On Eating Disorders And Being An Athlete In The Midst…

I appreciated receiving this article, written by Karen Crouse, which speaks to a very real problem in sports. It is also – I should point out – scarcely relegated to figure skating (the topic of the article) and related performing or aesthetic sports such as dancing, bodybuilding, and the like.  Rather, it has a much broader (and frankly insidious) grip on athletes around the globe. 

Eating disorders were something I grew up knowing plenty about – I was classically trained in ballet for over ten years, competitively figure skated for about sixteen years, and danced competitively in International Latin and American Smooth ballroom for seven years. In those arenas, thin is ALWAYS in.

Yikes.

Can weight make a difference in performance? Yes, absolutely. When it comes to one’s joints, or one’s ability to do the particularly acrobatic and athletic jumps and spins, it’s important we are at a weight healthy for our frame. Figure skating, for one, is a high impact sport and that takes a toll even on a healthy body. When we are unhealthy, those negative side effects can be multiplied many fold. However, a lot of it – a sometimes far heftier percentage – is about the “look.” And, when it becomes about our appearance, things can go downhill very quickly…

It isn’t only that I, like many athletes, was “young and impressionable” at the time – top athletes generally ARE on the younger side (remember that part about impact on the body?) Athletes begin training early, so there is certainly danger in implanting these injurious notions early on.

What is also a real issue, however, is that a focus on a person’s “weight” can suddenly have bearing on whether or not you are even “considered” for a winning position – that will change your tune pretty quick if you have goals of any kind. (Deny politics play a role in results? You’re kidding yourself!)

In ballroom, for example, if you aren’t groomed properly, you simply aren’t taken seriously. Period. It’s as easy as that. I’m not putting it down, I was in it…and LOVED it. But it was a horrible hassle, and I knew I didn’t really have a choice. Before a competition I needed to be:

  • Spray tanned…TWICE (because my pale skin wasn’t in)
  • Have my nails done (as in, they needed to be long and noticeable)
  • Have my hair professionally done every time I competed (multiple days, means days of hair-doing)
  • Professional makeup (fortunately I did this myself, but then half my suitcase was makeup I had to lug)
  • Make sure I was as fit as could be (wearing next to nothing / very revealing costumes…yes, people would notice if you gained a little extra. And they wouldn’t be shy about mentioning it)

Those things were prerequisites.  Then you added to that judge preferences like wearing tan fishnets or stockings (okay, no big deal, that helped “pull me in” a little so I stayed slim in that tiny costume…) But it was rough because if you didn’t take those “suggestions” you often were out of the running…before you even took the floor. No, I’m not kidding. Figure skating was a little less harsh on that front, but the pressure to “lose a little” was definitely an undercurrent.

I remember going to skating camp at Simsbury’s International Skating Center of Connecticut. I was in my mid to later teens (definitely the mesomorph of the group!) and I recall – very clearly – the younger skaters being worried about gaining weight. They wouldn’t eat ice cream, they would ask for coffee (at that age?!) with skim milk… They wouldn’t have chips…. Even back at our dorms, some would skip breakfast because they didn’t want to have too much (more Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams for me?)

Let me be clear, I am ALL about healthy, clean eating – it’s not about how I look so much as how it makes my body feel. My body is a “finely-tuned machine,” according to my doc, and it tells me what it needs. But when you are FIGURE SKATING…for HOURS A DAY…you burn more than a Clydesdale! I mean, it was craziness!!! These kids were WAY too young to worry about weight, not a single one had any inkling of a problem (which could impact joints, as athletic as skating can be), and they couldn’t enjoy themselves as a result – it was heartbreaking!

Now a days, the pressures are – apparently – still there. It was eye-opening to read that Brian Boitano (an idol I watched win his gold when I was ten years-old) was very much subjected to this, and wasn’t actually at peak performance (very likely) at that time. Hard to believe if you saw those jumps! It’s also saddening to hear that Adam Rippon has struggled with this as well. I love that they are open about it because eating disorders carry a lot of shame with them – speaking up and making it known that we are not alone can be enough to save someone afflicted from a life of suffering.

