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Former UK Paralympian calls parts of sports 'an eating disorder factory'

Rachel Morris' account shows that there is a general culture surrounding sports in the UK where all weight loss is considered good. This is dangerous for athletes.

Former UK Paralympian calls parts of sports 'an eating disorder factory'
Image Source: Twitter/ Rachel Morris at Charterhouse trail run/ DailySURREY

Trigger Warning: Eating disorders, weight loss, ableism

Former United Kingdom Paralympian Rachel Morris was diagnosed with anorexia when she was 18-years-old. It later developed into bulimia. She has competed at an elite level in cycling as well as rowing and even won gold medals in the 2008 and 2016 games. Before she officially started her sporting career, she was very open with her coaches about her challenges with food. However, in the lead-up to the Rio Games, she was called a "nutter" when she approached a coach about her eating concerns. Sadly, she is not the only athlete to experience this. Allegedly, a general culture that all weight loss is good permeates in the country's sports, putting its athletes in danger, BBC News reports.

 



 

 

Morris shared, "You've got athletes that don't make their weight and so are in a room the morning they're going to get weighed, a hotel room where you've got indoor rowing machines inside with the heaters on and black bin liners over you, and that that's acceptable to sweat off that weight, to drop off that last half kilogram, whatever it is, to be able to make the weight for your race. To me, that's just an eating disorder factory." When she was training with the Great Britain Paralympic rowing team and shared her concerns about her eating, her worries were completely dismissed. "The biggest thing I took out of it was that I was the weakest link of the team," she said. "If I cracked, I was going to be the one that let the whole team down."

 



 

 

She is not alone. When Rebecca Quinlan was a child, she always dreamed of becoming a professional runner. She had begun to restrict what she ate as a teenager, but her restrictive eating escalated when she started studying sport science at university. "As part of my course I had swimming lessons every week," she explained. "So I had lost a lot of weight and it would have been visible to the swimming teacher seeing me in a swimming costume every single week, that I'd gone from virtually a normal weight to severely underweight but nothing was ever said." She was shortly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The condition has impacted her body permanently.

 



 

 

Quinlan stated, "I have osteoporosis now, which is incurable, I still don't have a period even though I've regained the weight. It started out so innocently just trying to lose weight for me to achieve my dream of becoming a professional athlete… I feel sad now to think that my dream got taken over by the eating disorder." There is, she claimed, "a general culture [that] weight loss is good, weight loss will enhance your performance" in sport. Unfortunately, dozens of athletes like her lose out on their careers because of this seemingly harmless culture. In fact, the largest study to date on this subject found that elite athletes are more likely than the rest of the population to develop an eating disorder.

 



 

 

Therefore, Dame Katherine Grainger, the chair of UK Sport, asked athletes struggling with eating disorders to speak out so that their issues would be addressed. "If there's an environment where it's feeling uncomfortable and people are being pushed into situations they're not comfortable to be in, they can speak out and there are places to go that they can talk about it and it will be addressed," she said. She also acknowledged that there is more work for UK Sport to do in order to fully address eating disorders within the field.

 



 

 

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please reach out for help. If you are in the United Kingdom, you can contact the local organization Beat here. If you are in the United States, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) here.

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