Monica Seles’ professional tennis career is one of the most compelling and well-known in the history of the sport. As a teenager, she took the women’s tennis world by storm, bursting into the scene when she won the 1990 French Open at age 16.
Over the next few years, from 1991 through early 1993, she won seven out of nine grand slam tournaments played, only failing to win Wimbledon, where she finished as the runner-up in 1992.
Having won eight grand slam tournaments before she turned 20, Seles is the winningest teenager in the history of the game. To put it into perspective, Serena Williams reached that number at age 25. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both won their eighth major after they turned 24, while Novak Djokovic did it last week aged 27.
It all came to a sudden stop on April 30, 1993.
On that date, the course of tennis history was forever altered when, while playing a quarterfinal match in Hamburg, a deranged fan stabbed her between her shoulder blades during a recess in the contest. Seles was immediately rushed to the hospital and healed completely after several weeks. She, however, took a hiatus of over two years from tennis after the incident.
Seles retired from tennis unofficially in 2003, after dropping her first round match at that year’s French Open. There is one battle, however, that she has been fighting on a daily basis since her young adulthood and probably will for the rest of her life: her fight against binge eating disorder.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to speak to Seles about her history in dealing with this little known eating disorder that affects many unsuspecting adults all over the world and her desire to raise awareness about it.
“I developed binge eating disorder in my early adulthood,” Seles said. “After suffering from several binge eating episodes, for example, when I won a big tennis tournament instead of wanting to go out and celebrate with my coach, trainers, and family, I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room and just binge eat.”
Binge Eating Disorder was recognized as a formal medical condition in 2013 and only a health care provider can diagnose it. It is the most common eating disorder among adults, yet most people that suffer from it, do not even know that they have it, given that is not very well-known.
It consists of, among other symptoms, eating large quantities of food in a short period of time. An important aspect to consider about this disorder is the impact it may have on one’s self-esteem. Most people that are diagnosed with binge eating disorder report a lack of control over how much they are eating and an inability to stop while in the middle of an episode. People who suffer from it tend to regret those binges immediately after they are over.
“For me as an athlete, it was just very hard to understand how I could be so in control and disciplined in the tennis court and in my training, yet when it came to eating, I would just binge eat,” Seles said. “When they finally diagnosed me with binge eating disorder, it was a huge relief off my shoulders. It had nothing to do with me not having willpower or being weak. I had a real medical condition.”
The amount of food that professional and college athletes need to eat on a daily basis in order to make up for the amount of calories that they burn during training and while in competition has never been a secret. Once their careers are done, they often struggle to switch back to normal eating habits, and deal with weight problems for the rest of their lives. That, however, was not the issue with Seles.
“Binge eating is an ongoing battle, whether you are competing or not competing,” Seles said. “Binge is eating a large amount of food in a very short period of time. It’s not about being hungry or not hungry. This is why it was so difficult for me to understand that I was so out of control with my eating.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Seles decided to participate in a public service announcement that was launched on Tuesday to raise awareness about the disorder that has been a part of her life for several years now.
“I want people to know that there is help out there and for them to contact their healthcare provider,” Seles said.
When asked if she felt that there is an important psychological aspect behind binge eating disorder, Seles agreed with that belief and supported it by going back to her own personal experience dealing with it, given that back then she could not understand what it was that she was going through and why.
More and more disorders get discovered each and every day, whether they are eating disorders, or of any other kind. Most if not all of them are related one way or another, to psychological aspects, whether fueled by events of one’s own pasts, or triggered by chemicals in the brain.
Research has not quite arrived yet at a definitive cause for binge eating disorder, but scientists suspect that a possible reason is family history. Another belief is that recovery from rigid eating habits may lead to an individual having binge eating disorder once they abandon those habits. Finally, another thought is that this disorder may be the result of environmental factors or a coping mechanism after a traumatic event in one’s life.
Regardless of its cause, binge eating disorder is a real issue in today’s world. Every person probably knows someone who suffers from this yet he or she may not know they have it because they do not know of its existence. That right there is Seles’ reasoning behind coming forward about her battle against this disorder.
Just like she was able to come back from the stabbing incident early on in her career to win her ninth grand slam tournament at the 1995 Australian Open, Seles has been able to dominate binge eating disorder ever since she went and sought help. Therefore, her goal now is to help other people like her, who deal with this disorder on a daily basis, so that they themselves can start healing and defeat this disorder.