My disorders – Anorexia and Exercise Bulimia / Anorexia Athetica – were a result of something very different, but they nearly devoured me whole too. I thankfully managed to cruise through my sports both unscathed and unapologetically…but I was acutely aware of the oft-unspoken-about illnesses in the background. Having suffered through it later, knowing full well how damaging and dangerous such sickness can be, was testament to how powerful these diseases are… 

For many of athletes, body image is tightly wound around performance. . .which is tightly bound to our identities. Sometimes – to add fuel to the fire – that can be perpetuated by the people we look up to or rely on in the sport, as well as tied to our future success.

It’s a struggle to see the “good” sometimes – to see how strong we are, how well we are doing… It’s even harder to recognize…and then ADMIT…when we aren’t fueling ourselves the way we need to. I recently took back to the ice (on a VERY minor scale) but I’ll tell you…my legs are different. I can see it, I can feel it, and my body is asking for more carbohydrates and food. And…that’s what I give it if I need to. But like Adam Rippon, the mind will make a point to call out that we are doing something different – It’s like an internal guilt trip from the Ghost of Athletics Past!

Eating disorders are terrifying – like other addictive illnesses, they have the power to completely derail us, if not end our lives completely. While I refrain from “talking politics,” and don’t much care for celebrities shouting out their messages at the top of their lungs…there is some benefit in this particular arena. It is important to be honest and open because eating disorders are often highly isolating – we begin to decay on our own, and keep everyone at a distance while we whither away. The knowledge that we aren’t alone in our struggles it might help others find the strength and courage to seek treatment – one life saved is one life saved!

Truth be told, having had no one to look to during my own…? I would have LOVED to have this kind of hope to grab onto… 

 

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Article Share – How a Healthy-Food Obsession Can Eventually Turn Into an Eating Disorder by YourTango

This article came my way recently, via a general feed of Bloglovin’ posts – it of course caught my attention, as I myself battled eating disorders, once upon a time. 

“How a Healthy-Food Obsession Can Eventually Turn Into an Eating Disorder” by YourTango discusses how endeavoring to be a healthy person – a noble, and in fact common pursuit – led to an incredibly unhealthy way of life. It happens far more often than I’d say the broader public knows…or openly talks about.

Despite having a different catalyst, I know that scenario all too well.  There’s a massive control component to such an illness, not unlike any other addictive disorder.  As I’ve maintained, and always will, the only thing that separated me from an alcoholic or drug addict, was simply the poison with which I chose to destroy myself.  None of us are better, none of us worse…but all of us need(ed) help to see that we do / did not have the control we believe(d).

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The reality of our situation at that time is one we will find a million ways to justify.  We ignore the signs glaring us in the face, we allow our vision to be clouded by the perceptions we want to have (“I have control of this”…sound familiar?), and we try rather desperately to convince ourselves of truths we know – deep down – to be false. 

It’s terrifying…and it can be our end if we allow to be.

Even more frightening is that while human beings have always been a visual species (eg: I see a massive, tusked animal charging at me, I need to run for safety) there has never been MORE pressure than the present.  And I mean that in an unfortunately negative way.  

Social Media has brought with it several new layers of “I have to be perfect”...or at least present myself that way.  Some people bravely portray the “real” stuff…the nitty, gritty imperfections of life, of our bodies, etc.  But the overwhelming bulk of it is a filtered, seemingly flawless facade, leaving not only the more vulnerable of the crowd questioning themselves and how they appear…but even the stronger and more secure individuals.  Even when a post is meant to be happy, supportive, motivational…there are bruises, bumps, and failures beneath the surface.  Ones we may never see.

When I saw the quotation above about loving your size I thought “that’s a huge part of it…”  If you don’t love yourself the way you are, you aren’t necessarily going to love yourself MORE when you eat less, get high, get drunk, get more money, get a new job ect. . .  

