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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Better Than My Solitude

This quotation jumped out at me when I saw it posted in the ether some time ago… It rings so very true for me.  I couldn’t say whether it is a result of an empathic heart, INFJ tendencies, or the heavily-leaning introverted side of a potentially ambiverted personality. . .

My solitude is my sanity, and there are times when I must shut out all but what my body does involuntarily – my beating heart, and a chest which rises and falls like the tides, my sole companions.

For a long, long time, the thought of anyone in my space bordered on “terrifying.”  It was not specifically a fear of loss, whether to freedom, or privacy, or presence…but more that my soul needed the expanse in which to re-calibrate and recharge.  It felt almost like an affront to my very essence to have someone impede spatially in my life – as if I had no sanctuary my own.

I’m still a lot like a lone wolf, but there is one person with whom I am blessed beyond rhyme and reason to have in my life.  And he…he won me over so much so that his presence challenged my comfort zone…and single-handedly defeated it.

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Holiday 2016 – Lime Crime Diamond Crushers

Wait…WHaAaaAT!?  Where were THESE when I was competitively Ballroom Dancing, dang it?!  

These are the PERFECT, iridescent light catchers (and I’m highly irritated that they’ve come out now…several years too late!)  The names are as sassy as the shades, and I love that they (along with many other companies) are following suit of such brands as Colour Pop and showing swatches on a variety of skin tones.  *LOVE*

Trip

STRIP

FLUKE. . .

I can’t well wear them to the dojo (lest my partner’s gi light up like a Christmas ball) but…I hope other people indulge in the high-wattage glow! 

The Diamond Crushers are meant to layer over lip color, but I’m sure you could use them on your own.  You could also very likely get creative (because…why not?) and use them to reflect light to / from other areas.  Eye gloss, anyone?  

Jiu-Jitsu Humor

I saw this shirt at a recent Jiu-Jitsu competition and was giggling like a fool…

“Nighty night!!!”

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I’m pretty sure there was also one with Cookie Monster choking Oscar – not good for the kids! – but I can’t seem to find a photo!

Sportsmanship Starts Day 1

I had the fortune to attend a Jiu-Jitsu tournament the other day which spanned a wide age group, from young children to adults. Having been a competitive athlete for at least half of my Life, I was taken by the alarming amount of tears I was seeing!  Certainly Jiu-Jitsu is a rough and tumble sport – we aim for submissions, which involve putting our opponents in less-than-comfortable positions.  The goal isn’t to break arms, but you walk such a line by default much of the time.  

I didn’t feel like the majority of the tears were from pain (THANKFULLY!)  With the little kids I was worried about that – I know my Italian mother would never have permitted Martial Arts competition for me early on, lest she hop on the mat and defend her child!  (It’s one of those “she doesn’t know Jiu-Jitsu, but she doesn’t need it” kind of things…) 😉

There were some “I’m-ehausted-is-this-over-yet” tears… There were overwhelmed tears from children trying to hear the impassioned shouts and directions from the sidelines while grappling. But it felt to me that much of the emotion centered around NOT winning.  It wasn’t even losing so much as NOT winning. 

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There is always a level of disappointment when we don’t come out on top.  We train hard and we hope we have the edge…but there is always someone out there to give us a challenge.  I feel like the longer fights were at least more satisfying, where a competitor can internalize how long they lasted.  But the tears came all the same.

What impressed me the most was that amidst an emotionally-charged atmosphere, the kids would respectfully shake hands, trade fist bumps, or hug.

AWESOME.

Seeing young children respect one another and offer support despite the personal disappointments rocked.  It wasn’t about just doing the right thing – neither was it feigned nor forced. I saw some go up to the other afterwards and congratulate them.  They’d fight back those tears and smile and acknowledge the second place.  I was so impressed (and hoped all the adults took notice, as it reminds us how we need to be!)

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Sportsmanship is something that should be instilled early – we aren’t always going to win.  We take it hard because we want to do the best every singe time, we want to dominate, we want to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we are unbeatable…but it won’t happen that way.  Respecting our opponents, appreciating the experience, and taking away the positives and learning is HUGE – when we learn those things at a young age, they stay with us.

The other side of the coin was that the winners weren’t making a fuss at ALL – each one was humble and reserved.  There may have been smiles, but what I saw more of was making sure the other competitor was acknowledged and that there was no display of victory – equally as impressive in my mind. ❤

I like to remind competitors that they are THERE – they are putting themselves out there for the challenge, and working hard.  That alone deserves respect and I, for one, think everyone out there should feel proud whether they are wearing a gold, a silver, or nothing at all – it’s winning or learning and BOTH are positive.

Ladies and Lifting

Everyone has their preferences and tastes…there is NOTHING...absolutely ZERO…wrong with that!  What I will say, however,  is that if you can’t be positive, maybe try not saying anything at all?  You know, just like mum said!

