An open letter to high school sports coaches

Dear Coach,

Your words matter. Your actions matter. You matter.

You are the role model to dozens of teens each year. They remember what you tell them, how you speak to them and also what you do when you don’t even realize they’re watching.

Although you may not realize it, proper nutrition is an essential part of performing as an athlete. And I’m not talking about making sure your student athletes cut so called “junk food” out of their diet. I’m talking about making sure they are eating ENOUGH.

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) is common. All types of players, in all types of bodies experience it. It is not a “thin, white girl problem.” It can be anyone.

It looks like your student athlete who seems sluggish or weaker. It looks like your student athlete who no longer has her period. It looks like your student athlete who has frequent injuries, especially stress fractures. It looks like your student athlete who is more withdrawn, anxious or depressed. It looks like your student athlete who is always cold. It looks like your student athlete who exercises before or after practice or on rest days. It looks like the student athlete who is always speaking negatively about their body.

As a coach, you are on the front lines of prevention for RED-S. You have the respect of students at risk to say and do things that could push them towards or away this devastating disease.

Before your next season – or better yet your next practice – you should seek out professional advice from a sports dietitian and bring that – not advice from the internet or your own personal beliefs – to your athletes. You should never comment on an athletes body or encourage them to lose weight. You should promote body positivity and pride. You should not treat a student in recovery from RED-S any differently than you would a student with a torn ACL or concussion.

You’re under a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of responsibility, and I know that. That’s why you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out for help – to dietitians, therapists, doctors, sports psychologists, physical therapists, athletic trainers – and encourage your athletes to do the same.

Thank you,

A former high school athlete, RED-S survivor and Registered Dietitian specialized in eating disorders and sport (aka me! Julia Werth)

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