Sometimes you actually feel worse, leading to more abusing of the self.  In my own case, and many I know, there are layers of insecurities, breakdowns in self confidence, frustrations with things we are not capable of controlling.  Any number of internal battles could lead to seeking external sources capable of dulling the pain, and allowing us to avoid facing ourselves fully.  But, at the end of the day, being plagued with a deep-rooted turmoil is often a common thread.  

Sometimes those struggles last after the worst of the storm has past.  It never is about being recovered so much as we are all still IN recovery.  We still have to take each day one at a time, and be open to where we need some work and help.  We have to increase our awareness so we know when we stumble. . .  And we need to seek a courageous path so we can take ALL the steps we need to get better.

Yes, we SHOULD love ourselves. But we don’t’ have to beat ourselves up if we don’t every second of the day – self-love is hammered home so much that this message gets lost a lot of the time.  Beating yourself up for being hard on yourself is adding more judgment and hurt on top of what you already have. You’re human.  Trying to will reality away, or pretending, isn’t the answer. It’s about learning to observe and be more gentle with ourselves – re-wiring a habit takes time and overnight expectations will derail someone very quickly.

In order for real and lasting change we must recognize that we are out of control.  Of our thoughts, in this case, in particular – thoughts lead to actions, right?  When we observe negative thought patterns, and allow ourselves to see without judgment…we are on the way to healing.  I personally work on this daily – and sometimes it feels like a massive struggle. I’ll hear myself say something, or catch a negative thought… Rather than try to squash it, I notice it, I hear it, I feel it, and then I either reframe it, or replace it with something positive. It hasn’t necessarily stopped the pattern fully, but it’s a step in the right direction. Another saving grace for me is having a husband who is good about pointing out when I’m putting myself down – I need that reminder. I need to be called on the behavior. Even if I don’t believe the jab I’ve aimed at myself…I spoke it.  And the Universe hears EVERYTHING.

We also need to accept and allow that help is OKAY.  Uncovering the true reasons as to why we are “self medicating,” seeking a “better looking / skinner” version of ourselves, spewing negative things to ourselves about ourselves…is necessary for growth and “re-wiring.”  Having a professional to guide us through that process of discovery is a massive help – there are countless variations and modalities available, ensuring that no matter what works best for you, you are sure to find something.  

Getting back to the specifics of the quotation above… Health is important, and looking great helps us feel more confident – it’s both mind and body at work, and really can’t be contested.  Having the goal to lose weight, for example, and with it gain more energy, better health, more confidence…that’s GREAT.  It’s a wonderful goal, and no one should feel badly about it. What one must understand, however, is that no one thing is responsible for our happiness.  No ONE thing is the magic ingredient that “if I just had it, life would be perfect.”  That doesn’t exist. 

We are ALL flawed.  But that’s okay.  You are also incredibly beautiful, inside and out, with amazing things to offer both yourself and fellow human beings.  Getting to a place of MORE self-love and appreciation is at the root of true happiness. . .it is not about whether you fit into your clothing with with less “snug.”

Having been through my own issues with dying-of-starvation and malnutrition – a very slow and painful death at that – the quote really hit home.  I was on the opposite side of it, at a meager 90-something pounds. . .and it was horrifying.  While I have many areas in which to continue my learning and growth, I know that I have come leagues from that dark, dark place.  

I know that there are days when I do not appear – to MYSELF (and I’m pretty sure ONLY myself!) – as “in shape” as I want to be.  But in my recovery I’ve learned that fluctuation is normal, and healthy…and that beauty isn’t relegated to those “last few pounds,” or being more “defined.” 

It’s OKAY to be human, which means it’s ALSO okay to be imperfect.  In that imperfection lies a good deal of your beauty.  Remind yourself of that…and remind yourself OFTEN.

