Combatting Eating Disorders in Athletes with Alison Hall

Today we have Alison Hall here on the podcast. We are connecting on sports nutrition and more specifically talking about sports that have a very body-focused aspect and how that works with being anti-diet. This conversation is going to be very interesting. In this episode and every episode of the podcast, we are learning about all things anti-diet and how we can live our best life outside of diet culture. 

In this episode, we discuss:

[04:23] About Alison and her background

Alison talks to her mom about this all the time and her previous life experiences led her to exactly what she’s doing in her particular niche within the field of dietetics. She is a registered dietitian who practices within the health of every size, intuitive eating, really working with disordered eating and eating disorders. In particular, she has an interest in working with athletes and that comes from her own background of being a division one athlete and growing up doing competitive gymnastics for 10-plus years. So all of that kind of led her to this environment. She also works part-time as a fitness coach, as well. 

[08:13] Why athletes are at risk of developing an eating disorder

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that athletes are more predisposed to have an eating disorder and some of it is the culture of sports. Often athletes are continuously pushing their bodies past limits and these environments don’t encourage listening to your body. Some of that mentality really drives a higher prevalence of eating disorders. 

[11:19] Sports with higher risk of developing an eating disorder

The top three sports at a higher risk are going to be gymnastics, figure skating, and dancing. After that are other sports, like wrestling for men, that’s very body-focused and cross country. Those sports are more predisposed because you have years and years of experience and there’s always been a particular body type to it. At the same time with gymnastics in particular, we’ve started to see a shift. And I think that recognition is starting to come. I hope as new generations come up, we start to see more of those changes.

[20:15] Eating disorder recovery process 

Often athletes don’t get help because they want to keep playing their sport and they often know that is the first to go. I look at how other things are going and assign them a color based on our color-coding system to decide if they can remain in the sport. I will often start with meal plans and other guidelines and keep them in their sport until I absolutely cannot. So if you’re all the way down in what you know, might be your red or danger zone, we need to pull you out of your sports, because it’s gonna be the absolute best thing for you and your health. Your health has to be the priority. It’s tailoring and being more specific with them and giving them more specific guidelines at the same time.

[24:45] Importance of educating athletes

It does not mean that they’re going to be bad at their sport because they need to weight restore. That fear of gaining weight is almost more intense because that often equals poor sports performance. So we can educate our athletes on how our bodies work and use carbohydrates to use the energy the way it’s supposed to. They can actually build their muscles, so they’re more powerful athletes. Education is really important, especially to our type A athletes that need answers to what’s happening and why they need to do certain things.

[25:51] Set the environment for success

Environment is so important for success. Often with an eating disorder, it is the person’s responsibility to recover and do all the things but the environment highly impacts the eating disorder and the treatment that we get. I think that piece of being able to set the environment for success and setting things into motion so we can truly recover and have that good relationship with food and with our body along the way. 

[27:45] Red flags for athletes

One of the biggest red flags is a sudden increase in injuries, stress fractures, stress strains, or maybe a broken toe here and there. Other red flags could be if performance suddenly worsened despite feeling like you’re training more or if your body does not have enough energy to perform the way you want it to.  Other red flags include teammates sneaking off to the bathroom during meals or at the end of meals. If your teammates are not eating or trying another new diet those can be red flags too. 

[33:02] Fun questions with Alison

Let’s finish off with our fun questions. Alison’s favorite food is bacon. She loves bacon and doesn’t think she could live without bacon. If she could have a superpower it would be mind reading. At the same time that would make her job a little bit easier in her life with her husband. She could also read my dog’s mind. Her favorite self-care is joyful movement with her dog and husband. Nothing beats a late-night walk. She thinks we’re all still learning what balance looks like and it looks different at different times in our life. Balance is something that she struggled with a little bit before she first came into the field because we glorify overworking within our culture. 

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