase the possibility of one’s susceptibility to an eating disorder.  Yet, those very traits likely drive some athletes to practice over and over again, to reach for the perfection that may actually push them to be the top in their sport.  Is it any wonder that 13.5% of athletes have subclinical to clinical eating disorders[1] ?

If we them place this talented athlete in highly appearance oriented / body weight focused sport like gymnastics or diving, we further increase their potential susceptibility to an eating disorder.  So, with 42% of female athletes competing in aesthetic sports demonstrating eating disordered behaviors[2], we ought to be concerned about implementing precautionary measures to prevent eating disorders in sports like diving, gymnastics, wrestling, ballet, and others that emphasize low body weight for improved performance.

Miss Brittany Viola, the United States platform diver, will be competing in the 2012 London Games, and she is the type of resilient and determined athlete that we love to call an American.  Her rise to this elite level of competition was complicated by bulimia, and she had to seek treatment to overcome her personal challenges that led to the development of her eating disorder.  Lovely Ms. Viola had to endure the pain and struggle of an eating disorder because of her attempts to alter and redefine her body to mold into the shape she thought she needed to be in order to compete as an athletic diver.  Fortunately, she sought treatment for her eating disorder and wisely concluded that she is beautiful just the way she is[3] and let go of the eating disordered behavior and recovered.  Ms. Viola courageously sharing her struggle with body image and eating disorders helps reduce the stigma and secrecy that can often surround eating disorders.  Further, her modeling healthy body image and self acceptance to the other athletes and impressionable young people watching her perform, also inspires others to consider avoiding weight obsession and instead, focusing on health and well-being.

It is important that we continue to emphasize the wondrous functionality of an athlete’s body in performance, rather than the appearance or weight of the individual.  The Summer Olympics offers an excellent opportunity to be an agent of positive change in society, by encouraging our children, family and friends to appreciate the athletes for their character, hard work and excellent performance while de-emphasizing the discussion of the athletes’ appearance or weight.  Then we all can join Ms. Viola, in spirit and courage, to make the Olympics and sports of all kinds a healthier place for athletes of all body types.

References

1.  Sundgot-Borgen J, Torstveit MK. (2004). Prevalence of eating disorders in elite athletes is higher than in the general population. Clin J Sport Med., Jan;14(1):25-32.

2. The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources, 2003.

3. Richter, M. (2012). Viola overcomes injuries, bulimia to reach London. Reuters @ http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/24/us-oly-dive-viola-adv-idUSBRE86N1JH20120724

 

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Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, on July 25th, 2012
Article Published July 25th, 2012
Page last updated  July 25, 2012