Recovering From an Eating Disorder: What I wish I knew

I first knew I had a problem with food when I found myself worrying about how many calories were in my daily multi-vitamin. I stopped myself from getting help, though, because I was terrified of what would happen during the recovery process: would I lose training time? What would it mean to get help? Would I have to tell people? Would everyone find out? Would I have to quit skating?

Looking back on it now, I realize that if I  had listened to that voice within me that told me that what I was thinking re: my vitamin wasn’t normal, my career would have ended up quite differently. And, I think it’s easy for those who are struggling with disordered eating or eating disorders to mitigate what they’re doing to their body because of the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what the future will hold, and the eating disorder—while hurting us—has become our safety.

But here’s the reality: the quicker you get help, the quicker you get your power back. In this week’s video, I share what I learned during the recovery process and the facts I wish I knew while I was competing :) 

Puberty & Athletics: What to Do vs. What Not to Do

Last week, I was tagged in a Russian news article titled ““Russian Figure Skating Prodigy Zagitova Refuses to Eat…but It’s For a Good Cause.” Zagitova was quoted in the article as saying, “In terms of puberty, when one is getting fat—I think it’s all nonsense. Just close your mouth and don’t eat! Or eat, but a little bit. I eat, I have small bites now and then.” This is a common practice in aesthetic sports—like gymnastics, skating and ballet—and while initially well intentioned will likely lead to either anorexia or weight gain along with a host of adverse physical implications. Beyond this, it can also present a myriad of negative psychological effects and is entirely unnecessary. 

In this week’s video I discuss why puberty is actually an asset for skaters and work to debunk the idea that any changes in a skater’s body will result in a loss of jumps and the ending of one’s career. Too many careers have been cut short by an erroneous belief system that results in eating practices that are ill-informed, dangerous and don't produce the desired effects. It's time to change this!

How to Make a Setback Work For You

I am horrible when I get sick. I absolutely hate it. I throw a pity party. I panic about the work I’m missing and how behind I am going to be once I recover. I wish I were someone who could binge watch Netflix while reveling in the comfort of my bed, but for me, sickness signals anxiety.

Last weekend, I got sick.

At 2 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, I found myself awake with a fever, dwelling on thoughts of doom. In the midst of my personal pity party, I started thinking about why being out of commission for a period of time—whether it’s an illness or an injury—can be so challenging. I think for some, like myself, what compounds the adversity we’re facing are the emotions and thoughts we hold about the situation.  It can be easy to become mired in thoughts about the worst-case scenario, which can lead us into a maze of anxiety. We start to feel powerless and like the injury or illness is in the driver’s seat and our destination completely out of our hands. 

But what I’ve learned—and what I realized a few hours into my illness this past weekend—is that we actually hold a lot more control over the situation than we realize. We have the ability to make any setback work in our favor, and here’s how—

Look at the Facts

I think it’s important to give yourself permission to throw a small pity party and feel whatever negative emotions your illness or injury triggers—but only for a set amount of time. After that, turn to your rational mind and assess the facts. 

For example, if you just found out that your ankle is broken, you may start thinking that you’ll be out for the rest of the season, worry you’ll never recover or panic about how much better than you your competitors are going to get while you’re off the ice. A little bit of this is normal, but when these thoughts start to consume you, it can completely alter your view of reality.

To fix this, write down only the concrete facts of the situation. This enables you to see clearly what you’re facing without the emotional “noise” taking over. 

  • Ankle is broken
  • Off the ice for 6-8 weeks
  • Physical therapy 4 days a week
  • Once I’m back, 5 months before my first big event
  • Need to get a short program choreographed
  • Want to get another triple, and now have 5 months not 6

Once you see the facts laid out, you’ll start to feel more grounded. You'll be able to see that while the situation isn’t ideal, it probably isn’t as dire as your automatic thoughts and emotions may have initially led you to believe. Assessing the facts allows you to keep things in perspective, which will ease the anxiety associated with whatever adversity you’re facing. And, often, that anxiety about the time you’re missing becomes even more debilitating than the actual injury or illness. 