 

Recovery, Support and 12-Step Groups

As always…a great article from 88RecoveryHubBlog – a wonderful resource for anyone struggling with addictive behaviors, or in need of recovery support.  LOVE this blog.

Let me clear up some confusion.  There are various names for similar recovery organizations. You might hear “self-help group” “support group” “12-step” or even &…

Source: Recovery, Support and 12-Step Groups

Martial Arts “Dork” Debacle

Actually, I’m not sure if I’m a dork, a nerd...or something else?  I vaguely recall a contemplative conversation I had with my uncle discussing the nuances of geekery and nerddom, etc.  (We felt he was solidly in “geek” territory himself, though my designation wasn’t wholly clear.)

I’ve discovered that there’s an alarming number of charts, graphs, even venn diagrams to explain the key differences – in combination with countless online quizzes, it sounds like my uncle and I were onto a still ambiguously-answered topic.

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I’m mulling over the below, as one example, wondering whether there is a happy ground anywhere…or at least one less, er, pejorative and vehement than “psychopath”?  Maybe I’m in Martial Arts Geekland?

Geek

ORANGE…

  • Obsessed is a possibility… I have an ardent passion for Martial Arts – one which, I daresay, teeters on the verge of “obsession.”  Not partial.  Full-fledged.
  • I’m also a “workaholic” and “fanatic”…when it comes to sports, career, school…I work incredibly hard, and care about results. Strike-true, chart!  As I always say, however, there is a fine line between dedication and stupidity!  Sometimes those of us with this level of zeal – nigh insatiable at times – push a little too hard.  So while it’s off-putting to see some negatively-leaning attributes in that orangey-pink sphere, they might be fair to say.  
  • Anxiety I struggle with sometimes, but not so much with my Martial Arts – my practice is very much my sanity, and a place where I am very happy to be.  Because anxiety runs in my family, calming and centering activities are a must.
  • Mad Scientist gives me visions of Dr. Finklestien.  Science fascinates me.  I love the intellectual humor.  I was elated over a microscope that I got for Christmas when I was a kid… But I don’t tend to do any experiments these days.  No bunsen burners, no haphazardly put-together, resurrected beasts.  Just kicks, punches, sparring, chokes… I’m straightforward.
  • Nerd.  Therein lies my question… Am I?  Am I NOT?!
  • Dork.  Maybe yes, maybe no.

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BLUE

  • Emotionally unstable? Not in the certifiable way! Emotional?  Absolutely.  Many Martial Artists I know are able to handle stressful situations, but we are human at the end of the day, so emotions are underlying all we do – they are the reason we have the drive to do what we do at all.  We have fire in our souls, eagerness in our bodies, and love in our hearts.  I’ve seen anger too, no question, but rarely. Though I am an ESP (Extra Sensitive Person / Empath) I have gotten more grounded though my practices – I am still very sensitive, but I don’t agressively fly off the handle like I once used to.  I do shut down sometimes (not proud of that) but I’m working on it! Always room to grow and improve!
  • Crazy?  Well…I love vampires, sparkles, and kicking things, so I think I qualify somewhere in there, all the way out in the blue zone!
  • Irrational doesn’t really apply for me.  My old boss once said “you are so responsible, I feel bad for you.”  I know, I had the same “I’m sorry, what?” reaction.  I can be a wild card, but I’m not careless or unsound by any stretch.  Opponents often are, but we can’t afford to be.
  • Psychopath.  No, can’t say that I am.  (Not to say a person bearing said diagnosis is going to totally admit it, but I can safely say I’m not in the psychopathic sector!  Been with too many NPD-afflicted individuals (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and sociopaths so…let’s just say I’ve done my research!)

