7News Special Report: Thin to Win

WHDH-TV – 7News
April 26, 2016

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She could tell you where she won every medal.

“It’s a memory of the past, of what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished,” said Olympic hopeful Andrea Walkonen.

Walkonen has kept every prize, every publication, every picture of her legendary running career since it started back in middle school. WIth hopes of making it to the Olympics one day, the now 29-year-old New Hampshire native said her dreams were almost dashed.

“I think I was 93 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches my senior year of high going into college,” said Walkonen. She said she saw another athlete she admired eat and copied her by cutting out certain foods and exercising more and more.

“I was doing road races and I was getting really fast. My times were dropping like crazy and I was like, this is great, this is fantastic. And it started to spiral from there,” said Walkonen.

Her high school coaches stepped in and when she went to Boston University, on a full running scholarship, coaches there too told her she had to keep weight on or sit out.

“Not able to use the gym, or not being able to run with the team, it was tough,” said Walkonen.

Walkonen’s story is not uncommon. Experts say athletes are suffering from eating disorders at an alarming rate – two to three times more often than non-athletes. Many are girls and boys in high school trying to score athletic scholarships for college or college athletes trying to keep that scholarship money.

“There are so many things that are unique to the sport environment in terms of the pressures, the expectations, the pressure to perform, the pressure to win, scholarship dollars,” said registered dietician Paula Quatromoni.

Quatromoni said it is a growing problem and blames social media for promoting perfect body images, new performance supplements and diets marketed to athletes and coaches who worry more about numbers on a scale than nutritional information.

“Its not uncommon to get labeled ‘I’m in the chub club’ which means my body weight or body fat is not within range,” said Quatromoni.

Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham is leading the charge to prevent and treat eating disorders in athletes with a brand new program. There is only one other like it in the nation.

“The athlete isn’t necessarily looking at, I want to look good in a bikini this summer,” said Walkonen. “The thinking is that if I’m thinner, I’ll be faster.”

Walkonen is now seven years recovered but she will never forget the course she took to get to this finish line.

“Looking back at some of these pictures, I don’t know if I would ever want to look like that ever again,” said Walkonen.

Learn more about Walden Behavioral Care’s special program for athletes.