Choose Your Frame and Check Your Attitude

Reframe your injury or illness as an opportunity to come back stronger, an opportunity to gain some much needed rest and an opportunity to accomplish more once you’re back on your feet

Once you have the facts laid out, now you get to choose the way you frame the story you're telling yourself and others. So often, we view an illness or injury as something negative. We may unintentionally create a story where the adversity we’re facing has made us the victim; this can rob us of our power in the situation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You have the ability to write whatever story you want about the facts of your life. You’re allowed to feel angry, frustrated, the full gamut of emotions you’re experiencing, but also make sure that you’re allowing yourself to see the good. Something good can come from every experience—if you choose to tell yourself a more inspiring story.

Reframe your injury or illness as an opportunity to come back stronger, an opportunity to gain some much needed rest and an opportunity to accomplish more once you're back on your feet. When we shift to a more positive frame, we start to feel our power again. Coupled with this, be mindful that your attitude matches the story you’re telling. It can be easy to tell a great story in public but privately still feel like a victim. The story you’re telling and your attitude must be in alignment for you to truly feel better. 

Define your “WHY”

We live in a society that values productivity, and because of this, we rarely get to take time out of our busy schedules to take a step back and look at the big picture. When you have to press “pause” for a little bit, use this as an opportunity to examine and assess your goals for each area of your life. Sometimes a few days, weeks or months of slowing down can really open up your eyes and allow you to more fully understand what you're getting and giving from your relationships, work and activities.

Strengthen other parts of your body/skating/mind

Part of framing your story in a more positive light requires you to look for the silver lining. Being out of commission for a bit provides a great opportunity to strengthen parts of yourself that normally don’t get a lot of attention. For example, if you can’t jump for a few weeks, work on your spins; learn new positions and make spinning your new project. If you’re stuck in bed with the flu, use it as an opportunity to read a book about a subject you’d never have the time to read normally. Build yourself up in new areas. 

Learn your triggers and grow

We all have our own immediate reactions to adversity. For some, like myself, it can spark anxiety; for others, possibly sadness or anger. Taking the time to assess your immediate reactions when a setback hits allows you to better understand yourself and work on your triggers. Setbacks can yield tremendous growth and understanding, leading you to develop better ways of responding to adverse emotional states.

We will all face adversity at some point in our lives. Everyone will get sick from time to time, and every athlete will get injured.  When anxiety or any negative emotion takes over, it's easy to forget how much control we actually have. But remember: you have the ability to choose how you respond to adversity—whatever form it may take. Realizing the power you hold in the situation is your greatest asset.  And, often what looks like a setback is actually a blessing—if we choose to view it that way.

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Comparing Energy Bars & A Resistance Band Workout

When I was struggling with bulimia and binge eating disorder, every day usually looked the same: I'd get up, have a very small breakfast and then rely on coffee to keep me going throughout the day. I'd try to go as long as possible without eating in order to make up for the binge that took place the night before. This inevitably led me to eat every single thing I could get my hands on every evening around 6 o'clock, leaving me bloated, full of self-loathing and depressed the next morning. 

Once I made the decision to recover, the number one tool that helped me--and I continue to use today--was making sure that I ate a few hundred calories every 2-3 hours. For years, I literally set a timer on my phone that would go off every three hours, and no matter where I was, I made sure that I put a few hundred calories of food in my mouth! I've found that by eating snacks and smaller meals throughout the day, I'm never too hungry and my blood sugar levels stay stable.

In this week's video, I compare a few nutrition bars--Clif Bars, Clif Builder's Protein, RX Bars and Lara Bars--that I have eaten every day for the past few years and give my take on what's great and not-so-great about these bars. 

