Avoiding Eating Disorder Triggers: Athletes Can’t Talk About Food? Q&A With Dr Paula Quatromoni

This Q&A was originally part of the third Q&A here, but is republished below to separate and make it easier to find questions/topics. This is part of a Q&A series with the leading expert in eating disorders and sports and registered dietitian, Dr. Paula Quatromoni.

Q: One running program forbids athletes to talk about or even post about food on social media because they think it will help stop the spread of eating disorders. What are your thoughts?

A: To me, this is silly. Eating habits, food behaviors, and attitudes about food are contagious in our culture regardless of social media. A different approach for the leadership in this program could be to invest in educating their athletes about responsible use of social media and working to build a supportive team culture where there is zero-tolerance for food shaming, body shaming, or promotion of restrictive eating or dieting culture. Social media posts and open discussions about food, if managed strategically and with some ground rules, can be quite positive and can role model healthy strategies for fueling athletes and sharing evidence-based recommendations.

Many nutrition professionals have an active presence on social media. An athlete who re-tweets a post by sports nutrition expert Nancy Clark about how to incorporate protein into their recovery nutrition snack is doing a service to their teammates by sharing those tips with other members of the club. The coach could advise his/her athletes that he/she is following them on social media and that if he/she sees anything that is negative in connotation, promoting restriction or bulimia, judgmental (shaming) towards others, etc, that they will be called into the coach’s office to discuss. The “ban it altogether” approach is not going to stop the spread of eating disorders. This coach is focusing on one tiny branch of a tree with very deep roots.

Of course, another strategy to help prevent eating disorders is to bring in a nutrition expert to talk with the athletes about the basics of nutrition and fueling for sport, providing an opportunity for them to ask questions and get advice that is tailored to their sport, their position, and their individual life situation. Having ongoing access to the nutrition professional is even more effective, for this allows a trusted relationship to be built. Should a problem arise in the future, the likelihood of the athlete reaching out for help is heightened because of the accessibility of a nutritionist who is now a part of their sport family.

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Dr. Quatromoni is a senior consultant for Walden Behavioral Care, and one of the nation’s top minds on the intersection of sports nutrition and eating disorders. As a registered dietitian, she has more than a dozen years of experience working with athletes with disordered eating and has published several papers on both clinical experiences and qualitative research on recovery experiences of athletes. Dr. Quatromoni is the Department Chair of Health Sciences and a tenured associate professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Boston University where she maintains an active, funded research program. In 2004, she pioneered the sports nutrition consult service for student-athletes at Boston University. Dr. Quatromoni was named a 2016 Outstanding Dietetics Educator from the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors (NDEP) Council. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from the University of Maine at Orono and her Doctorate in Epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health.

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