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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What Are The Odds…? Sharing Our Stories And Offering Kindness In Return.

I received this note along with a purchase I made on eBay and it absolutely warmed my heart. I’d say “what are the odds?!” but then I really do believe the Universe finds away to align things for the good…

I wrote this lovely woman a note in return to let her know her words fell into loving hands, and to offer words of support…which she so readily deserves. She is hoping to help her son “chase his dreams” to which I said how blessed he is to have her, and that as a team they will succeed.  

I then shared this Audrey Hepburn quotation:

The world is made a much smaller and warmer place when kind hearts lead the way. 

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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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Quote – C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken

A friend shared this with me recently, just as it was needed.

“Tis as much a courtesy to ask for a cup of cold water as it is

to fetch it.”

C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
Some of us were born with the hope and desire – above all – to illuminate as a beacon the worlds around us, to alleviate the pains of loved ones, and to be a safe haven in times of fear.  And yet through our own journey we have lost the understanding that others wish also to do the same for us.  
We needn’t save the world by depriving others the same possibility. . .for in so doing, we – however unintentionally – deny them what brings them the most joy.  
Sometimes in effort to light the paths of others, we remove all but darkness from the one before us – though it would seem a problem all our own, it can easily cast sadness upon those who wish for us also the ability to see. To learn is a lifetime pursuit, even with willingness (which I’ve got in spades!), but I am thankful for those who encourage and enlighten along the way – it truly is a day at a time.

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