Resistance Band Workout

1. Squats with medicine ball (I am using a 10lb ball here) 12 x 4
2. Side shuffles with oblique twists 12 x4 (shuffles per side); 16 x 4 (twists per side)
3. Side leg kicks with ball overhead 12 x 4
4. Hamstring kicks with  ball 12 x 4
5. 1-minute core x 4: 15 sec two feet; 15 sec on right foot; 15 sec two feet; 15 sec on left foot 

Compare/Despair

As a young skater, I was never the highest jumper. I didn’t spin that fast. I wasn’t extremely flexible, and I wasn’t the most dynamic performer. But I was always consistent under pressure. When those competition lights turned on, I knew exactly what was going to happen: I was going to land my jumps when it counted.

I was 14 when I competed in my first Junior Grand Prix event in The Hague, Netherlands. Heading in, I thought winning a medal was probable—and likely necessary if I wanted to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final. I had never competed internationally before, though, and really had no idea what to expect.

For the majority of my career up to that point, I’d spent every morning before school studying VHS tapes of my competitors. This was decades before YouTube, so I had my mom buy tapes of every regional, sectional and national event at the end of every season. I’d watch these tapes and verse myself on my competitors’ strengths. I craved insight into what to expect before events and areas I needed to improve.

I didn’t have that luxury heading into this Junior Grand Prix event, however; I couldn’t order VHS tapes from Russian or Japanese Nationals. Instead, I spent the day before the short program sitting alone in the stands, glued to every jump landed and run-through performed by my two dozen plus competitors. Some were doing triple-triples. Most had higher jumps than me. Some had faster spins, and there was one skater trying a triple axel. When I left the rink that afternoon, I was consumed with thoughts about all the areas I believed I had to revamp in my skating over the next 24 hours if I wanted to medal. My competitors’ highlight reels taunted me all night long. I was counting myself out before the event even began. 

By suddenly thinking only of what I had to change about my skating, I inadvertently lost sight of what made me great. I robbed myself of owning my strengths and missed an opportunity to have possibly won the event had I skated clean.

The next day, for the first time in my career, I fell on my short program combination. I was devastated. I was able to get it together for the long—still falling on a key triple lutz—but wound up 4th, off the podium and pissed. Pissed because I didn’t medal but also angry because I had I let my insecurities rob me of what made me great: my consistency. I traded the opportunity to get myself amped up and excited before the short program for thoughts of lack.

The kicker was that my argument against myself was based on a snapshot of my competitors’ abilities. I created a story in my head of what was going to happen at the event based on one day of practice. Before getting on the plane for the Netherlands, I was aware that I needed to work on my speed. I knew I had to improve the height of my jumps, the speed of my spins and my skating skills. But I also knew that I was a clutch competitor who could deliver when it counted. By suddenly thinking only of what I had to change about my skating, I inadvertently lost sight of what made me great. I robbed myself of owning my strengths and missed an opportunity to have possibly won the event had I skated clean.

When I got home I resolved not to watch any practice sessions for the rest of the season. I didn’t listen to the hype after events. I worked hard in practice and focused only on myself. By doing this, I went on to skate clean programs at every international event for the remainder of the season, placing first at my next Junior Grand Prix event and ultimately winning Junior Worlds.

I wish I could say that at 14 I learned enough from this experience to stop negatively comparing myself to others. But that would be complete B.S. That seed of doubt that I planted at that event later blossomed to comparing the shape of my body—and what I believe it lacked—to other skaters and airbrushed actresses and models in magazines.

Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone when it comes to this compare despair; it’s affected each of us at some point in our lives. And for skaters today, this comparison extends beyond watching VHS tapes and practice sessions. On Instagram, we can view a competitor’s highlight reel of their best jumps from practice on our feed at any time; as individuals, we see highlight reels of the lives of strangers, friends and family. At times it can feel impossible to escape.

But it’s important to remember that sometimes that small glimpse into someone’s life is actually a well-crafted, fictitious image that we accept as reality.  Airbrushing is no longer reserved for actresses and models on the covers of magazines. Today, there are apps that can contour your body; smooth your stomach, your skin; and change your hair color, skin color and eye color. Just as I got caught up in thinking that one practice session was indicative of a competitor’s ability to perform under pressure, we can get swept away by a wave of despair based on what is actually another’s heavily filtered, edited and distorted version of reality.

