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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Things Are…And Aren’t…What They Appear To Be

I posted these photos on Instagram because, as an athlete, I’m often around other people exercising, aiming for fitness or sport goals, or in a sports class. Our goals, our aesthetics, our abilities, and our priorities are all different and I make a HUGE point to remind people that comparison is never a helpful tactic. But when I say that, I don’t just mean comparison to other people – what they have or don’t have, how they look or don’t look. . .  – I also mean that we need to be gentle with ourselves

Our own mirrors, cameras, eyeballs (!). . .can tell very different stories simply based on angle and lighting. Hell, time of DAY can make a difference too – did you just have a huge glass of water? Have you eaten three meals already? Are you a woman dealing with cyclical change?

Sometimes people say very kind things, but they say them in a way as if to put themselves down… That makes me crazy. We all have room for improvement, but we also all have a lot to be proud of. When we see images of people in “perfect” shape it’s easy to be hard on ourselves – because I’ve grown up in sports (which I consider a great thing!) I also have the side effect of always wanting to achieve. To – absolutely – my own detriment sometimes!

What we ourselves (a highly visual species) post on social media generally portrays the happy, the fun, the good, the ideal “stuff”…but not as much the rough patches, the blemishes, the mistakes. As with everything, we all have our own reasons for that…and tons OF them. For some of us, we look to one another for inspiration and motivation. We also like to share funny and personal tidbits along the way – we are connected to friends, after all. But it’s important not to forget the human element, and that there is more to what we see.

Lately, I’ve gone easier – I was down and out with a cold, I’ve been struggling with a back problem…it’s just been harder to push myself to the limit. BUT…I’m doing okay. I’m healthy and have a LOT to be thankful for (I’m serious, I could write a monster gratitude list off the cuff.)

Being off my game doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a horrible person or I’m not still doing a good job! I make little jabs at myself (NOT nice and NOT a good habit, ps – I work on that every day) but I’m never going back to depriving myself. Fortunately when I was doing that, I didn’t think I looked well at all, and it was not the result of wanting to change my figure. Still, that unhealthy propensity is there and it takes daily reminders sometimes that my own EYES can deceive me…just like yours and everyone else’s can. 

Social media definitely doesn’t help that case so I think showing that appearances are easy to alter is a positive thing. It’s okay to post the good and happy and pulled-together…but just don’t forget that everyone has imperfections. Lighting and angles also play a big part – both for good and for not-so-good. We aren’t getting professionally airbrushed like celebrities in Vogue (well, maybe some are!) but there’s still room for focal shifts!

 

 

Vending Machine Update – Nutritional Stats and Calorie Counts

I’m not going to lie, I’m super happy about this…

Beginning May 5th, vending machines that are not currently posting calorie counts are going to have to display those numbers.  I’m not sure if the average person cares enough about the statistics, but perhaps it will encourage folks to be more mindful about their choices – for themselves, and their families.  A bag of M&Ms once in a blue moon won’t really hurt anyone.  But give that to your child any time you see a vending machine, and it’s going to be a serious problem.

According to Fda.gov, there are a few changes in play – for example, chain restaurants (20 or more locations nationwide) will also have to comply with posting caloric stats on their menus and menu boards.

Do I count calories?  Absolutely NOT.  Having been through two very severe eating disorders (anorexia and exercise bulimia), its dangerous territory for me to monitor myself on that micro level.  That said, I take note just enough to make healthy choices.  

After having scrutinized labels and stats to the hilt, I know probably more than I should! The benefit, though, is that I have a good sense of what an appropriate “bang for the buck” is, calorically speaking, with respect to my dietary needs.  I don’t base my needs on a number, but rather I feel out how I’m doing weight wise based on what I DO eat.  If I feel I’m seeing a little bit of weight stick to me, or my usual clothing isn’t fitting properly, I make sure I address it.  If I get too lean (that’s not really a problem), or I work out extra hard (that DOES happen!) I make sure to have more.  Typically I don’t fluctuate too much, but I also know that SOME fluctuation is totally normal – it may, in fact, just be water weight or water retention.  I’ve learned to go easy in that department and expect the tiny ups and downs, as we all should.

My personal nutritional choices are designed to maintain what I have – to fuel and support my muscle, to keep me healthy, and at a healthy – and MANAGEABLE – weight for myself.  The second we get unrealistic, that’s the second we lose the battle.

So having these statistics more available – and visible – when we need a snack in a pinch, is a wonderful thing.  I wouldn’t want to tally ad infinitum (personal choice, again based on my background) but I DO like to have a sense of the nutritional profiles of the vending machine selections – in this way I can make the best choices possible based on my goals.  Hopefully this will encourage others to choose cleaner options as well – the fuel we take it does make a difference, especially the kind we choose consistently. 

 

Updated Nutritional Labels

This article from Hungry Girl regarding updates to nutritional labels just came my way, and I actually saw the revamped format yesterday on hummus…with a much larger-than-normal, bold-faced font for the caloric numbers.

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I don’t count my calories, let me be clear – for me, that’s a surefire way to get into trouble.  Having had eating disorders once, I have the propensity to micromanage to the hilt when it comes to food.  Nowadays I take the much healthier approach of NOT counting or keeping track.  I DO, however, take note of the nutritional statistics – eating highly caloric foods, even healthy ones (think: avacado, nuts, salmon etc…) can add up on me quickly. So I appreciated being able to see the numbers more clearly without having to search.  

