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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3 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain, by Rachel Crocker

I appreciated Rachel Crocker’s article – which came to me via Oxygen Magazine – because I’ve totally been snookered by all three of these! 

Holidays are tough because sometimes we feel pressured to please everyone – never easy to let a family member down! Other times we just feel flat-out out of control.  Been there for sure, but it helps to know that it doesn’t *have* to be that way.  I struggled for a long time with setting those boundaries and letting people make me feel badly – surrounding yourself with supportive people, AND strategies, helps!

There’s enough stress this time of year – between the parties, mini vacations, and family gatherings – do what feels right for you, and feel good about it.  You’re allowed!  

Elke S. Nelson, PhD and CFL-1 also has some “Weight Loss Hacks” for this time of year – the more the merrier as far as help staying on track for me.  Temptations all over the place!

Hungry Girl Cruise

So I’ve followed Lisa Lilien since she founded Hungry Girl back in the early 2000’s.  Having been through two eating disorders, as a result of PTSD, I was more mindful than ever about what I ate (to get WELL, that is.)  What I loved about Lisa’s blog was that she shared healthier options, but also kept things realistic.  She isn’t a nutritionist, but she likes to eat, she likes to eat on the healthier side of things, and she loves to share what she learns along the way.

I recently read that Hungry Girl is organizing a cruise with Royal Caribbean, aiming at January 2017.  I smiled because I DESPISE cruises.  There, I said it!  I know the many people love them but…I always felt uncomfortable about being confined to a space (albeit a large one!) with the predominant focus being on FOOD.  I mean…I have awesome willpower but let’s be honest…being surrounded by goodies makes it tough to have a good time – you feel this pressure to “be good” when all you see are delicious, not-so-healthy options!

But a cruise run by Hungry Girl?!  Holy smokes, that’s AMAZING!  The concept is one I absolutely love – for people who DO enjoy cruises, this offers them the opportunity to have the best of the islands, the onboard fun, AND healthy selections for their meals.  

All too often I hear people lament after a week-long vacation that they had “too much” and went “overboard” with the food.  Well…if this cruise comes to pass, you will not only have the great vacation you are looking for but you will also come home feeling great about yourself (and not overstuffed!)

Brilliant, Ms. Lilien!

If you want to chime in with feedback, go here.

EatPops!

I think this is a wonderful idea… 

I DESPISE drinking my calories.  

There! I said it.  

Yes, people often scoff when I say that…  Maybe it’s because they are so beholden to those end-all-be-all detox shakes they are having, or maybe the word “calorie” is what nudges them off the edge…  Whatever the case may be I will say it a thousand times…I despise drinking my calories.

Hate is a strong word – I rarely use it, if at all – so I’m using “despise” instead.  It’s a vehement despise, though!

As I have gotten older, I simply have to watch what I eat in order to maintain a certain level of fitness performance, athleticism, health, emotional well-being, and…weight.  Gone are the days that I can drink my hot chocolates with whipped cream, smoothies with my breakfast, and ingurgitate bags of steamed rice along with a glass of juice.  The flat-out reality of it is that I’ve needed to reduce my caloric intake over the years, as well as tweak my fitness routine – if I don’t, that’s okay, but I will gain weight, and will get very depressed.  I know myself that well.

Smoothies were something I’d enjoy often growing up – there was nothing more delicious than fresh, ripe fruit, blended with some ice, maybe some yogurt or milk.  Before training, after…whenever!  

I don’t count my calories – let me be clear on that.  Having had two severe eating disorders in the past (anorexia and exercise bulimia), the propensity to get dangerously rigid is already there.  With that kind of propensity, I need to be more lax in this department.  

That said, I am aware of what I eat, and could very likely give you the broad strokes of what I had in a day – I never stuff my face mindlessly, but if I feel like a snack, I have it – I’m clean 95% of the time.

So I saw this snazzy brand – founded back in 2014, and I just love the idea.  EatPops came about because a law student, Sophie Milrom, couldn’t manage to find healthy snacks while studying feverishly in school.  She recognized that fresh juice was prohibitively high-priced, making it a tougher trend to follow for many people interested in cleaner eating and juicing.  She also discovered that freezing juices not only lowered prices to make such conceptions accessible…but also that it extended the shelf life.

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What do I love this idea?  Because I DESPISE drinking my calories!  For someone like me, these are ALSO a fabulous option because…I get to CHEW.  I like the sensation of munching on something – I feel more satisfied when I EAT than when I DRINK…so pops is a perfect option!  From 45 to 100 calories for one, you aren’t going to break the bank with these. ❤

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I don’t have any retailers near me, but you can purchase these guys online…  Shipping is up to $15 (these are frozen treats!) but it is awesome to have the option!

More of what I love to eat…!