“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.”- Voltaire
Coaching Athletes with Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia
During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the stories and concerns of survivors are highlighted on social media and in real life. And while CrossFit has lent a helping hand in the healing process of many athletes, inside an affiliate’s walls is not always a safe space for these people. With input from Dr. Aaron Kuhn, a licensed counselor and the creator of the Trauma Informed Athlete Centered Coaching program, here’s how you can implement trauma-informed techniques for you and your coaching staff.
1. Identifying Problems Early is Key
An athlete at risk for or that is currently struggling with an eating disorder is likely to be extremely controlling with their diet–obsessively tracking macros or the environment it’s in, Kuhn. In his time working with athletes and other people in the fitness world, he says that one of the biggest problems he routinely sees is overcontrolled behavior in perfectionists.
“High achieving people try to control their environment through anxiety and their intake of food,” Kuhn explained. “Overcontrolled to the point where they’re not connecting with others anymore.”
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, warning signs of eating disorders (though they vary, of course) can include:
Preoccupation with food, including restricting food intake or food types, having obsessive rituals around food, or concern with eating new foods
Worry and guilt about eating “impure” or “unhealthy” foods
Extreme body image issues and frequently checking their body in the mirror
Physical symptoms can manifest as fluctuations in weight, poor immune and gastrointestinal function, menstrual problems, and weakness (among others)
2. Understanding the Disease
If you’ve identified an athlete you think may be at risk for an eating disorder, what do you do next? Kuhn says that it’s important to understand how the disease works. While eating disorders are commonly portrayed in the media as young girls starving themselves and doing endless amounts of cardio and crunches, it can in reality look very different.
“We all have high performing athletes at our gym – especially Games athletes – that can be driven to a point where anything less than perfection is devastating,” Kuhn said. “They go on this emotional ride where if they feel like they’re not performing at their peak (…) they have this mindset of “I just failed, I need to push harder.”
23.3 is coming: The final workout of the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Open is almost here, and Morning Chalk Up’s Ava Kitzi will be at CrossFit Omaha in Nebraska on Thursday, March 2, at noon PT (3 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. GMT) and feature Mal O’Brien squaring off against Danielle Brandon.
ICYMI: Reebok has dropped a weightlifting shoe with its iconic “pump” technology and we have to say its pretty rad. 🏋🏻♂️
Interesting: Zero-calorie sweeteners have been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, according to a new study.
Shout out: CNN gives a mention to CrossFit in an extensive piece about how people’s gym habits are changing and the rise of strength training.
Dieticians Talk Food for CrossFit: “The dangers of underfueling are real”
Taylor Ryan, aka The Sports Dietitian’s social media posts may make some clean eating, low carb advocates a little queasy, with candy and cereal featuring heavily on her Instagram feed.
Ryan and her second in charge, Gabrielle Ward are both accredited Sports Dietitians, who have carved their niche as prescriptive sports nutrition experts to Australian CrossFitters of all levels – from recreational to elite. Ellie Turner, Ricky Gerard, Bayden Brown and the CrossFit EXF team are just a few of their high profile Games athletes.
Whilst their attention-grabbing social media posts have caused quite a stir, Ryan and Ward know what they’re talking about when it comes to fueling for performance in the sport of CrossFit.
“You won’t see Gabs and I ever promoting intermittent fasting or low carb by any means,” shares Ryan. “If they understand the sport and the physiological aspects associated with CrossFit and they want to perform, low carb diets aren’t going to suffice.”
“Eating healthy and fueling adequately are not mutually exclusive,” said Ryan. “I think some people jump at our social media, (but) as we know, social media provides one piece of the puzzle.”It’s not all cereal and candy, Ryan explains. There’s a baseline level of nutrient dense food that we all should be consuming. These more processed and sugary foods and beverages are there to fill the gap in terms of fueling requirements. CrossFit workouts are high intensity – primarily fueled by carbs. In order to meet the energy demands put on our body during a CrossFit workout, even a recreational CrossFitter who attends two classes a week, will have room in their nutrition plan for some of those more indulgent dietary options, Ryan shares.
How High-Level CrossFit Affects Body Image and Eating Disorders
There’s no question that elite athletes–whether in football, gymnastics, racquetball, or CrossFit–use every possible aspect of their lives as an opportunity to get better. Nutrition, of course, is a big player in this. And while we (as normal people) may look at those at the top of our sport and see the cleanest, “healthiest” style of eating, the control and constant comparison can cause crippling anxiety and difficult relationships with their bodies and food.
