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Sports and Weight Issues

Posted on December 3, 2017 at 2:15 PM

My son recently ended his first season of football.  I was attending the end of the season party when I overheard a parent speaking about how her son "fasted" each week in order to make weight.  As an eating disorders therapist, the idea of weekly weigh-ins before games didn't sit well with me. However, I do understand the reasoning behind the weigh ins.  Naturally, you would not want your 95 pound 12 year old getting hit by a 150 pound kid, even if he is the same age.  It's about player safety and I get that. 

With that being said, however, there is tendency for the kids to worry, or should I say, become concerned, about the weigh ins due to the fact that if a kid goes over the weight limit, he will be bumped up to the next weight class.  What this actually means, though, is that the kid will have to leave the team he has gotten used to, his friends, his coaches, his position, and even his shirt number which has become a part of his identify.  The kid now has to deal with loss... Loss of his buddies, lossof his coaches, loss of his position, and loss of a part of his identify.  Thus, the weigh in can become a source of stress. 

Football is not the only sport where weight can be an issue.  Wrestling, dancing, gymnastics,  just to name a few, are sports where there are either weigh-ins or some type of focus on one's weight.  Unfortunately, the unspoken message that kids hear is  "don't gain too much weight, or there will be consequences".  

I have been thinking about the issue of sports and weight since my son's season began several months ago.  I've wondered, and quite frankly, worried somewhat about the effects of this "weighing in" issue on not only my son's, but other kids' mental and emotional health. As an eating disorders therapist for over 20 years now, I have seen many adolescent girls who were once talented, healthy, athletes become entangled in the throws of anorexia, simply because someone gave them the message that they were not good enough at their natural body weight.  

So how do we as parents help our kids who aspire to play these sports?  Can we prevent them from developing eating disorders or some other body-related insecurity? I believe we can.  

We can help our kids understand first of all the reaoning behind the weigh ins, for example, safety on the field.  That of course is first and foremost.  Secondly, we can help them not obsess about the weigh in by not making it a big issue ourselves. We can educate them about healthy eating as well as nutritional requirements for athletes.  We can also educate them about the fact that everyone's body is diferent and that's ok.  We can be good role models ourselves by eating healthy and not focusing on our own weight. And lastly, we teach them coping skills... coping skills to deal with loss and disappointment because life is full of them and somewhere along the way, our children will experience loss and disappointment. Sooner or later, they will be forced to deal with that very issue. As parents, we are capable of teaching our kids positive coping mechanisms and give  them a level of confidence and understanding that will help them grow into healthy adults.  That's what parenting is about and with that, perhaps we can avoid any unnecessary negative focus on weight. 

Categories: Sports / Athletics, Eating and Weight Issues , Mental Health

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