Tennis Pro Monica Seles Talks about Binge-Eating
Monica Seles is the Yugoslav former tennis champion who won 9 Grand Slam competitions and 53 singles titles before her 2008 retirement. She is a celebrated athlete who is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1990, Seles became the youngest-ever French Open champion at the age of 16. She went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday and was the year-end World No. 1 in 1991 and 1992.
Seles also says that during her incredible sports career, she secretly struggled with an eating disorder that put her in serious danger. Seles says her eating disorder was “just uncontrollable” and has released a new public service announcement in conjunction with the Binge Eating Disorder Association and National Eating Disorders Association.
Part of her personal mission now is to educate people about the disorder of binge eating and inspire others to talk about it and seek help. She stated during a recent interview,
“It took a while until I felt comfortable talking about it. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do this campaign: to raise awareness that binge eating is a real medical condition.”
Seles, who is now 41 years old says that her binge eating began as a coping mechanism in response to various traumas, including:
- Pressures of her tennis career
- Her dad’s battle with prostate cancer
- Her recovery from being stabbed in 1993 on the court by an obsessive fan
All of which took a serious toll on the young woman during the peak of her popularity, all these factors fueled her eating disorder in the beginning.
At the time Seles was the top women’s player. She had been dominating the French Open 3 consecutive years, winning each time, along with both the US Open and Australian Open in consecutive years. This gained her a lot of attention, but not all of it was good.
On April 30 Seles was ahead 6–4, 4–3 in a quarterfinal match against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg. Günter Parche, an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf, ran from the middle of the crowd to the edge of the court during a break between games and stabbed Seles with a boning knife! The wound was 0.59 inches deep between her shoulder blades.
Although her physical injuries took only a few weeks to heal, Seles was obviously compromised by the ordeal, because she went on hiatus from competitive tennis for over 2 years. German authorities were quick to rule this out, describing her attacker as confused and possibly mentally disturbed. Parche was charged following the incident, but because he was found to be psychologically abnormal he was sentenced to 2 years’ probation and psychological treatment in lieu of jail time.
Changing the Game
Seles’s weight fluctuated as a result of her binge-eating junk foods. Binge eating is a serious condition typically described as uncontrollable eating large amounts in a short period of time. People with binge eating disorder frequently eat large amounts of food (beyond the point of feeling full) while feeling a loss of control over their eating. Often, these habits are a way of coping with depression, stress, or anxiety.
This is actually the most common eating disorder among U.S. adults. Binge-eating affects more people than anorexia and bulimia, but stigma exists with binge-eating and eating disorders much like it does with other addictions, compulsive behaviors or mental disorders. That and the lack of information can make it difficult for sufferers to receive diagnosis and treatment. Seles said,
“It was very hard to understand how on the tennis court, I would be so focused and so disciplined in my training, but when it came to binge eating I had zero control. I felt really embarrassed about it.”
The tennis champ describes her diagnosis as “a big relief” and says she is in active recovery and already noticing progress in her eating habits. Monica Seles is now the face of a new public service campaign about an eating disorder that affects an estimated 2.8 million Americans, and is proud to use her own experience and understanding of the fear and shame she felt to help others struggling.
Even athletes and people who are trained to be fit and healthy can fall victim to eating disorders, and sometimes it happens without them even realizing it. But there is a way to escape those eating habits, and there are people out there more than willing to help. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, substance abuse or another addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588