The most recent example of this on everyone’s mind is Haley Adams’ graceful exit from the 2023 CrossFit Games season. The 22-year-old shocked the CrossFit world when she announced last Thursday in an Instagram post that she is taking the year off to find herself again after struggling for years with an eating disorder and related issues.
Adams is not the only top-level woman in the sport to experience this battle. Recently in an episode of their podcast “Dottir,” two-time champions Annie Thorisdottir and Katrin Davidsdottir opened up about the pressures of looking like the Fittest on Earth and how it might’ve hurt their physical and mental progress.
“I started feeling the pressure of being the Fittest on Earth,” Davidsdottir said in the podcast. “I was so scared people would see me and be like, ‘oh, that’s not how the Fittest on Earth should look.’”
These issues go beyond just the women’s side of the leaderboard, however. Marcus Filly, a four-time Games athlete (including a 12th-place finish in the Men’s division at the 2016 Games) has struggled with similar issues his entire life. Going back to a mean comment made during his sophomore year of college on the soccer team, Filly has always been focused on getting lean and having the best possible physique.
Filly: “It drove me down some pretty bad paths, one of deprivation, injury, and depression, which I had to navigate through over the years.”
However, when Filly retired from competitive soccer and became consumed with competing in CrossFit, these thoughts changed. He became more focused on eating and exercising to reach peak performance, and though he recognized himself as one of the leaner athletes in the field, he certainly didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. In these earlier years of elite competition, extreme leanness was more prevalent than it is even now, something Filly is very aware of.
“It wasn’t appreciated as it is now that extreme levels of leanness don’t equate to very good or optimal performance,” Filly said. “A lot of us had come out of the CrossFit dietary culture like Paleo and Zone which were relatively low carb and hyper-focused on a zone diet prescription that was grossly underfeeding people.”
Despite this, Filly doesn’t believe that the ripped, ultra-lean field was purposeful – it was probably just an effect of training to be the Fittest on Earth in 2015.
Now retired from competitive CrossFit and focused on his own company–Functional Bodybuilding–his family, and health, Filly can look back on his journey with food with a new perspective. He’s had to work through beginning to eat “normally” but still isn’t sure exactly how the CrossFit and fitness community can prevent eating issues like his in the future.
“We want to honor that ability to perform, but we don’t want to go all the way on that side of the coin either,” Filly said. “There’s probably a balance between encouraging people to find a formula in their life that allows them to move and give forth physical effort in a way that feels empowering.”
The Fittest Man on Earth from 2011-2014, six-time affiliate cup champion with CrossFit Mayhem Freedom, and Founder of CrossFit Mayhem in Cookeville, TN, Rich Froning, Jr., currently sits 157th worldwide (unofficially) after three CrossFit Open tests, and one week remaining.
Are you tired of doing push-ups from your knees, but not ready to do them with your full body weight? Chris Spealler, the OG body weight workout champion, gives a fun modification to switch it up and help you keep progressing towards your goal.
NCI put together their best, tried-and-true resources that every coach needs to kickstart their nutrition business and create transformational results for any client. This plug-and-play system includes everything from social media templates to trainings to sample client intake forms.
For something that we use in every single lift, we don’t often focus on our grip strength. Hanging from the rig or hanging onto a barbell, a strong grip is an important part of our sport. Train these movements for a stronger grip!
The YETI Yonder™, aka Your New Favorite Water Bottle
Looking for a light water bottle that still has the toughness you are used to from YETI’s products? Introducing the Yonder™ Collection: available in two sizes (750mL and 1L for those who want more hydration) and in four colorways, this new design is also built to sustain impact and drop while remaining 100% leak proof!
Congratulations to Kaija Ashcroft from CrossFit Psyched in Henderson, NV on the 150 pound/68kg thruster, which placed her 18th on the Girls 14-15 Leaderboard for Open Workout 23.2B.
👏 Congratulations to Stephen Fukumoto from Torrance Training Lab in southern California, who is competing in his 9th CrossFit Open at 72 years young, even after having cancer removed in early February.
CrossFit Games athlete Nick Mathew from CrossFit Minnetonka in Minnetonka, MN matched his deadlift PR of 605 pounds/274.4kg.
Congratulations to Tommy Marquez from CrossFit Up in Santa Cruz, CA on the thruster PR of 242 pounds/109.7kg.
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