Today, there are apps that can contour your body; smooth your stomach, your skin; and change your hair color, skin color and eye color. Just as I got caught up in thinking that one practice session was indicative of a competitor’s ability to perform under pressure, we can get swept away by wave of despair based on what is actually another’s heavily filtered, edited and distorted version of reality.

What I’ve learned though—both in looking back on my experiences a skater and now as an adult—is that rather be reduced by comparison, we have the ability to admire others while also being mindful that what we’re seeing may not be indicative of the whole story. If we see someone with a killer six pack or a great triple lutz, I think it’s helpful to applaud that. Seeing someone else’s strengths does not indicate a lack within you; in fact, seeing where someone else shines can actually help to push you to become a better version of yourself—but it should never come at the expense of yourself.

The reality is, there will always be someone who is better than you at some area—whether it’s a flatter stomach, thinner thighs, higher jumps or more flexibility—but they will never be you. They don’t have your consistency or your personality or your kindness. They don’t have your double axel or your spiral. They don’t have your hair or your big eyes or your dimples. No one but you has that unique combination of traits that makes up who you are. That is your power; that combination is what makes you great. I've learned you can use what you admire in others to help you become a better version of yourself, but never let a snapshot in time or a fictitious image rob you of what makes you great. Comparison can motivate you, but never let it reduce you.

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Understanding Exercise Bulimia, Sharing My Story, Tips to Recover

Exercise bulimia is an extremely common yet not very often discussed eating disorder--partly because of how I believe society views exercise. In this week's video, I describe the components I believe make up exercise bulimia, my experience with the disorder and tips I have for recovery. And if you're struggling with any eating disorder, please know that you can live a life 100% free from this obsession; there are so many resources available to help you! You can overcome this disorder. I promise.

Start to Love Your Body: 5 Tips

After years of compulsive dieting, eating disorders or constantly critiquing how you look, it can be difficult to know how to start to form a positive and healthy relationship with your body. In this video, I share five tools that I've used over the years to mend my relationship with my body, and I hope these tips will work for you! And, remember: your body is always on your side and is here to help you; it's never your body's fault.

Everyday Makeup Look: All Products Under $25

I had so much fun filming this video! It's a 15-minute everyday look, which can be easily adapted for competitions or a night out with a darker lip or eye. And, remember: Your appearance is YOURS!! You get to decide what you like, how you want to look. It’s 100% totally okay to LOVE your features! Appreciating what makes you unique is a great thing; in fact, I’ve found that the more I appreciate what makes me beautiful as a person, the more I see so much beauty in everyone else. And the majority of that beauty comes from someone’s personality and the energy they bring to their relationships and into the world. There is so much beauty in you. Own it!

Here's a list of the products I used in this video:

Pro Fushion set $19.99 Walmart
NYX Contour Pallet $19.89 Target - Do NOT ULTA 25 plus!
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Pressed Powder $8.99 Target
NYX Full Coverage Concealer Jar Orange $5
It Cosmetics CC+ cream $24 Walmart
Anastasia Brow Wiz $21
Maybelline Waterproof mascaras $6
Covergirl Colorlicious Lipstick Champagne $5.89 Target
Maybelline Master Precise Ink Liquid Liner $7.99 Ulta
Revlon Color Stay Eyeliner $5.99 Walmart
Revlon Color Stay Concealer $6.49 Target

Talking Relationships & Baking Paleo Cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day! In this video, I share a few pieces of really good relationships advice from my sister, which I'm finally taking and think could help some of you guys too. This week I also share an ab workout and a paleo cookie recipe--which I attempt to bake :) 

Athletes, Honesty and a Full-Body Workout

Yulia Lipnitskaya and Gracie Gold have opened up the door for athletes to feel like it’s okay to come forward and share any struggles they have had with eating disorders or mental illness, and I think it’s time we shift how we view mental illness as a sports community; there is absolutely no shame in owning your story. In this week's video, I share my views on mental illness in athletics, namely that mental illness be viewed in the same frame as physical injury and illness.