Being an elite athlete is not easy. Not every practice is perfect, nor every competition. It takes a lot of patience, dedication, determination and perseverance to be the best in your sport, but it requires just as much mental toughness to block out your surroundings.
I was a figure skater for 16 years, competitive for 12 of those years. As a young athlete you’re not made aware or educated about how to fuel your body properly to train at an optimal level, or how to help your body recover after a high intensity practice. Figure Skating culture tells you that you need to be “petite”. Being petite will make your jumps better, you’ll look better on the ice and that’s what is going to make you a winner.
I have always been self conscious about my body for as long as I can remember. I hated the roll on my stomach. Every mirror I would walk by I would always compare myself from the side to see if had disappeared from the last time I looked. I remember that I just wanted to be like all the other girls I saw with a flat stomach, and I felt if I didn’t look like that then I wasn’t good enough.
Everyday I was surrounded by other girls who continuously were going on fad diets or detoxes to lose weight fast, cutting out carbs because they make you gain weight, or completely not eating at all. I was always conscious about my body. I controlled what I ate because I feared my coaches telling me that I gained weight like I heard them say to other skaters I trained with.
It was my last year of my competitive career, I had gotten injured and was unable to train or exercise for quite some time. I had gained weight and was aware that I had. When I returned to training, all of my jumps were off and my cardio was poor. That’s when I had the conversation with my coach about my weight.
I was told that the reason why I couldn’t get through my programs or land my jumps was because I gained weight. They told me to do more cardio to burn off more calories, and if I did that my jumps would get better. So in my head I said “that’s fine, you want me to lose weight, I’ll lose weight”.
I started cutting out bread, pasta, and any high carb food. I basically only ate vegetables, fruits and light protein like chicken or egg whites. I was desperate to lose the weight so I was going to do anything that would help me drop it fast. I was doing cardio for around two hours a day to burn everything that I ate, plus all of my training sessions. Some days I would skip meals and I would do that until my body was so hungry that I would end up puking liquid.
When I started losing the weight and it was noticeable to other people, I started receiving all these compliments that I looked so good and my jumps were getting better. My brain started to thrive off all these compliments, so I pushed myself a little further and further. By the end of my competition season I remember that I had dropped almost four pant sizes. That’s when I started to get scared, because losing weight had become an obsession.
Flash forward to now, I’m still recovering mentally and physically from my negative eating habits and body perception. Giving your body the nutrients it needs and fueling it with proper food is the foundation to keeping your body healthy and in great shape. At the beginning of this year my challenge was to live a healthier lifestyle. I didn’t want to hold myself back from living my life to the fullest because I couldn’t go out to dinner with friends or get ice cream on a tuesday. I wanted to enjoy all the good foods and not feel guilty afterwards.
Six months into this lifestyle change I can say that I have seen huge improvements to my mental health. I don’t fear food and indulge in treats when I want them. That doesn’t go to say that everyday is perfect, I still have my days where I don’t feel as confident but I have to remind myself that the number on the scale doesn’t define me. Having a roll on my stomach doesn’t make me any less worthy of loving myself and being loved because we should love ourselves for everything that we are.
Looking back on my experience I wish I had not suffered in silence like so many athletes do. I wished that I had treated my body better back then and asked for guidance when I was at my lowest point. Having someone to talk to really helps guide you in the right direction and puts everything back into perspective.