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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Healthy Is A Lifestyle

Healthy is  Lifestyle. Period.

I was feeling really bummed the other day – we ladies can be “puffy” without forewarning, and I was just having one of those days!  

Maybe it was too much salt, maybe it wasn’t enough water…  Maybe it’s just that I was beholden to the tides of being a woman!  I’m 37, so things have changed!

I was also “taking it easy,” and took extra days off from my HIIT cardio sprints to baby a shin splint, so I was admittedly playing the mental “I-haven’t-done-enough” game.

Whatever the case may have been, I wasn’t feeling great.  I’ve been through eating disorders in the past (not of my own volition, but from PTSD and the causes of it), so I know body dysmorphia intimately.  

Fortunately, I will never go back to that place – EVER – and I proactively make sure of it each day by exercising, taking a break if my body needs it, eating (more than!) enough…  But it is something you carry with you, and it is a proactive battle you face every day – whether you have been through a trauma or not, health is a daily effort.  Taking care of ourselves should always be a number one priority!

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Anyway…  There I was feeling like the Staypuft Marshmallow Man…

On my way to the treadmill, two ladies stopped me to ask about “being fit.”  What is my routine, what do I eat, how to I maintain it…? I was so touched, and frankly honoredit means a great deal to me to touch others, and to know that they might be inspired to do something wonderful for themselves because of the work I put in.  (Honestly, that is the biggest gift of all for me! ❤ ) 

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The way I put it…and the way I have always viewed it…is that being fit is a Lifestyle.  

It isn’t about a fab diet or exercise-of-the-moment.  

Being healthy is a consistent, daily practice of “little things” that keep us on track, and in a “maintenance phase” (as opposed to the well known trying-to-catch-up mode too many people face today.)

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Eating clean, exercising, being around those who support you, and taking time to care for YOU is a Lifestyle.  It is the combination of a whole ton of positives that add up to a happy and healthy whole.

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You may have days where you aren’t as “ON” – you lag through your workout, you eat something you aren’t pleased about later.  No big deal!  You don’t have to be superwoman or superman EVERY day – the idea is that you are taking steps to stay healthy…not run after it!

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Even if you don’t feel like it, hop on the bike for a few minutes.  Walk on the treadmill for 15…  Choose a healthy, balanced meal even though something is taunting you because it smells good (it usually smells better than it tastes!)  If you take the “whole” approach, things fall into place.  When you are consistent, blips aren’t going to derail you – you will already be in a really healthy place!

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For more pix of my fitness and fuel, here are links to my Facebook albums, and Instagram: