Adam Rippon, the outspoken Olympic figure skater from Clarks Summit, is using his platform at the Games to talk about male body image and the prevalence of “starvation diets” among world-class figure skaters.

In an interview with the New York Times, Rippon talked about the “open secret” that many male figure skaters consume a minimal amount of calories in an attempt to be thinner, a look they believe is appealing to the judges that determine whether they win or lose.

“Male body image and eating disorders are under-discussed issues,” said Geisinger dietitian Janet Milner. “It’s great to see an athlete like Adam Rippon using his popularity to shed light on this topic.”

Rippon says that, two years ago, his diet consisted of three slices of whole grain bread topped with butter substitute per day, along with three cups of coffee loaded with artificial sweetener. He has since changed his diet to help provide him more strength and energy, and has gained 10 pounds.

“Food is fuel,” said Janet Milner. “Everyone—and especially active athletes—needs to eat a balance and variety of foods to have the energy to perform, whether that’s as a world-class athlete or a middle school student working hard to get good grades.”

While there has been widespread attention to female athletes struggling with eating disorders, the idea that male athletes may have similar issues has not gotten much attention. 

“Body image issues are not restricted to one gender,” said Milner. “Men, and especially those under scrutiny and intense pressure to perform, may feel that they need to go to extreme measures. When you live in such a hyper competitive bubble, it’s easy to lose track of how to maintain balance.”

The National Eating Disorders Association reports 20 million American women and 10 million men will struggle with a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives.

People with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, may obsess over food and dieting, limit how much they eat, take laxatives, vomit or exercise all the time to burn calories. They may also eat restrictive diets like Adam Rippon did. Common sports which contribute to increase risk of developing and eating disorder may include, gymnastics, track and field, dance-ballet, cheerleading, swimming, diving, figure skating, Olympic ski jumping, horse racers-jockeys, rowing, body building, wrestling and cross country.

While you’ll see recommendations to eat a 2,000-calorie diet on nutrition labels, the actual number of calories each person needs to maintain energy levels is different. Meeting with a registered dietitian can assist to evaluate your caloric needs, sources and address your eating behavior or ritual.

Male athletes may need up to 3,000 calories per day and female athletes may need up to 2,400 each day. Anorexia Nervosa can lead to low blood pressure, kidney issues, osteoporosis, tooth decay, dehydration, malnutrition, depression, irregular heartbeat and death. Anorexia has the highest incidence of death among all types of eating disorders

Restricting calories can lead to unhealthy body weight, poor performance, trouble with making decisions and difficulty thinking clearly. If the behavior continues, it can lead to irrational thinking related to body weight and disordered body image. Eating disorders can be treated by a team, including a primary doctor, a dietitian and counseling. In-patient treatment may be recommended.

If you suspect that your child or a loved one is an unhealthy weight, or if you notice someone developing unhealthy eating or exercise habits, it’s vital to help them get help from a doctor, dietitian or counselor who specialize in eating disorders.

“Eating disorders are physical and mental health issues that need to be treated holistically to be effective,” said Milner. “The right treatment will help a person develop a healthier body image and better eating habits.”

Janet Milner RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist, call 800-275-6401.
Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon