Will We Always Judge Professional Athletes for Changes in Body Weight?

August 30, 2020

As the summer months come to a close, the pandemic continues to highlight the divide between privileged and underprivileged communities. This socioeconomic partition yields unequal access to the social determinants of health, conditions that promote healthy living. Economic disadvantage often results in food instability and limited access to healthy foods. Without proper nutrition, it is difficult to maintain ideal body weight.

For some, a lack of mental health resources can also present an obstacle to establishing healthy routines with food. Athletes frequently suffer from mental health struggles that lead to disordered eating. In addition, food security does not guarantee a healthy eating plan. In fact, elite athletes are often intensely focused on diet and exercise and thus are very susceptible to disordered eating patterns. These athletes are subject to both internal and external pressures to maintain the ideal body conditions traditionally correlated with peak performance in sport.

The past six months have interrupted plans and disrupted routines of professional athletes as well as the greater population. Madison Keys, who achieved a career high ranking of world number 7 in 2016, has been open about her mental health struggles since revealing her journey with disordered eating on Behind The Racquet last year. Keys was recently featured in The New York Times as she spoke about her strategy to maintain a balanced diet and healthy outlook during quarantine.

Viewers, including myself, are quick to notice physical changes among top players, especially fluctuations in body weight. Judgements are often assigned to athletes as weight loss is praised as a representation of self-control while weight gain is assumed to be a lapse in discipline. However, looks can be deceiving as bodies that appear ‘normal’ may in fact conceal disordered eating. In this way, unhealthy eating patterns often go unnoticed. Achieving a healthy body weight is a personal pursuit yet commentary on physical appearance continues to plague society.

I am left to consider…

Will we always judge professional athletes for changes in body weight?


  1. Physical changes help viewers like myself better relate to the struggles athletes face in their quest to be successful in the sport of tennis. I can only imagine how an athlete’s diet is impacted by travel, stress, weather, money, scheduled match/practice time, or availability of foods in foreign countries. Therefore, when I see changes in a tennis player’s physical appearance I try to understand what variables (controlled or uncontrolled) may have influenced their appearance and the difficulties of being in the public eye.

    - August 30, 2020 by Dennis
  2. This is a fascinating topic, and my best tennis-savoring buddy and I were just talking about this yesterday. Cultural conditioning and expectations can be literally sickening. I’m grateful Madison Keys AND Noah are so very honest about their internal experiences. *That* is the next generation I want to see and hear in tennis. Not that any professional athlete owes anyone their internal experience….we are not entitled to their truth, but it is quite generous when they choose to share it.

    I hate knowing the cultural and just basic racism Taylor Townsend has faced in her career so far, especially when it comes to stature. Just as an example that still stings and frustrates me. (Not that I was the most injured by that injustice in any way!!)

    In my own journey with weight, I play tennis recreationally. It means the world to me. I want to optimize it as much as I can. The physical conditioning is important AND YET if I am starving myself to try and attain a smaller weight so I *look* more like a “real” player, there isn’t enough gas in the tank and I also get more mentally unstable. It’s all quite a balancing act. Because, yes, if I’m upweight there may be something I’m avoiding feeling in my life. But I don’t know that just by looking at someone on the outside.

    I’ve had some experience with eating disorder recovery and one can never ever truly tell why someone’s weight may be “normal” or not. I’ve known tiny people who binge their brains out every day. I’ve known larger-framed people who eat well and love themselves and it’s just the way their body is.

    And, guys, honestly, I love love love BTR podcast…and I absolutely cringe when Mike gets teased about his weight. I know, boys will be boys, locker room talk, blah blah blah. But you’ve stepped into leadership and it seemed worth saying here while we’re talking about weight stuff.

    Thank you so much for the podcast, the blog, the honesty, and for sharing from the bubble with those of us who would LOVE to be there!!

    - September 4, 2020 by bethctennis
  3. Wow. Interesting topics! The food issue is tough I think especially for athletes. If anyone in society should be in perfect form it’s an athlete, right? Lots of pressure. It’s a courageous thing to talk about it! Good job 👏

    - September 23, 2020 by Merpot
  4. Body type… NO!
    Way too many athletes I’ve known have had eating disorders! I’m not sure what the answer is ….but I know for sure, body shaming isn’t one of them!

    - September 23, 2020 by Freshy
  5. Very difficult for women to compete at high levels if they are seen as “unfit”. This creates huge pressure to look a certain way/type etc. this is simply too much pressure to be placed on young athletes. I hope this will change.

    - September 24, 2020 by Tom
  6. Having an understanding of internal and external factors will provide cause and effect analysis to why a player’s weight may change. Manipulation can have a major impact if a player is unaware of short or long term affects.

    - July 4, 2022 by LDAY1

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