I read today about yet another professional female runner diagnosed with an eating disorder. She stated on her Insta that she’s entered treatment and is hospitalized.
There’s a popular hastag on Instagram, #strongnotskinny. The biggest proponent is probably Allie Kieffer, and female 10K / marathon runner whose best result was 4th place in the New York Marathon. Allie Kieffer’s theory is that she was injured due to being too thin. And that may be true.
The problem is that when you look at the best 10K runners and marathoners, they are very thin. They are, in fact, emaciated.
First of all, most women – like not almost all – cannot maintain that weight healthily. Most women will experience amenorrhea, which results in bone density loss and all kinds of other problems. My theory is that everyone has a healthy minimum weight, and for most women, that healthy minimum weight will disqualify them from being an elite runner as much as an average VO2max.
Even for women who are in the minority that can maintain a weight like that and be healthy – and such women do exist; they are the ones who win – the mental part is huge, particularly for people living in the United States. It is really hard to maintain the level of emaciation necessary for elite long distance running success while living in the US, especially for women, without developing mental issues.
And so a HUGE percentage of elite women runners develop eating disorders. It’s hard to know how many, but some suggest that it’s on the order of 50%.
I don’t know what the solution is. But there are a few obvious things. For a start, weight should never, ever be mentioned to high school athletes, male or female. With rare exceptions (like, perhaps, wrestling), female college athletes should not be talking about weight either. Pretty much, no woman under 21 should be thinking about her weight.
After 21, there may be occasions on which it’s appropriate for female athletes to lose weight. (It’s notable that one of the athletes pictured above elevated her running to the next level after getting a breast reduction.) But the benefits of the weight loss obviously have to be weighed against the risk of developing mental issues or eating disorders.
Then, today I was watching a documentary on Dara Torres. In case you have forgotten, she is a SWIMMER. Her college coach badgered her to lose weight. Honestly, it just makes me sick hearing about it. Weight isn’t even particularly important in swimming. Look at the best swimmers – they aren’t skinny! They are large and muscular and have fat on their bodies, too.