Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Underweight rock climbers face ban

As the ban/restriction of underweight models has taken place in several countries worldwide, in Austria, female endurance rock climbers will also not be immune. Recently reported in The Independent, the problem has become startling. The Austrian climbing federation will be implementing a ban of those rock climbers with a BMI less than 17 from competing beginning next year.

According to Jens Larssen, who runs 8a, the world ranking organization for rock climbing, "many female athletes choose to lose weight rather than build up muscle strength. It's such a successful formula that some of the best female athletes are as good as the best male climbers."

I think this is an interesting article which brings to light about the dangers of this sport. Although I remember hearing about it a long time ago, it's not something I automatically associate with eating disorders. Personally, I've never been rock climbing, but am actually quite fascinated with it. For me, it's about the climb more than anything else. It's one of the many things on my "to do" list someday.

I'm sure the average, recreational rock climber may not have issues with body weight, but it's when these athletes get into a competitive atmosphere where things can change. Carrie at ED Bites recently posted "a good thing gone wrong" in relation to an ultrarunner who had/has an eating disorder, asking the question whether her ultrarunning is just the ED in disguise or another manifestation of it.

In a recent study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine which looked at the Anthropometric characteristics in ultrarunners of finishers in the 2007 Western States Endurance Run (100 miles), it was reported that lower BMI values were associated with faster times. Of the top five finishers for women, their BMI averaged 19.8 which would be considered on the low end of the "normal" weight spectrum. I should note that the study did say that of the overall finishers the BMIs ranged variably from a classification of overweight to underweight.

I think in many sports there is still some mentality of "lighter= faster, stronger, better, higher." However, that's truly not the case. It may seem like that for awhile, but in the end, everything catches up with the person and lighter will equal slower and weaker.

How do we get it across to athletes and people alike that weight does not equate to success and achievement?


Sara, a rock climber girl said...

I came across your blog while looking for other twitter-ers who climb... It's interesting... there is definitely a strong awareness of weight (specifically, for those of us who try to live healthfully, strength-to-weight ratio) among rock climbers (men and women). I climb harder now, with better technique and more muscle than I did a year ago at a lighter weight. I certainly see a fair number of men and women in climbing circles (compared to the average population) who are just too thin; but there are also a lot of great examples of climbers who have very healthy bodies and still crank hard. I gave up on trying to stay at my lightest weight in favor of gaining muscle, increased energy through caloric intake, and improved technique, and my climbing just keeps getting better.

Good luck with your own recovery. I'd strongly encourage you to take climbing off your "to do" list and put it on the "done" list... with an ED background, taking up a sport with such an emphasis on strength-to-weight ratio may be risky, but on the other hand, it's an incredibly healing, self-esteem and self-confidence building activity. I love the strength and adventure I gain from being a climber, and have never in my life been this healthy and fit and happy... for inspiration, you can read about my adventures on my rock climbing blog at http://www.rockclimbergirl.com.

Tiptoe said...

Sara, thanks so much for commenting and sharing your views. I'm really glad to hear that you have taken the route to stay healthy and improve technique for your rock climbing success. You blog is great. I love the photos of all those mountains!

As for me, I still want to venture into rock climbing some day, though I know to be cautious as well. In some ways, I feel a natural pull into that type of arena, especially since I find being out in nature very inspirational.