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YELLOW

  • Socially Inept.  MAJOR nope.  I’m a Gemini – most of the planet thinks I’m a social butterfly.  I can talk to anyone, and am often approached by people who spill a ton of personal information, but as an Empath, I’m more like the elusive butterfly.  I adapt easily so social situations are a breeze. Most Martial Artists I know are warm and very socially capable.  We also know when to shut our traps at the Dojang / Dojo / Academy.
  • Clueless?!  I LOVE to learn, and I believe awareness physically, emotionally, and spiritually is vital.  So this is a big no.  Martial Artists must be aware of his or her surroundings – it’s part of our training, and it is engrained.  I don’t know a single one who is clueless.
  • Sociopath, see Psychopath above!
  • I looked up Dweeb and found “a boring, studious, or socially inept person.”  Ouch.  Well, I’m not at all boring, but I get bored in two seconds.  I’m studious with my sports, but as above, not inept.  1 of 3?

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GREEN

  • Intelligent.  I like to think so! 😀
  • Inventor.  In some ways (in figure skating, in dance, and in Fashion…)  But in the traditional, more mechanical sense?  Not so much. 

Now…There are six designations in each of these circles, so if I was being mathematical about all this:

  • Orange – At least 3 of 6
  • Blue – 1, possibly 2 of 6
  • Yellow – 1, possibly 2 (Nerd / Dork conundrum) of 6
  • Green – 2, possibly 3 of 6

This didn’t solve my problem.

😁

I looked up Dork and Nerd to see which made more sense…but the definitions feel kind of boorish.  Given that Dork falls in the orange, and that’s where I mostly am… I think I’m more Dork than Nerd, which falls (evidently) under the larger umbrella of the almighty “GEEK.”  

So for the sake of ending this novel*… I’m a Geeork.  It sounds kind of Star Wars, doesn’t it!? 😉 

*Nerd is a close contender.  Close to a tie.  So if you call me a Neek, I won’t be offended. 🙂

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Freedom To Make Healthy Choices

My hunnie and I went out the other day for lunch, which is something at one time in my Life I could not do.  As a result of PTSD I developed two severe eating disorders about a decade ago – anorexia and exercise bulimia.  The prospect of eating away from home was not only daunting, it was debilitating – it would trigger panic attacks, tears, and crippling anxiety.  

Fast forward ten years, through treatment, learning, growing…and the will to survive…I am able to be “human” again. I am incredibly specific about what I eat – in part it is just the nutrition I choose to have as part of my Lifestyle.  And in part it is due to allergies…so I feel less badly about that part! *LOL*  But I am not bound to fear in such a way that I can’t go out for coffee, or dinner, or take a road trip.  The ability to do those things is a HUGE deal when you know what it’s like to be beholden to disease.  At that time, it was seemingly impossible.

When I go out, I will always ask for what I want – I’m not embarrassed to do that anymore either, nor to eat with another person around.  And honestly, as I have mentioned in other posts, I am always met with the sincere desire to give me what I want.  Not every restaurant will have something simple, but it doesn’t hurt to ask…and no one is offended if you do!

We went to a casual restaurant, known for its shellfish and seafood – yay for me! 🙂  But I was in the mood for some dimple protein and, fortunately, they had exactly what I was hoping for!

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What I really loved about what they brought me was the portion – oftentimes I notice places either go way too heavy-handed, or on the skimpy side…the latter situation being the one I’m less fond of (who isn’t!?) But I do prefer that they go easy, so that I am not encouraged to stuff myself beyond what I really need at that time – overeating is really easy to do because you are paying for that food…and there it is, right?!

Right!  

So I LOVED that they portioned the food so well – it wasn’t too much, and it wasn’t too little.  I really enjoyed it, and felt great about the choices. It’s a gift to be free of the anxieties that can plague someone struggling with body dysmorphia or EDs – it isn’t easy to fully understand without having been there, but so many illnesses are similar in the addictive behaviors they are rooted in.  Breaking that cycle and finding a way to honor and respect yourself and your experiences is so important.  Giving yourself the gift of freedom is like giving yourself a new Life – you can take baby steps if you need to, but don’t be afraid to ask for what makes you comfortable, or stays in tune with your goals – you ARE allowed.