Finding Hope


College athletes have an elevated risk of developing an eating disorder

Posted at 8:25 PM, Sep 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-13 18:28:40-04

BOISE — Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are all categorized as eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men across the U.S will suffer from an eating disorder at least once in their life. NEDA also shares that "over one-third of Division 1 female athletes report attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia."

Denise Matheson is a wife and mother and former basketball coach. She was also a basketball player for Boise State University. While competing for the Broncos, Denise developed an eating disorder. A comment made by a former coach triggered Denise's sudden quest to look thin.

"We're sitting there in her office, just her and I, and she just jokingly said, 'you know, you've really got a little extra junk in the trunk.' It hit me to the core because I thought that I was doing well. I gave all of myself, especially my first year, to what I thought was our program."

In her quest to "fit the mold," a mold made by her coach, Denise began restricting herself.

"If I ate something that I thought wasn't right or ate too much of something, running it off, biking it off or um, not eating the next day."

As her body began to change, so did people's opinions.

"I got praised when my body type changed the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. I was very much praised, which then just fueled the fire."

With her peers unknowingly supporting a negative behavior, Denise needed more to keep going.

"I restricted my diet, which of course restricted my energy level and so then I started taking caffeine pills."

The caffeine pills were only a temporary fix. Denise tells 6 On Your Side that one day when conditioning with her team she began to feel faint. She quickly ran off so her teammates and coach couldn't see what happened next. Denise passed out on a field and was taken to the hospital. "That was very much my rock bottom," says Matheson.

No one knew, and no one asked Denise about her eating disorder. After her hospitalization, she ended up leaving Boise State and took some much needed time off. Then, with a little encouragement from the College of Idaho's former basketball coach turned Athletic Director, Reagan Rossi, Denise not only went back to school, but she joined the basketball team.

Cynthia Mauzerall is the Director of Health and Wellness at the College of Idaho. While listening to Denise's interview she added, "I think as a society we have to kind of think about the words we use, even the word "healthy," you know, What does that mean? I think sometimes for athletes that means 'my weight's good and I'm not injured,' and I hope that we can start seeing that more as 'my relationships are good, my mental health is good--you know I'm fueling myself well um and I feel good.'"

Mauzerall sees more athletes visiting the Health and Wellness center on campus, but she finds, "like a lot of other addictions, it's very hard for people to talk about it and there's just so much shame."

As a former college athlete, Cynthia refers to her experience with eating disorders as an athlete to help struggling athletes. "I know as a professional it's not easy for me to talk about these things given my past, but I know that it gives other people permission to talk about it."

With a health and wellness center and athletic faculty ready to help an athlete in need, Rossi wants her athletes to know, above all, they are supported… "Swallow the pride a little bit and come say 'hey, I'm struggling with this. I need some help.' When they do that, we're all hands on deck."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating you can call the National Eating Disorders Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.