7 WAYS TO OVERCOME BODY IMAGE CONFLICTS AS AN ATHLETE

Body size is often the focus of athletic performance, which often conflicts with those trying seeking to improve their body image. Here are 7 mindset tips to help.


BY: MEGAN MEDRANO, RD, LD

If case you haven’t heard, there’s a new health paradigm and body-positive movement that’s sweeping through our media and culture. And at the core of it is the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm that focuses on weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement. 

The HAES approach puts the focus back on behaviors, not on weight. It means that a smaller body size does not automatically mean better health, just like a larger body size does not automatically mean poor health. 

It shares the message that health can be achieved at any body size if there is appropriate access and if desired. It goes beyond just food and exercise by centering important social justice issues, including socioeconomic access, honoring the healing power of social connections, and is grounded in a social justice framework. It is not healthy at every size, but rather health at every size — because size is not what actually matters.

This is in stark contrast to what you hear in the athletic world. 

Body size is a major focus in almost every sport and is practically a “requirement”, emphasizing an “optimal” weight and lean body mass as prerequisites for athletic success. For athletes recovering from dieting, an eating disorder, or just wanting to take the best care of their body, this often leaves them with a conflict. 

On one hand, they know that adequate fueling, recovery, and respecting their body is crucial to athletic success, yet their sport tells them they still need to control their body size and they are left confused about what they should do.

It’s obviously unrealistic to forget their environment, put the blinders on, and completely ignore all weight-related pressures. But rather than blindly follow the toxic, weight-focused culture, it’s important for athletes to develop the skills and the knowledge to process the external dialogue. If you’re an athlete in eating disorder or disordered eating recovery, here are the areas to focus on.

1. ACCEPTANCE

When you follow your meal plan, you can transition to intuitive eating and allow your body size to settle where it wants to be. However, it might not be where you want it to be, or where your sport wants you to be. Your body is the one in control.

If this is where it feels it will function and perform the best, then acceptance is an essential component to start trusting that your body knows what it is doing.

2.  COMPASSION

Your eating disorder may try to control you, but it does not have to anymore. Have patience and compassion with yourself as you navigate living in your body.

3. COURAGE 

As a survivor, eating disorder recovery requires bravery and courage. When it feels hard, remember to have the courage to let your body do its thing.

4. HOLDING SPACE

Our culture likes to tell you to forget, shove down, and ignore your feelings. That is not productive or effective. Hold space for your feelings – let yourself to really feel it.

5. CURIOSITY

Body changes are not bad! Although our culture tells us that all weight gain is ‘bad’, it is a shameful and ill-informed way to view body changes. Weight gain might be exactly what your body needs to function and perform at its best. Approach body changes with curiosity, not judgment or shame. It may be the best thing for you.

6. VALUES EXPLORATION

What is it that you value? What does diet culture tell you to value? Separate the two out, and aim to live more in line with your values, not something else’s.

7. MINDFULNESS

Get back in touch with your body. When you are so used to tearing it down, you haven’t actually taken the time to learn from it. Adding some mindfulness into your life can help you become your body’s ally, not an enemy.

Remember, you can move past the culture that hinders you from fully engaging in your sport,

And in life.

Adapted from the original post.
HEADER IMAGE: JACOB LUND

Megan Medrano, RD, LD is a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist in private practice at Run Whole Nutrition in Lexington, KY. In her practice, she helps people from all walks of life, including competitive athletes, cultivate a peaceful and joyful relationship with food through a weight-inclusive approach. Learn more at Run Whole Nutrition.

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