MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University’s Center for Applied Coaching and Sport Science (CACSS) held the first of its Fall Town Hall events on Thursday afternoon and explored the topic of orthorexia.
Orthorexia, according to the CACCS, is a lesser-known but serious eating disorder characterized by a fixation on food quality that can have a negative impact on an athlete’s physical and mental well-being. Panelists on the virtual town hall were Dr. Mike Ryan, Morgantown High School’s head cross country coach and the Sport and Performance Science program coordinator, Dr. Dana Voelker, associate professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Dr. Dayna Charbonneau, WVU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Director of Clinical and Sport Psychology, and Sina King, the Director of Sports Nutrition, Olympic Sports within the WVU Athletic Department. They addressed parents, coaches and sports leaders about how to deal with and avoid orthorexia.
“Some of the things that you want to look for as a coach and one of the things that scares me the most is when I see athletes start to compare themselves to either other athletes and their eating habits or social media. There’s a large — as we know now a lot of athletes are getting on and a lot of students are turning to social media and they are getting their advice from other 15, 16, 17-year-olds instead of professional coaches, dietitians, people that really know what an athlete needs to fuel themselves on a daily basis.”
Ryan said many athletes at the high school and collegiate levels have become obsessed with posting food on social media and that is something that coaches should be on the lookout for. He said if athletes display signs of orthorexia parents and coaches ought to be supportive and to educate them on the dangers of their behavior.
To help with the education aspect, coaches and families were provided resources that they can share with athletes. Another behavior the panelists said to be on the lookout for is athletes overtraining, especially when paired with not eating enough.
“We all know a big thing a lot of coaches talk about is to make sure that you eat well and sometimes driving that message home of eating well can be taken too far and this is often what we see within orthorexia,” Ryan said. “Looking to athletes — try to find that balance, try to express to your athletes that they can eat healthy but they also do need fats and proteins and carbohydrates in their diets to fuel and a lot of them.”