A couple days ago I saw a statistic that has me thinking so much about my days as a competitive athlete.
Disordered eating is more prevalent among athletes than non athletes. – Dr Ellie Somers
In a study done on 522 elite female athletes vs 448 non-athlete controls, 18% of athletes were diagnosed with eating disorders compared to 5% of non-athlete controls.
For as long as I can remember, I was a competitive soccer player. It wasn’t until my late high school and college years that I became overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy.
I can say with full confidence that I have always been incredibly hard working. Season after season I would make damn sure I was prepared and in the best physical shape I could be. I trained hard, never questioning if I was ready for all that would come with the grueling training that was ahead of me. Every off season I was hungry and hopeful.
There were so many games that came, after a week of awesome practices, early weight training and extra fitness sessions, where I would find myself cozied up on the bench, blood boiling as I watched the intensity of the game unfold before me. I would be overwhelmed with anxiety every time coach would call someone’s name to go in and my heart would sink when it wasn’t mine that was called. Minutes would pass, halftime and eventually the final whistle and there I sat, with the bright yellow jersey that signified that I hadn’t entered the game. I would walk over to my parents that traveled no matter the distance to be there to support me, sad and disappointed, and yet they were so proud. That always got to me.
The hardest part was not the lack of playing time, it was the fact that the game the day before, I played over 60 minutes, that my practices all week were really great, that I was fit and more than ready to contribute to my team.
It was a constant and vicious, mental battle of wondering why I wasn’t good enough. Why I wasn’t 1 of the 11 needed on the field that day and what more could I do to make sure I was one of them.
That led to eating less and training more. Surely if I was leaner and more fit, I would be faster and coach would play me.
That led to counting calories to make sure I was burning more than I was consuming. Training longer, sometimes 2-3 times a day and just simply not eating.
And eventually all that still wasn’t good enough, which led to purging (something to this day I am so ashamed of). No one knew and it killed me inside.
Deep down I knew I was enough, that this wasn’t the answer, but I just couldn’t stop myself.
One day I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t healed, but I was over it and exhausted. Thats when I decided it wasn’t up to one person or a group of people to influence how I felt about myself, I was in charge of that. That’s also when I fell in love with running. Not because I was burning calories or getting more fit, but because it was just me and the track, the open road, the orange field. I was in control and it felt so good.
I started to learn that food was fuel, that if I did good to my body, it would reward me, but that was only half the battle. Physically I was healing, but mentally, I was still that girl in the neon jersey, so desperately wanting my name to be called.
It took a long time, but I can confidently say that I love who I am, that I believe in myself, that I workout because I love it and it makes me feel good, that I nourish my body with wholesome nutritious food without the fear of gaining weight or giving it the control it used to have over me. I have my days where old thoughts creep up, but then I am quickly reminded of how far I’ve come and how beautiful life is when you don’t question your worth.We need to talk about this, we need to teach young girls that food control, restriction, and overtraining is not the answer. Practice and weight training isn’t enough, we need to incorporate mental toughness training, we need more support, especially at the high school and collegiate level, where women already feel the pressure to be perfect and seek approval at every corner.I wish I had confronted my issues long ago, I wish I sought help, I wish I didn’t put so much damn value on playing time, I wish I would’ve found running sooner, and I wish I knew how awesome I was back then.
And still, I am so thankful for my journey because it has led me to find so much peace, and it’s allowed me to share my story with you.
If you’ve ever experienced this. You’re not alone, if you struggle with this today, I am here for you, if you question whether it gets better…it does.
Your worth doesn’t depend on how much playing time you get, if you PRd your mile time or not, if you won the most important match of the year, if you struck out more times than you got a hit…your worth is what’s inside. Take away soccer, track, tennis, softball, whatever sport you play…you are still a person, a unique individual that matters and when the game, match, race, season is over, you move on, you will look back and wonder why it all mattered so much. You have to remember why you started the sport you love so much and let that be what influences you. Remember what makes you love being an athlete so much.
I also want you to know that this is a part of my story, not my whole journey. I love soccer, I always will, it’s in my blood. It has taught me so many valuable lessons, given me so many wonderful memories and brought so many amazing women into my life, and for that I am forever grateful. When I remember my soccer career, I remember this, the love, memories and friendships, but I never forget the struggles I face along the way.
Until Next Time On Kelsey’s Chronicles