It is no secret that there is tremendous pressure on women athletes — and Olympians in particular — to be thin, with many ultimately developing eating disorders. While women are more likely to have an eating disorder, men definitely aren’t immune to it either.
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In a New York Times profile, Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon gets brutally honest about his body-image issues, revealing that he’s no stranger to starvation. And he’s not the only one. The newspaper spoke to nearly a dozen other male skaters, and all of them confirmed that in professional skating both women and men were affected by bulimia.
Back in 2016, the 5-foot-7 (and currently 150 pounds) Rippon weighed just 140 pounds, mostly due to a ridiculously strict diet that had him consuming “three slices of whole-grain bread topped with miserly pats of the spread I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” And just to be totally clear about this: That’s not what he ate per meal — it is what he consumed per day. To keep hunger at bay, he supplemented each of his “meals” with three cups of coffee, each loaded up with six packs of Splenda.
What drove a calorie-fueled high-performance athlete like Rippon to basically starve himself? According to the 28-year-old, he wanted to look like teenage Olympic skaters Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou. “I looked around and saw my competitors. They’re all doing these quads, and at the same time they’re a head shorter than me. They’re 10 years younger than me, and they’re the size of one of my legs,” Rippon said.
His mother, Kelly, recalls a time when Adam’s first coach informed her that her 10-year-old son would never be able to land advanced jumps because of his “heavy bottom.” An eating-disorder survivor herself, she tried to educate him on the importance of healthy eating and exercise. At one point, he even bulked up by doing more weight training.
But when he moved to Southern California in the fall of 2012, Rippon’s coach at the time, Rafael Arutyunyan, put him on a strict cardio regimen and the aforementioned bread-and-margarine diet to shave down his muscles. And that led to binge eating.
“I’d do a few days having my three pieces of bread and then finish the whole loaf of bread and have 3,000 calories,” he explained, telling his coach, “‘Rafael, this is what I’m eating.’ And he said, ‘I know. It’s really hard.’”
After breaking his left foot in 2017 (which he attributes to not getting enough nutrients), Rippon decided to address his relationship with food. He started working with sports dietician Susie Parker-Simmons, who taught him to see food as fuel and not a foe. Now, more mindful when it comes to eating, the athlete no longer feels “guilt” for eating food.
In 2017 female U.S. figure-skating champion and Olympic medalist Gracie Gold sought treatment for an eating disorder, which is encouraging industry executives to take action. “We’re very sensitive to what’s happening. And as we go forward, we will learn from this experience, and hopefully, we’ll support all our athletes moving forward,” explained David Raith, the executive director of U.S. Figure Skating.
The important takeaway is that all men — not just male athletes — are susceptible to eating disorders. According to one study, 10 million men (compared to 20 million women) in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.
We applaud Adam for bravely coming forward with his story. By using his platform to open up about his experience, he is providing much-needed education to the world on a somewhat taboo subject.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you surprised to find that male athletes struggle with disordered eating? Do you know any men who have eating disorders? What should the industry do to combat body-image issues in figure skating? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!