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3 Things to Avoid Saying when It Comes to Body Image

From an offhand comment about what an athlete is eating for breakfast on race day to referring to one athlete on the team as having' the right build for the sport,' even casual references to an athlete's body can have long-term consequences.

Here, TrueSport Expert and licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Melissa Streno, has recommendations around what to avoid saying or discussing when it comes to eating habits, praise during practice or competition, and social media.

1. What to Avoid when Offering Encouragement/Advice

"For coaches, my recommendation is to avoid commenting about any athlete's body—or even their own body—when talking to athletes," says Streno. "Pull away from any comments about physical appearance, even if you think you're saying something positive, like that an athlete is looking lean or has the right build for the sport."

You don't know what's going on behind the scenes, and comments like that may actually lead to disordered eating or overtraining. Furthermore, even positive commentary can flip to feeling negative if an athlete suddenly hits a growth spurt and their body changes. They now have a basis for comparison about what their body 'should' look like based on your previous positive feedback.

2. What to Avoid when Talking about Eating and Food

It's important to understand that even a casual remark about food, such as 'No dessert until after Nationals' or 'You shouldn't eat that much pasta at dinner,' can create negative associations with food and have long-lasting negative repercussions for athletes.

"Remarks like that can send a message that certain foods are 'bad,' and that can lead athletes to have a negative relationship with food," says Streno. "Remember that every athlete will have different nutritional needs."

Unless you're a registered dietitian, refrain from offering nutrition advice to athletes. If you're concerned about an athlete's food intake, bring an expert in to speak to the team instead, suggests Streno.

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Athlete Health Parent TrueSport