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The other cool thing about the change is that the serving sizes are being updated to a “more realistic” amount, AND the FULL amount (what’s in the package or container) will be listed. Portions can make a massive difference!

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The other major change will be that the added sugar will be more clear – sugar is bad news, period, and too much can cause a whole host of health problems you definitely don’t want. Yay for being able to seeing those details more vividly – the more educated we all can be, the more healthy also!

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.

 

The Gratitude In Overcoming Difficulty

I can be far too hard on myself at times.  It’s landed me in precarious and damaging situations, so much so that I am not only more aware of it – all this time later in Life! – but, despite slipping, I am also more willing to work hard to get to the root of it.  (I’m blessed to have the support in so doing also – that makes a world of difference.) Doing so, however, means being more vulnerable, but it’s a necessary part of growth and overcoming hardship – it takes (often uncomfortable) work to get to the other side!  

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I’ve come a long way, and weathered storms like most human beings (after the age of three!) and it’s important I remember that… It’s important for all of us to remember where we have been, what we have accomplished, and that we have more strength than we think – because it’s so easy to forget and beat ourselves up. 

It’s also important to remember that we are works in progress. Recovery is a journey – It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes you can sail through the day, and others requires a moment at a time. 

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What NEVER slips my mind, though, is how grateful I am.  No matter my flaws, my moods, my “humanness”…not a day goes by that I am unaware of how blessed I am to be healthy, and to be alive.  

I remember that time I fell down the stairs, and had trouble with my legs buckling every so often – my body was eating the muscle from the inside out and I could no longer support my weight at times. 

I remember waking up with eyes so swollen – one of many effects of hyponatremia – that I actually staggered back, not recognizing the stranger staring back at me.  I stared into a reflective abyss confused, terrified, and wholly unable to see myself.  What HAPPENED..?

I remember when getting coffee and adding something to it – even a drop of skim milk – felt like an impossible hurdle. 15 extra calories? Not then

So when someone offers a kind word – whether of support of my lifestyle or some result of it…or simply asks for health or fitness advice – I feel it profoundly.  At times I even want to cry because I am not only touched and honored, but I know what it’s like to NOT have health, to watch myself dying a slow and painful death. . .and what it took to get where I am today.  (I am, incidentally, choked up with tears even writing this now…all this time later.)

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To be active and fit is a gift I will NEVER take for granted. Not only in remembering my own experiences, but knowing those without the fortune to walk or speak or see. . .my eyes have been opened in a such a way that I cannot UNsee.

I am thankful to each and every person who takes the time to encourage, to ask for help, to offer a kind word – you motivate and inspire me just as much, if not more so.  I work incredibly hard at it, and try my best…but I fail plenty too.  

To know I’ve potentially lifted one other person – even if only temporarily – is an honor.  It reminds me that my suffering was not in vain, and that I can give so much more having known it.

With gratitude. . . 

 

Traveling Nutrition IV

I’m always amazed – and sincerely touched – by the support of social networks from like-minded but total strangers.  We all have different goals, needs, and circumstances…but it’s neat to see the general camaraderie surrounding the broader aim to stay healthy, and make good choices for ourselves.  I posted a few photos from a recent trip and was touched by how many folks even cared.

I’ve enumerated at length how utterly terrifying traveling used to be for me – the eating disorders that accompanied my PTSD made leaving my parents’ home, at the time, nigh impossible – forget getting in a car for hours, or – god forbid – getting on a plane.

I worried about what I would eat, if I could eat, who would be eating what types a foods around me. . . The prospect was enough to launch a generally debilitating panic attack, so to be able to travel at all now…and with some ease…is a gift I never take for granted.

What makes it a TON easier is to have the support of those closest to me – I’m not sure where I’d be without it, to be honest.

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The most recent – a rather last-minute – trip was to a car show out in California.  Long flight, several hours in the car on both sides, and lots of fast food (that my stomach couldn’t handle if I wanted it to!) When I travel I always pack a plethora of snacks, but in this case, I brought extra.

The great news beyond that, though, is that SO many places have options – they may not be main menu options, but they do exist, you need only ask. Yes, even on the plane!

Protein can be a little tricky to travel with but there are packaged options that don’t need a refrigerator, such as turkey and chicken jerky, nuts, and tuna, chicken, or salmon packs. I get a few looks sometimes but I feel my best when I eat as close to my “usual” as possible so it’s all good. 🙂 

Whole fruits like apples and freeze dried version are a sweet option to tote along, as are pre-portioned snacks like peanut butter crackers. When out to dinner, fish and chicken prepared as simply as possible are great choices, along with veggies to fill you up.  One of the restaurants had a “salsa” as cocktail sauce with their shrimp and I actually used it as a salad dressing because it was so good, and had very little in it (versus a heavier dressing whose ingredients I’d be unable to decipher.) 

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As for airports there are lots of options hiding out – turkey slices or chicken breasts are generally available where sandwiches are made, salads are always available, fruit cups are offered at coffee bars and meal establishments…even boiled eggs can be found in some places as well (sometimes they are even in pre-packaged salads too!) It may be a mix and match but you can definitely find options that work.

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So don’t lose heart if you have to be on the road or away from your usual meals at home.  It is definitely doable to eat clean and to be satisfied – a few snacks in your bag can help when cravings hit, and most of the time a restaurant is MORE than happy to prepare something more simple.  Don’t be afraid to ask!

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