LIGHT is a powerful new documentary directed by Caroline Treadway exploring the little-discussed subject of eating disorders among professional climbers. Top US athletes Angie Payne, Emily Harrington, Andrea Szekely and Kai Lightner—and British climber Naomi Guy—share their experiences of struggling with eating disorders and the pressure they felt, and can still feel, to attain and maintain an ideal (light) weight and body shape for climbing.
The film addresses the culture of diet, training and calorie-counting fixation that has long been the elephant in the room in performance climbing; a gravity-defying sport in which performance is—inconveniently and often dangerously—heavily influenced by weight.
While eating disorders have historically been perceived as female illnesses, men are also susceptible. Around 1 in 3 people struggling with an eating disorder is male. At subclinical level, disordered eating behaviours are nearly as common among men as they are among women. In the film, Kai Lightner discusses the stigma surrounding male eating disorders, and it is revealed that Kai was the only male interview subject who felt able to talk about the subject for the documentary.
Feeling strong feels better than feeling light.
Although eating disorders and disorded eating in climbing are not limited to professionals, studies have shown that there is a 20% higher prevalence amongst athletes of all ages and abilities to develop a dysfunctional relationship with food and training. If left unchecked, eating insufficiently and in a disorded way, often while expending more energy than we take in, can disrupt the menstrual cycle, cause erectile dysfunction, reduce bone density and lead to multiple physiological and psychological issues. Ultimately, eating disorders can lead to organ failure and death.
RED-S —Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport—is emerging as a prevalent illness in various sports across all ability and participation levels. Check out the #TRAINBRAVE campaign and read our UKC articles below for more information on how the condition can develop and how to seek help.
RED-S paper - British Journal of Sports Medicine