THE past couple of years have been dominated by talk of governing bodies’ duty of care to their athletes and Scottish Athletics are leading the way in this country in the battle against eating disorders in sport.
This evening, on the eve of the Great Edinburgh Cross-Country, Scottish Athletics will host a seminar in Edinburgh entitled ‘Supporting Athletes with an Eating Disorder’ which aims to address the issue and generate dialogue which will reduce the stigma.
There will be two guest speakers at the event, Louise Capicotto, a BPS Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist (in training), as well as Jayne Nisbet, a former Scottish high-jump internationalist who suffered from an eating disorder throughout much of her career.
Capicotto works closely with the Female Coaching Network and having been involved in sport for much of her life, she has a considerable interest in increasing the level of support in this area, as well as reducing the stigma around eating disorders and she is optimistic that this seminar is a step in the right direction.
And with the statistics showing that athletes are far more susceptible to developing eating disorders than the general population, there can be no delay in addressing the subject. “I did research last year on how sport psychologists can support athletes with eating disorders or with disordered eating,” she said. “The reality is that you don’t wake up one day with an eating disorder, it’s a continuum and you start off with disordered eating before it develops into an eating disorder.
“This seminar is great because it highlights that this issue is everyone’s responsibility, it’s not just one person’s. It’s not an area that should be scary but I think it is an area that some coaches do feel uneasy approaching. So we’ll talk about what you should try to put in place to make the athlete feel more comfortable.”
Capicotto can also draw on personal experience having suffered from an eating disorder herself. It began when she was 14 years old and even now, fourteen years later, the long-term effects remain, which is something that she wants to warn young athletes about. “I want to talk about the after-effects because I now have permanent damage to me heart and my digestive system and other things and I don’t think that at the time, the coaches realised how serious it was,” she said. “And when I recovered, my body couldn’t perform how it used to perform so it’s about getting that message across too.”
While Capicotto is quick to stress that every person’s situation is individual, there is some general advice that can be shared and there are a number of misconceptions around eating disorders that the Englishwoman would love to help dispel. “My own personal experience is really helpful because sometimes, if it’s someone from the outside, they don’t necessarily know quite what to say or how to act,” she said.
“And I’d like to breakdown some of the myths that are out there. People think that it’s often about comparing yourself to fitness models or people on television but eating disorders are rarely about that, it’s much more about your self-worth. Athletes have a lot of traits that put them at risk of disordered eating and eating disorders and so we want to encourage coaches to promote a more supportive training environment where it’s not only about performance, it’s also about enjoyment and personal development.”
Nisbet is also well-placed to offer her input. Her recent revelation that she suffered from an eating disorder was followed by the 29 year-old releasing a book last October entitled ‘Free-ed’ which shares her own experience of overcoming an eating disorder. While the process of opening up abut her struggles was, she admits, tough, the support she has received in the aftermath of the book’s release has been somewhat overwhelming. “The support I have received is fantastic and every day, I’ve had people contacting me,” she said. “The feedback has been so positive and that’s been brilliant because it makes me realise how much I’m helping other people. That’s made speaking out all worth it.”
While speaking out about such personal issues is not always easy, Nisbet is keen to use her own experience to help others and she is quick to point out that the more people who open up about the challenges they’ve faced, the easier it will be for others to talk about the subject in the future.
“I want to show others that you can get out of it and there are people there to help you,” she said. “Help is much more accessible these days – it’s amazing that Scottish Athletics are holding this seminar and are doing all the work in this area that they are.
“This is showing that there’s nothing to be ashamed about and talking about these issues is a good thing. I really believe that the more people speak about this, the less afraid others will be to open up about the issue. And this isn’t just about elite athletes, this about everyone in sport.”