Experience the Difference

Body Image in athletes/people AND Eating Disorder or Athletic Potential?

There is always a lot of talk around this subject, always, but it seems this week it has been brought to the fore. Much of this talk tends to be from a ‘one person’ perspective, describing how one or both of these afflictions have affected them personally.
This seems an appropriate time for me to put forward my observations of seeing and/or coaching many, many hundreds of people suffering these two afflictions over 38 years of coaching.
For most of that time it’s been women that have taken up the largest part of my training squads but these afflictions are by no means female only conditions.
It doesn’t matter what sport we discuss (there’s no difference between the sports) the eating disorders and/or body image issues are the same and in a lot of cases there was no sport to prepare for at all, just everyday people with body issues.
I spent 9 years coaching a squad of in excess 20 track and field and surf athletes. I spent at least 30 years with a squad of more than 25 female body builders and fitness figure competitors.
At all times, in my coaching squad, there is a number of sports that require attention to positive power to weight ratio: cyclists, distance runners, rowers, tennis players, power lifters, gymnasts etc.
Some of the athletes had eating disorders, all of them, 100% of every athlete or person I have ever met or coached has a body image issue to some degree but the toughest to coach were the few that had both, an eating disorder coupled with body image issues.
Now, that body image issues could be as simple as not liking the color of their eyes, the shape of their nose, hair color, the length of their legs in comparison to the length of their body or vice versa, being too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall, too flexible, too inflexible. Body image issues are, in my opinion an every person issue.
Body image issues and eating disorders are very different afflictions but managed well can be used to advantage using coaching strategies that ‘tap’ into the very same psychological attributes that create an eating disorder and apply those same addictive personality traits to the sport of their choosing.
After all, we may as well because that disorder isn’t going anywhere sometime soon. It will remain just below the surface for their entire lives and rear its ugly head from time to time to remind them and everyone around them that it is still here!
Often being involved in a sport that requires a ‘power to weight ratio ‘or extremely low body fat advantage is blamed for bringing on an eating disorder. I don’t see this as the case at all. I have found that if you scratch the surface just a little bit you will in fact find an eating disorder or serious body image issue that has been lurking there forever.
My observations over time are that the addictive personality that makes a person a good athlete is exactly the same attribute that harbors eating disorders and/or serious body image issues.
Experience has shown me over time that when an athlete comes to me with a view to joining our squad and engaging me to coach them, it will emerge during that initial conversation that they’ve had a personal body image issue and/or eating disorder. When I hear this I am openly excited at being given the opportunity to work with that individual. I have seen enough real life evidence and learned through experience that many of my better performing athletes have possessed the addictive personality needed to turn them around and use it to a definite athletic advantage.
If you take a look back over sporting history you will very quickly realise that some of the very best athletes of all time (across a huge variety of sports around the globe) live very close to the edge with regards to some kind of addiction.
It can be one or even a combination of, alcohol, drugs (both illegal and legal, prescription and non-prescription), womanizing, over eating, under eating and gambling. These are all addictive afflictions of some of the most elite athletes around the world across in many sports. From golf to cycling, football and rugby, (all codes), basketball, cricket, track and field, tennis, swimming, gymnastics and skating.
Anyone that knows much about sport will most likely be able to name at least one, if not more, of the sporting elite from each of the above sports that have ingloriously come to grief with an out of sport addiction that they’ve been struggling with and are most likely to continue to struggle with for the rest of their lives. But how much did those afflictions affect their sport at the highest level? That is THE question but in most cases I feel it’s that addictive personality that MAKES them the athlete they turn out to be.
And why not?
They may as well achieve something from their personality trait/s rather than suppress it and have society generalise them into the not normal pigeon hole. So they use that personality to make something of their life while they can. Heaven only knows that your time as an athlete is only a very small percentage of your overall life.
I have seen more talented athletes NOT make it in their sport than actually do make it.
Why? I believe a lot of it is due to peer pressure and societal pressure from the so called experts out there trying so hard to normalise and standardise the elite. I feel those people want everyone to conform to their own deluded view of what an elite individual should look like.
When I take on an athlete I work with them to their advantage, using every tool I can, as my job is to turn them into the best possible athlete they can be.

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