As you follow the cement path through Springfield College, finally getting closer to the big white bubble that holds some of the most precious value to this campus, curving around the PE complex, you can feel the energy you are about to witness as you approach the gym. With the windows so big, you can peek inside and watch the football players crowd the mirrors, huffing and puffing, doing bicep curls.
It seems intimidating at first, but as you continue to watch you realize there is something more to the atmosphere than them flexing in the mirror for fun.
They are looking for something more.
As you get inside, place your bag down and grab what you need to start your session, slowly walking behind the other guys flexing in the mirror. These men are different, they are shyly flexing, trying to not get noticed or feel embarrassed. They are comparing themselves to the men next to them, the big guys.
Your head spins around because the slamming of the weight hitting the ground rattles you – it’s those men continuing to grunt and growl. Changing your direction,you head to the treadmills to warm up. But there, you notice a line of women taking over the machines, towels drenched over the screen, hiding the numbers that are either increasing or decreasing, and every once in awhile checking the “calories burned” section, making sure they are doing everything else correctly.
Two sides of the spectrum: humans wanting to get bigger and humans wanting to get smaller. And who knew it was something that is so common, shared in the same place, and a huge part of such an athletic college campus?
In a recent 2016 study, 7 percent of the Springfield College campus admitted struggling with an eating disorder. 33 percent of the campus are student athletes not including club/intramural sports.
The term eating disorder is broadly defined as “a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).”
According to Brian Krylowicz, the Director of the Springfield College Counseling center, “The difference is based more on a clinical scale, so eating disorders is something that would match up with a diagnosable disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Where disordered eating would be someone who is not on a clinical level but they are in a spot where people would pick up that this is not leaning toward a disorder or not diagnosable but it would be a spot where someone would notice that it’s not in the range of normal. Example: They may not be a binge eater but they would eat a lot and then feel guilty after. You’ll see it on campus, where someone says that they are going to really count their calories and that’s where you see it get dangerous because they obsess over it.”
As a student at Springfield College, you can walk to the triangle at the Union green and often notice people who play a sport, and what sport they play on campus. Usually, it starts out by noticing what type of maroon and white gear they have on, what type of people they are with and usually, their body type.
If you dig a little deeper, you can listen to what they are talking about, and a good chunk of the time, it’s about the sport they are playing, or the food they are about to eat as they loudly approach Cheney Dining Hall. This is their passion. They all came to Springfield to conquer academics but more importantly to some, to conquer their athletic careers. This sport is something that pushes them mentally and physically, and they strive knowing they can succeed at it, knowing that maybe they could be the best. This is where a switch is flipped.
Those who are passionate, determined and obsessed. “That’s where you see it get dangerous because they obsess over it,” Krylowicz said.
Many can argue that sports makes you obsess allowing the sport you are playing to be an “unhealthy obsession.” Others argue that in order to excel at a sport you need to become so passionate that you obsess, viewing obsession as a positive. Falling in love and playing a sport is something we grow up doing, not knowing that it can consume you; growing into an “unhealthy obsession.”
Krylowicz stated, “The world’s worst angle is looking at yourself in a mirror.” He believed that obsessing could lead to a bigger mental issue, starting with bad eating habits leading eventually to depression and anxiety.
“Sports can create disordered eating,” Krylowicz said. “There is no clinical evidence of this, but when you look at the wrestling team, it’s probably a very disordered group because they have to cut weight. When they are in their offseason they would have no issue with this. But in season you’re going to see some very destructive eating disorder habits.”
Wrestlers have to train and cut weight very quickly in order to make weight for their upcoming match, this requires some athletes to cut weight quickly as Krylowicz described, “it seems they would have to cut off an arm to get there.”
Not wanting to target just one sport Krylowicz explains that wrestling, gymnastics and cross country/track are the easiest to look at when it comes to disordered eating/eating disorders.
An unhealthy obsession is only noticed by some, as usually the ones “suffering” are athletes who love what they do, how they look and how they perform. These athletes could be in denial and in pursuit to be the best. While here at Springfield, I became close with a former player on the women’s soccer team. She had an athletic build, powerful legs – those that support the sport she played. She was confident and beautiful and excelled in the sport.
