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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A “Happy” Filter

There’s something about this “Bokehful” filter that imbues “happiness”… I mean, it’s like jumping in a pool of happy, bright-light bubbles…  (Which pretty much sums up how I feel about life!)

I was wearing my volunteer hoodie in this picture and that’s yet another aspect of living that feels so incredibly joyous and “right.” Sometimes we find passions later in the journey. . .

On the tougher days it’s especially important to find our “happy” filters – whatever they may be – because life isn’t  always so peachy (and neither are we. I’m sure not all the time!)

Maybe it’s a cup of coffee, a love note, or a listening to the laugh of someone we love. Maybe it’s a call to an old friend, listening to your favorite song, or curling up in the arms of your best friend. Whatever those “happy” things are, keep them on tap for the rainy days.

If you find yourself in short supply? Take a quick picture and slap on a slew of glowing bubbles. If nothing else, it’s worth a smile to see yourself surrounded in so colorful an effervescence. It lifts the mood just looking at it! (“What if I’m frowning,” you say? All the better! The juxtaposition of a frown face with all that bubbling brilliance ups the humor quotient –  laughing at the gloom is half the battle. DON’T underestimate simple tricks and tools!)

A bad-day band-aid? Maybe. But when you smile your brain actually begins to produce more of our “happiness” chemicals (hint: dopamine and serotonin?) so seriously…what’s the harm in that?

Um… N A D A !

Autism Humor – I’m Taking It With Me

I have the honor to volunteer with many children with autism and there are some things that just go with the territory (aside from the fact that I’m always smiling – they light me up every time! 🙂 )

Many of the children I have the joy to work with like to bring personal items along with them to play time (or wear something they love.) We typically don’t allow them to bring toys from home, heaven forbid something is lost in the shuffle – the organization I work with has a TON of toys for the children to play with, so outside items could easily disappear.

Still, when they really WANT to bring something (for example, little felt pieces in the shape of animals) chances are a mountain will be made into a molehill by not going with the flow. Trying to separate them from a comfortable “known” can be a lot more trouble than it’s worth and frankly, at the end of the day, there’s nothing at all wrong with that (particularly in a less frequented environment.)

We do, however, have to keep a sharp eye out so that they also go home with everything they brought along!

Without The Darkness, And Without The Storms…

Some days are good, many are great, and some feel insurmountably uphill. I really do try my best to see the world as “I’m thankful I have a glass” as opposed to “it’s half empty or half full,” because I actually do harbor that much gratitude – life is a gift on every level.

On the tough days, though, I give myself so hard a time it’s nigh unconscionable. While I have uncovered the part I had to play in some disastrous situations of the past, it is also important to remember that I didn’t deserve bad things…and neither was I the cause. It is important that we ALL remember that – we are nothing more than a bundle of experiences and lenses colored by those experiences. It isn’t always easy to step back – recovery takes a lifetime, not just a handful of years.

It’s also important to be gentle with ourselves for our shortcomings – many of which, I daresay, we are neither proud of nor want! Frankly, I’d love to not have some of the conditioned responses I have. As a person who knows I have a choice in everything surrounding ME (my attitude, my actions, my inactions, my REactions, my responses…) it frustrates me to the hilt that I am unable to “will away” the things I do that I can’t stand. That said, I’m also not less of a person because I struggle…and neither are you.

While I am acutely aware that without a “yang” there is no “yin,” I sometimes need a reminder. A friend today gave me one such virtual hug… Without the storms and darkness, we aren’t able to have or appreciate the calm or the light in life. I really believe that both are necessary, and that product of both is a life that is collectively more (far more!) beautiful than it is not. . .


“Progress, not perfection” as it goes… I don’t have a right to judge myself or anyone else – I know deep down that I try to be better each day, and I know (in advance) that I won’t always be able to make that mark. In spite of human flaws and fragility, I see so much good in the world. Through the words and support of others, I also have the comfort of knowing I am not alone, and that the personal difficulties I have weathered in my own life (or how I have been affected and altered by those experiences) are also not so strange and unusual. In fact, far from it…

Some days I need a spiritual hug. Others, I require room to breathe… Overall, though, patience, positivity, and understanding are always welcome, and I’m thankful to have that in my life. What a joy to know that the journey is one we never have to make alone, and that the darkness will always give way to light.

Inspire Others

This has always been one of my goals in life – honestly, since I can remember. I can’t say that I’ve always done the best job, and I know that I fall short at times… But there is nothing that gives me greater joy than contributing positively to someone’s life. My father calls me the “cheerer-upper,” which I desperately hoped I lived up to through the years (and I continue to strive for it!) But even more than that, I take such “designations” to heart – when someone says I inspire them to do something good for themselves, it’s like my heart wants to burst out of my chest.

It is a pursuit that will last all my years, and one that teaches me as I go… But I’ll never lose sight of it because I know what it’s like to be in the darkness with nary a spark to light the way. I  know what it’s like to face our deepest fears alone, and I don’t wish that for anybody.

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Introvert Humor – Anxiety

Anxiety will run away with your reason if you let it…

Sometimes the best idea is to take a deep breath and return to the present moment (the only thing – let’s be totally clear – that we the power to do anything about.)

 

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When The Day Is Done, Let It Go. . .And Let Magic Do Its Thing

This is so…SO…much easier said than done.  But it is – no exaggeration – a key to healthy living.

Me? I’m still working on this nearly 40 years in!

The “could”s and “should”s we impose on ourselves are incredibly damaging, and often the source of a great deal of stress. The other day someone said to me “if only…” and recited a beautiful and perfect scenario (pitted, by the way, against a reality that didn’t turn out exactly that way.)

But my response wasn’t to agree – instead I said, I believe I am where I am meant to be and that things have happened in this way, with this timing, for a very specific reason. Often in the moment I wonder only to find out down the road that everything fell perfectly into place at the ‘right’ time. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I guess that means I’m leaning on a whole lot of faith, the belief that magic and miracles exist, and that the Universe does deliver. Now that may feel a lot more “unrealistic” to the naysayer, and definitely to those who land themselves with the “realists.”

No problem! You’re entitled to that view but I – having seen the supernal realm divine a few spells that altered the course of my own life (in very happy ways) – am going to keep airing on the positive side. I also ascribe to the idea that I will attract what I put out – as the kind of person I am, I need to watch this on a regular basis, and shield myself as much as I can from the negative “stuff” floating in the ether. 

My skating coach gave me a card when I was just a teenager and it had a picture of someone watching puzzle pieces float down from the sky. . . When he stepped back, he realized he was standing on a vast puzzle beneath him, and everything was fitting perfectly. The card read, “sooner or later, everything falls into place,” and I never forgot it. 

I trust in the timing of the Universe because is hope is always an option. The sun rises without fail, whether we see it or we don’t. I therefore believe even in what I cannot see. . .and when you get down to it, that’s where the magic begins. . .