“Never would I have imagined as a college freshman athlete that I would be presenting 17 years later at an Athlete & Eating Disorders conference!” This was my opening remark as I presented last Saturday at St. Louis University at the first annual Victory Conference. I was amongst practitioners from around the country who hold similar respect and passion for working with athletes in their journey of health.
What an understatement! This weekend I was connected to the gift of my story. The pain, hell, and isolation of the eating disorder I had in my college years began a journey of healing. This journey led me to not only working with other student-athletes, but has given me the platform to be a part of broader cultural discourse in the sport world as it relates to food and body concerns of athletes. What?!? So incredible!
Where I am finding a place of great passion and advocacy is approaching the question of whether athletes have to choose between elite performance and “health”- physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Many believe these two things cannot fully coexist, leaving the sport world and eating disorder treatment world in a tenuous relationship, rather than operating as allies. The sport world fears a decrease in performance or sport participation and the eating disorder treatment world fears the athlete will have to harm themselves in the name of performance. Where have we learned these fears? Are they actually true? Are they true for some athletes but not others? These are all great questions to ask ourselves, both individually and collectively.
Sport itself is not the enemy. Sport culture and beliefs around performance and what it takes to be “on top” can be, at best, supportive and, at worst, abusive. And the eating disorder world has some work to do around appreciating and valuing sport as a central treatment focus.
Professionally, I walked away from last weekend with a lot of hope in this regard: I spent time with practitioners from all over the country who have a vision for the marriage of the two worlds harmoniously co-existing. Performance and health are possible, and we are working towards building the bridge between the sport and ED treatment world in order to serve athletes in a way that’s honoring and real!
The invitation: What exploration might you do to better understand your beliefs around performance and whether your beliefs are outdated and need to be challenged? If you are interested in challenging your beliefs, what actions might you take to investigate for yourself?