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How I Learned To Love My Strong, Athletic Body

ESPN

As athletes, we’ve learned that it’s important to take care of our bodies. The element that’s underrated is taking care of our body image.

When it comes to fueling our bodies, there is a balance of protein, carbs, fruits, and veggies that help us maximize our performance. But when you’re surrounded by images that tell you to be skinny and feminine, it’s easy to feel awkward for eating more or having a different body type.

Athletes burn lots of calories between the running, plyometrics, specific skill work, and lifting, so our bodies need a lot of food.

And what’s more, our bodies crave food.

If we’re happy being competitive athletes, maybe we should be prouder to look the part, to look strong.

On a personal level, I’ve always found it embarrassing to be the person ordering extra food, sometimes even a double serving. I hate that I’m always snacking when my friends barely eat. I also hate when I get dressed up to go out and the first compliment I get is “nice calves,” or “wow, you have athletic biceps!”

When I get dressed up to go out and the first compliment I get is: Nice calves or, Wow, you have athletic biceps...

Looking strong and always being hungry led me to obsess over what I eat and look like. I was unhealthily aware of what the treadmill said I burned during a run and how much I thought that I should limit myself to eating afterward.

I vividly remember being in middle school and intentionally packing myself only 200 calories for lunch because I didn’t want to gain weight. Or the times in high school when I wouldn’t eat until I reached a point of exhaustion and aching.

I barely let myself eat a slice of pizza in high school for fear of how it would affect my body.

Although I remained petite in middle school, I gained 25 pounds of muscle and was eating a lot more when I became involved in high school sports.

College came, and I gained more weight.

It’s not that I think I’m fat, I know I’m not. I’m just thick. I’m strong and worried that being strong is different than how I should look. And as a short person, I hate knowing I weigh more (even if it’s muscle) than my taller friends. I was upset that according to the body mass index (which doesn’t factor in muscle weight), I was too heavy.

Coming into college, I was self-conscious about what I ate compared to everyone I sat with. Near the end of my first semester, someone recommended I go to an eating disorder group, but I was defensive. I knew I didn’t have an eating disorder—at least not one as defined by the online standard definitions. What I had was disordered eating, an unhealthy relationship and approach to food.

Now, I’m not saying it’s bad to watch what and how much you eat. What I’m saying is that it’s all about developing a healthy, holistic perspective on food.

I didn’t have that. But I do now.

I was happy being an athlete, but I wasn’t flattered when I dressed up and people complimented my muscle tone rather than my more feminine looks.

During my season, while talking with my trainer, I told him that I was worried about how I looked and how much I ate compared to others. I told him that I knew I was happy being an athlete, but I wasn’t flattered when I dressed up and people complimented my muscle tone rather than my more “feminine” looks.

My trainer recommended that I talk to a nutritionist. He reminded me that, as an athlete, I should be proud to look strong, and I need to take care of my body if I want to maximize my performance during competitions.

He persuaded me and I talked with a psychologist and nutritionist about my relationship with food and body image. Through food tracking and a discussion about how it can be healthy to socially eat pizza with friends, to eliminate unnecessary stress over eating, I learned that part of being healthy (both as a general human and as an athlete) means focusing on being kind to our bodies.

Part of being healthy - both as a general human and as an athlete - means focusing on being kind to our bodies.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying I’m perfect. I still have episodes of anxiety about what I eat and how much I eat. I still probably stress eat too much, or at least obsess over stress eating too much. Sometimes, even when I’m hungry, I still try to limit how much to eat.

But overall, I’m better. I lift, I eat, and I’m proud of how my body looks: strong.

I’m proud to fuel myself as an athlete, to prioritize my body, my health, and my sanity. Now, more often than not, I laugh about ordering seconds, no longer ashamed to leave the cafeteria with multiple plates.

And I’m happy—so relieved—that I’m able to give myself permission to treat myself and splurge every so often (ice cream is my weakness).

Part of the beauty of sports is that it provides a community that appreciates and values different body types

Part of the beauty of sports is that it provides a community that appreciates and values different body types: tall ones, short ones, strong ones, and long ones. This means I can be confident that I have the perfect body to play midfield. I have the perfect body to play field hockey.

In the last year, I’ve recognized that treating myself to ice cream every now and then is healthy. More importantly, I’ve learned that being an athlete is beautiful.

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