How can you be a successful athlete and also accept your body as it is?
Updated: Jan 8
Deciding to accept your body doesn’t mean you stop taking care of it.
Most athletes want what’s best for their bodies and are always trying to increase strength, endurance, and performance. Everywhere we look, it recommends we change our food intake to gain that competitive edge. But it’s actually a combination of consistent sleep, proper nourishment, good hydration, adequate recovery time and attention to one’s mental health and emotional needs, that create healthy, happy, and successful athletes.
What it means to be "successful" is largely subjective. It is important that there is open dialogue regarding what the skater's goals are and what being "successful" means to them. One skater's definition of success might be competing at Regionals or Nationals. Another's may to skate for exercise and show disinterest in competing. One is not better or worse than the other, everyone just has different goals.
Nourishing our bodies allows for growth and repair. Regardless of age, level, and gender, skating takes a huge toll on the body and food is critical to build up the body after breaking it down through exercise. Many athletes go to extremes to postpone their body's natural development. By dieting, over-exercising, and engaging in disordered eating behaviors, athletes actually shorten their careers and are eight times more likely to get injured (Ziegler). Proper fuel and nourishment are needed to have the strength, endurance, and mental focus to execute difficult elements.
Recent studies show that in aesthetic and weight class sports, 33% of male athletes and 62% of female athletes experience disordered eating (NEDA). In a study on the symptomology of eating disorders in Canadian competitive figure skaters, researchers found that 92.7% of the forty-one skaters surveyed reported pressure to lose weight. The skaters also indicated that in efforts to maintain the thin ideal encouraged by the sport, they engaged in various eating disorder behaviors in an attempt to control weight (Taylor & Ste-Marie).
We often assume that when someone performs poorly that it’s due to their body. But in reality, many things can impact performance: lack of sleep, high stress, inability to handle emotions, inadequate recovery time, over-training. To truly do no harm, we need to adopt a weight inclusive approach to figure skating, where all body sizes and shapes are accepted and respect. Accepting your now body doesn't mean you stop taking care of it. It simply means getting adequate food intake, ditching perfectionism, developing a self-compassion practice, and acknowledging that the limits of the human body are not flaws, but actually here to protect us.
If an athlete isn’t in “good enough physical shape” to be able to execute the trick, then it’s about strength & endurance training. If the skater has a growth spurt, it would be about adjusting technique and being patient with yourself as muscle memory catches up. Success is not determined by your ability to keep your body small. It's the work you put in, natural ability, and dedication to that determines it.
National Eating Disorder Association. Eating Disorders and Athletes. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-athletes on April 3, 2019.
Taylor, G. & Ste-Marie, D.M. (2001). Eating disorders symptoms in Canadian female pair and dance figure skaters. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 32, 21-28
Ziegler, P.J., Khoo, C.S., Sherr, B., Nelson, J.A., Larson, W.M., & Drewnowski, A. (1998). Body image and dieting behaviors among elite figure skaters. International Journal of Eating disorders, 24, 4.