But she quietly suffered. Unnoticed by her team, coach, parents and friends, she become obsessed. It started out by upping her training schedule, going to practice and then to the gym more than twice a day. She took herself off gluten, this started the biggest change. As her weight decreased, she became more obsessed with they way she looked, and found herself looking more like the stereotypical soccer player, small upper body and strong legs. Although, she looked better on the outside – mentally and emotionally – she was hurting, causing her body to hit a plateau and it eventually stopped changing.
It went into “starvation mode.” She started gaining weight, her body holding onto every nutrient it could just to stay alive, thus reversing everything it had just worked so hard to do. She was no longer in control of her body and was now consumed by clinical definition, an eating disorder.
She wasn’t the only one to go through something similar, and although her disorder started at college, many athletes develop it younger. A player on the Springfield women’s rugby team has struggled with an eating disorder her whole life, but she noticed a huge difference with how it affected her when she started playing a collegiate sport.
“After starting to play rugby I started to feel more fit, which led me to begin to eat more food and not necessarily good things,” she said.
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and some people forget. Stereotypically, if you’re too skinny, then you have an eating disorder and if you’re too big then your just “obese.” At an athletic college that focuses so much on spirit, mind and body these disorders can go unnoticed.
“I would go to Cheney and I wouldn’t pick good things to eat. So it would affect the way I felt physically, not just moving around but my health got worse, I started to gain weight and started to binge way more,” the rugby player said.
Binging is a clinical disorder, and usually ends with someone excessively eating food. “For me, binging is very different. It changes. Sometimes me binging could be me not eating for hours or day. And then other days just eating everything in sight. Eating a ton and eating until I would throw up, not make myself throw up but eating enough where I physically could,” she added.
She was not one to make herself throw up, although it is in the definition of binging. Already having a disorder to deal with, there was one thing that she had in common with every other incoming freshman.
“I was terrified of the freshman 15.”
This made her scared for what College would lead her into. “So starting off the bat I tried to snack less because I knew I would stress eat all the time which would lead to binging.” Luckily, when it comes to the sport of rugby there isn’t a stereotypical look that people try to achieve, which is why she is healthy and doing just fine as she progresses through the sport and college. She is currently learning more about her body and how to feel healthy, through nutrition.
As an athlete you may already know how to fuel your body properly but for each athlete and each sport there are some major things that differ. Andrew Triana, an exercise science graduate currently working toward his PhD in Nutrition and exercise physiology stated, “The only advice you can give to an athlete who doesn’t know much about nutrition is to not let your food have negative connotations. Don’t eat foods thinking, ‘Oh these carbs are bad for me.” We need to educate [the athletes] on the stress their body is taking and what their body needs. We need to put the emphasize here.”
For Div. III sports on campus, the teams are required to go to team lift in the varsity weight room, which includes a talk from the strength and conditioning coaches to the about basic nutrition, and how to fuel their body for their best performance.
The men’s and women’s cross country coach, Anna Steinman, talked about what it’s like seeing athletes adapt to the training and how that can affect her athletes.
“Once your body gets use to the volume and intensity of [the sport], and it’s not too draining on your body, that’s when you mix all of that with not eating enough, not eating well and that’s when you get into other categories of disordered eating.”
Steinman mentioned Rachele Schulist, a Div. I cross country runner who struggled with an eating disorder that was not clinically diagnosed for 15 years. In 2016, Schulist posted to social media, a side by side photo of herself running in 2014 versus 2016. In the 2014 photo she was smaller, you could see her shoulders rounded, like you were looking at her bones. In the 2016 photo she had put on about 20lbs of muscle, looking much healthier and stronger.
“I didn’t realize what kind of spot I was in and that it was so bad,” Schulist admitted. “[Winning] was just encouraging what I was doing, which wasn’t good. I was doing everything so intensely. It takes the joy out of the journey when you approach it as a job.”
You can’t take the “body” out of the triangle, without it you will lose spirit and the mind. It doesn’t matter the sport you play or the level of play, if you are not fueling your body correctly, then you will take a hit to triangle as a whole.