October 13, 2011

Athletes & Eating Disorders

Being healthy is about more than exercise.

Justin: At 24, Alyssa Kitasoe is fit and healthy, running almost every day. But four years ago, she was stuck in a vicious cycle of bulimia, or binge eating and purging, sometimes vomiting up to four times a day.

Alyssa Kitasoe: It definitely becomes habit. It’s kind of like an addiction. If someone were to have told me if you do it one more time you could die, I don’t think that would have stopped me.

Justin: Alyssa was a gymnast when she was in college at UCLA. To master the balance beam, she practiced 24 hours a week and closely watched her weight.

Alyssa: I was probably in the best shape of my life.

Justin: Alyssa’s problems actually began after she left gymnastics. Without the strict training schedule, she quickly gained weight.

Alyssa: I was always known as the gymnast to my friends and family. So once gymnastics was taken out of the equation, it was kind of like, ‘Who am I? What do I have to bring to the table? What do I have to offer?’ So that’s what triggered my eating disorder.

Justin: After battling bulimia for two years, she turned to her old coach for help.

“When Alyssa first told me that she was bulimic, she was very ashamed, scared, embarrassed.”

Alyssa: I never allowed myself to grieve the loss of gymnastics, which sounds kind of silly because I didn’t lose someone, but in a sense I did. I lost the part of my identity and who I was.

Justin: Studies have found that one-third of all female college athletes have some form of an eating disorder. UCLA is now trying to address eating problems before athletes leave their program, including counseling and a new manual for graduating students.

“I’m teaching them not only how to eat for their sport, but also how to eat in life.”

Justin: Today, Alyssa is focused on balance, not only on the beam, but in her life as well. Her advice to athletes leaving their sport?

Alyssa: Take one day at a time. Know that it’s normal to have those feelings. And for me, it helped to talk about it, to have that outlet. Don’t bottle it in.


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