Why eating too little now can lead to awful things later, like broken bones

Around here we’re fans of athletic rather aesthetic goals and values. (Wow. that’s an old post. Dec. 2012. We’ve been doing this for awhile now!)

And mostly it’s true that athletic goals are healthier. But not always.

The case in point: stress fractures and bone health. Two friends this month have broken bones in their feet. They didn’t break them doing anything particularly athletic. Both, in fact, broke bones in their feet on their stairs at home. Both misjudged the bottom step. They’re now out of commission until spring. No more skiing though they might be better in time for outdoor cycling.

Ouch. Argh. Ugh.

Women are at higher risk for stress fractures than men, athletic women more so. What’s the story with that?

From web md, http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/picture-of-the-feet#1. It's a picture of the bones in the feet, a sketched foot skeleton against a blue background with the bones labelled.

The issue isn’t necessarily the athletic thing you’re doing now. In some cases it’s how you ate and trained as a teen and twenty something athlete. And it’s hard to care then about bone health now. Young you cares more about making weight for lightweight rowing or about making weight for fighting sports. Or just plain and simple losing weight and looking good.

This isn’t a new subject around here. I’ve written before about keeping bones strong. Guests have blogged about it too. See Osteoporosis is a feminist issue. Usually that’s a pitch for including lots of weight lifting/strength training in your life. But it’s also a pitch to eat well, and to eat enough when you’re younger.

What’s the connection? It begins with something called the Female Athlete Triad. That’s when  an athlete experiences loss of menstrual cycle, disordered eating, and osteoporosis. You needn’t have stopped your periods to have an issue. Many people think they’re not at risk but they menstruated through their eating disordered phase. But not everybody who eats little enough to damage their bones experiences loss of their menstrual cycle.

See The silent female health crisis.

See  To Thrive, Many Young Female Athletes Need A Lot More Food.

See Every Runner Should Know About The Female Athlete Triad.

It appeared today in my newsfeed too.

See this piece in the Globe and Mail: How female athletes’ eating patterns can affect bone health:

The endlessly repetitive impacts of high-level training – running, jumping, pivoting, cutting – often make such injuries seem like an inevitable occupational hazard for athletes. But a new study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, published by researchers at Stanford University, offers an important reminder that training isn’t the only risk factor: Eating patterns, and the broader cluster of conditions known as the “female athlete triad” predict stress fracture risk in female athletes with devastating accuracy.

The study followed 239 female student athletes at Stanford University, using data from preparticipation health questionnaires and bone-density scans to classify each of them as having a low, moderate or high risk of suffering a “bone stress injury” – a category that includes the hairline bone cracks known as stress fractures as well as less-severe precursors called stress reactions.

The risk assessment was calculated with an algorithm developed by a group of international experts on the female athlete triad, including Jenna Gibbs of the University of Waterloo and Marion Olmsted of the University of Toronto, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2014.

The female athlete triad refers to the relationships between energy availability, menstrual function and bone mineral density. In athletes whose food intake doesn’t provide enough calories – after the demands of training are accounted for – to support necessary physiological needs, both menstrual function and bone health are compromised. The condition exists along a spectrum, and even mild problems in one of the areas may signal hidden or impending problems in the other two.

How common the problem is depends on who you ask. Endurance, aesthetic and weight-class sports tend to be particularly vulnerable because of the emphasis on low body weight. Studies have found that between a quarter and a third of elite female athletes in these sports have clinical eating disorders.

Go read the rest here.

Also, go back in time and give your younger self an apple and a sandwich. Take some young women out for pizza. And talk about bone health and why it matters.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

2 thoughts on “Why eating too little now can lead to awful things later, like broken bones

  1. fieldpoppy says:

    Enjoyed this while eating steelcut oats with banana, walnuts and blueberries. Happy monday.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. klyse3 says:

    This is huge. I was a teen athlete with disordered eating and an interrupted menstrual cycle, but no one ever warned me about bone health. The menstrual thing didn’t bother me, but I had a grandmother with severe bone problems, so knowing that I was putting myself at risk would have made a difference, I think.

    Thanks for reminding us. I’m gonna go find some teenagers to befriend…

    Liked by 1 person

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