I have seen countless fitness posts on Facebook where people comment quite positively – most of what goes by (at least in my feed!) is rose-colored.  But I see that there are some comments mixed in there leaning to the negative, particularly where one’s figure is concerned.

Why is that?

Now I’m not sure why someone NOT into fitness or lifting or exercise would even frequent a fitness-type page – I can’t imagine why a person would take the time if that wasn’t his or her lifestyle, goal, or…well, INTEREST.  So I’m baffled by the “ugh, that’s too much”s…and the “you look like a man”s…  

Really?

Folks in that industry, or simply with that lifestyle are on the spot when it comes to having the “outer” dissected – and you know what? They work HARD to be in peak physical condition.  So hard, that the average person won’t get there without a serious routine.  So let’s give them a break!  If it isn’t your thing…no worries! But keep it silent – there’s no need to offer words of discouragement, or voice your opinion when it is only intended to hurt.  

And while we are on the topic…ladies CAN lift.  

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Ladies can be GORGEOUS and lift.   

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Not ALL ladies will look the same when they lift! 

We are all composed differently, do different activities, eat differently…

So maybe you see a super chiseled physique and it isn’t your “thing.”  That’s OKAY!  It’s not your goal and no one says you will end up that way if you want to lift!  If you have the desire to get to the gym and do so, there are plenty of ways to do so without bulking or looking “less feminine.”

Many of the figure competitors (who, in my book, are UH-MAZING…and still look quite feminine to me) are striving for something very specific.  They take a comprehensive approach…not just in the gym, but very much OUTSIDE of it – nutrition, sleep and so on.  (Bodybuilding is a whole OTHER category as well, as is fitness, and bikini…) So even if you do lift, you may not be eating optimally for competition, let’s say.  Again, totally OKAY!  All that means is that you aren’t going to whittle your figure into something you aren’t proud of, or happy with.

Everyone’s goals are different.  Look at Marilyn Monroe – never was there more a “woman”!!! She was curvy, sexy, beautiful…a total bombshell and knockout.  So seeing photos of HER lifting ought to give some comfort.  She looks pretty darn drop-dead to ME (and to most of the planet) and she was lifting plenty!

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So don’t be discouraged…whether because you see something that isn’t the ideal shape YOU are looking for, or you think you will end up a certain way.

And don’t be discouraging!  We all have different standards and ideals of beauty, and that’s the wonderful thing about diversity!  Let’s stay positive, and if we can’t, be silent.  Ladies of all kinds can, and DO lift…and they are all fabulous in my book.  

Let’s stay supportive and remember that we all have different goals…and there is nothing…absolutely ZERO…wrong with that!

Supadance #1062

When I was competing in Ballroom, my favorite shoes were, hands down, Supadance.  Some of the other “top” brands that ladies favored just didn’t work for my figure skater feet, and it was honestly a NIGHTMARE trying to fit them – once you find what works, you sort of just stick with it.  I never needed a special width or anything, but if the fit isn’t 100% suited for hours worth of teetering while working your tail off, you have to go with something else – style does not outdo function here!

Danceshopper.com photo

Danceshopper.com photo

I bought many of my shoes, and other paraphernalia, from Danceshopper – they have a pretty substantial selection of apparel, footwear, performance makeup etc.

Danceshopper.com photo

Danceshopper.com photo

 

I think all of the Supadance are a half shank (as really any competitive Ballroom shoe should be – you need the flexibility in the sole in order to point and move properly.) #1062 was probably my favorite style of those offered – the swirling bands and gorgeous upper pattern reminded me a great deal of my work at the time (which was in Product Development as a Fashion Director for a monster of a ladies footwear brand.  Our shoes were super high, incredibly sexy, and without a doubt eye-catching.  Style #1062 has that same sass.) ❤  I’d wear these out in a heartbeat but…SUEDE soles!  

Danceshopper.com photo

Danceshopper.com photo

I always went with an Ultra Slim Stiletto heel (and I think that’s all they offer on this one), or a 3″ Flare – some brands vary in their heel styles, though generally this is the gist:

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As for heel height, I typically wore 2.5″ or 3″ – my 5′ 5.5″ frame had to, for many years, compete with my dance partner’s 6′ 4″ frame so…the suffering WAS necessary.  Tan satin, whichever specific color in this vein was offered, was my choice.  ALWAYS.  While I LOVE the red, and the black, lengthening my lines trumped and color preference or bias I had!  It was worth it.  I believe my toe was a Shape D generally, which always worked nicely for my foot, and kept it from looking heavy.

Danceshopper.com photo

Danceshopper.com photo

#1062 is really stunning. all around – it’s incredibly flattering and flirtatious on, it’s wicked comfortable (speaking personally), and it endures a lot of hard work – I found the quality to be fantastic, especially given how much I was in them!

Many of my own!

Many of my own!