Mina Markovic's thoughts on BMI and eating disorders

EDITORIAL

10 January 2023

It is not often that I decide to expose myself ... But, at this place I just feel I need to. Not only from my over 15 years of international competition career, and psychology view but also from my human touch. Talking about a specific topic, such as eating disorders, is hard.

In reply to some previous posts - yes, it is important to note that there is a distinction between eating disorders and low body mass index (BMI). First, to note, athletes at all BMIs can struggle with eating disorders. Additionally, it is not uncommon for people with eating disorders to have a normal weight, as the focus of the disorder is often more psychological than physical. With that said, it is important to consider, as already mentioned in some posts before, that there are no legal limitations for individuals with mental health conditions to compete, as long as they are able to do so without endangering their own or others' health.

But, when someone's weight-to-height ratio (BMI) and//or body fat drop below a certain (medically provided) limit, physical changes to the body occur. There is a point where we start to talk about endangering health, and concern about acute and long-term health consequences arises. At this point, I would strongly encourage organizations capable of this (IFSC), to think about some actions of taking care of their athletes and limiting those, who with their BMI or fat mass can show signs of endangering their health.

… When I competed, there were no BMI limitations. Would I have appreciated them back then? Honestly, maybe there was a moment, I would not. Looking back, I would appreciate having it at that time. The competitive world is something beautiful and I wish everyone in it to experience it at it's best. On the other hand, it is, what it is - a competitive world, with its traps and dangers. Some of them are not seen now but can leave a deep scar on someone's life. So, I believe, body mass index limitations would not be beneficial only for exposed athletes themselves, but also for the potential physical and mental health of the World Cup circuit.

As mentioned already many times, the best climbers are examples from the younger generation. Meaning, without setting some (lowest) acceptable competition health standards, we can bear in mind all other and younger generations and the 'message' which we are releasing with that. That very low or extremely low weight is acceptable. Maybe even desired. (?).

I believe, it is not necessary to be unhealthy and (dangerously) skinny in order to achieve success in climbing. In fact, focusing too much on weight can lead to an unhealthy obsession with body image, which can take focus from an athlete's training, physical preparation, learning technical skills, and psychological well-being. This can lead to mental health problems and a decline in overall welfare for athletes.

There are examples of sports organizations, such as the Norwegian model for healthy sport (1) and the Australian DE statement in high performance sport (3) and some National teams in sport climbing determinations, that have implemented guidelines for maintaining a healthy sport. By introducing BMI limitations in climbing, we can also demonstrate to other sports that the climbing community and federation care about the well-being of our members and are willing to set a good example for health protection in sports.

I believe IFSC has done some steps in this field (3,4). But, definitely looking forward to seeing them bring those ideas to life. With this said, I wish all the best to our community. Stay healthy, and be strong! Mina Markovič

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