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Eating disorders affect thousands across the country. Chances are good that you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. It is important for coaches, athletes, Huddle Coaches and volunteers to educate themselves regarding eating disorders. Only then will they be able to educate their students and teammates on how to minister to their peers. For more resources and information visit www.mercyministries.org.

10 ways coaches, trainers and athletic directors can help keep their athletes healthy and prevent eating disorders.
(Compiled for the National Eating Disorders Association by Karin Kratina, MA, RD)

1. Take warning signs and eating disordered behaviors seriously!
2. If an athlete is chronically dieting or exhibits mildly abnormal eating, refer to a health professional with eating disorder expertise.
3. De-emphasize weight by not weighing athletes and eliminate comments about weight.
4. Don’t assume that reducing body fat or weigh will enhance performance.
5. Instruct coaches and trainers to recognize signs and symptoms of eating disorders and understand their role in prevention.
6. Provide athletes with accurate information regarding weight, weight loss, body composition, nutrition and sports performance to reduce misinformation and to challenge unhealthy practices.
7. Emphasize the health risks of low weight, especially for female athletes with menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea.
8. Understand why weight is such a sensitive and personal issue for many women.
9. Do not automatically curtail athletic participation if an athlete is found to have eating problems, unless warranted by a medical condition.
10. Coaches and trainers should explore their own values and attitudes regarding weight, dieting and body image, and how their values and attitudes may inadvertently affect their athletes.

What can Huddle Coaches do to prevent and address eating disorders?

  • Pray
  • Create an atmosphere where kids feel comfortable to talk about things they struggle with
  • Bring in a nurse, doctor or nutritionist to talk about the physical damage eating disorders do to your body
  • Have someone who has struggled with and overcome an eating disorder talk to the group
  • Develop a library of issue related material and let kids know it is there for their reference
  • Lend a listening, understanding ear
  • Offer to teach them that God is bigger than their struggles

How to minister to students who have eating disorders?

Kathy Vonada

“You have to be affirming in your relationship with kids and develop a relationship of trust where they know that you’re on their side. You should verbally state that you love them and that you have to ask them some really hard questions. Then you ask them what’s going on and you express your fear and your concern. It takes a lot of the heaviness out [of a confrontation] when you say, ‘Ok, maybe this is just about me, but I’m afraid because I see this and this. Tell me what’s going on. Just shoot straight with me.’

“I used to see kids come in really defensive and protective. But if they really know that the adult really cares for them, then they’re going to tell the adult. You don’t ever break their trust and you don’t ever go behind their back. You treat the kid with respect and express your fear, being honest with him/her.  

“Eating disorders are often coupled with another problem; oftentimes there’s another diagnosis. We have to remember how incredibly complex the struggle and recovery is. A lot of times I used to see people throw platitudes at kids and simplify the problem. Eating disorders is one of the most difficult things to recovery from because with substance abuse and sexual abuse you can do without the drugs and the sex, but you cannot not eat. Ultimately it ends up being a distorted belief about God, that God’s not enough.”

Kathy Vonada has been on staff with FCA since January 2005 and currently works as an Area Representative in Colorado. Before joining the FCA team, Vonada worked as a full-time counselor with private practice for 20 years, specializing in chemical dependency, working in a psychiatric hospital and then counsel in a Texas high school for seven years. She worked largely with adolescents that struggled with issues like mood disorders, family problems, substance abuse and eating disorders.     

Steve Robinson

It’s important for Huddles to have meetings about eating disorders and have someone come speak on that topic. It’s important to talk about the power of words, especially from guys to girls. It can be a devastating thing. That old saying, “sticks and stones could break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is a lie from the enemy. We never know what word or what we say in jest can do to somebody.

“Also, if you see people that are struggling with an eating disorder, don’t say, ‘oh gosh, I wonder if she’s eating well. I don’t really want to say anything to her.’ Be honest! Say, ‘I love you and I care about you, but I think something’s wrong here.’ Ask them point blank if they are struggling. Tell them that you want to get them help.” 

Steve Robinson, father of Katie McInnis, has been on staff for 33 years and currently works as an FCA Multi-Area Director in Tennessee. He knows how important it is to talk openly about eating disorders within FCA Huddles. After watching his daughter overcome a life-controlling eating disorder, he knows that it is never too early to address the subject.

To learn more about eating disorders visit:

Eating Disorders Resources
National Eating Disorders Information Centre
National Eating Disorders Association
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.
The Renfrew Center Foundation
National Collegiate Athletic Association
National Institute of Mental Health


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