Tag: eating disorders

Coxing Q&A Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

Hi! I’m a coxswain who just finished my second season (as in I’ll be varsity next season). My novice 8 did very well, placing at Midwest Youth Championships! I’m so proud of them, and I really love coxing, but as the season goes out, I’m wondering, is it the best thing for me? I feel a lot of pressure to be at the 110-pound minimum, and so when the Tuesday before the race I weighed in at 116, I was devastated. I spent the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week living only of multivitamins and one bottle of water a day. The Saturday and Sunday of racing, it was virtually the same, except I ate one clementine each day as well. I did meet minimum as I hoped I would, and was actually under, being sandbagged for 0.8 pounds, but I recognize this is incredibly unhealthy, and unfortunately, it falls in line with other unhealthy behaviors I’ve had a tendency to engage in for a few years now. I truly love coxing but I’m not so sure my mental health would do at all well if I continue. Thoughts/advice?

Eating Twix bars and pizza for a week is unhealthy. A single bottle of water and a multivitamin for five straight days is stupid and dangerous. I don’t say that to be an asshole either, I just really hope you recognize that there’s a big difference between the two.

The simplest and most straightforward piece of advice I can offer is that you’ve gotta do what’s best for you. And I get that that probably seems like a vague non-answer but it really is the only thing you have to consider here. If you notice yourself involuntarily (or even voluntarily) falling back into self-destructive habits then I think you need to take a step back and reevaluate what you’re taking away from the sport vs. what the sport is taking away from you.

Being around your friends and “having fun” is great and all but way too many people use that as an excuse to stick with sports when it’s clearly not a good thing for them as an individual. That’s my other piece of advice – forget your friends, teammates, coaches, parents, whoever you think will be pissed if you stop coxing. (They won’t be.) Whatever decision you come to has to be made for youby you and not influenced by what you think other people would want.

I don’t wanna get into all the reasons why you feel pressured to be at 110lbs (especially since you were coxing novices…) because it just makes me very rage-y but I will say this: if you stick with coxing and feel similar pressure going forward, the kind that makes you want to go on a water + multivitamin diet for a week, you really need to stop and ask what’s going to allow you to be the most effective coxswain on race day. Being 116lbs, clearheaded, and energetic or 109lbs, stressed, and lethargic? Don’t let the “boat servant” etymology get in your way here. Yea, you’re there to do XYZ for the team but you can’t do any of that if you’re not in the right frame of mind to begin with. Been there, done that and trust me, it’s hard as hell trying to focus on getting your boat out of racks, let alone down the race course, when you’re dehydrated, dizzy, and exhausted from not eating all week just for the sake of being able to say you’re under 110lbs.

If you haven’t, check out the video above. It’s from a camp I was at two years ago and there’s a good anecdote/wake up call at the end from Marcus about a coxswain who took similarly drastic measures to cut weight over the same period of time as you. Also check out this article from ESPNW that came out a few weeks ago. It’s no secret how much issues like this get under my skin so I was thankful they asked me to be a part of it. It’s a good read and an eye-opening one at that so definitely check it out when you’ve got a sec.

Coxing High School Q&A Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I am a freshman in high school cox and I am friends with an 8th grade cox. She isn’t done growing but is worried that she will be over the weight limit (aka minimum) when she is so she is trying to lose weight. She claims to just want to eat healthier but she does not eat lunch, has mentioned cutting sodium and fat significantly, and is tracking her calories. I think she has an eating disorder, which I have had before and don’t want her to go through. What should I do? I want her to be safe. 😦

I touched on this in a similar question a few months ago (linked below) but I think you’ve gotta be careful about assuming someone has an eating disorder just because they’re changing their eating habits. I get what you’re saying and can see why you might be concerned, especially since she’s only in 8th grade, but I wouldn’t jump to the worst possible conclusion just yet.

Related: Hello! I’m a collegiate rower currently at a D3 school. Recently I’ve noticed that my team’s top coxswain has seemed to have lost a lot of weight in the past few months. By this, I mean she seems to have lost 10 to 15lbs, which is a lot considering she’s 5’4″ and wasn’t over the 110lb minimum by more than 7 or 8lbs last season. I don’t believe she eats very often but when I do see her eat she doesn’t seem to have an eating disorder. I’m not sure whether or not I should be concerned about her weight loss and if I should bring it up with someone?

If you’ve dealt with an eating disorder and can see her starting to fall into the same habits you did, point that out (without being accusatory). There’s nothing wrong with tracking what you’re eating or cutting back on unhealthy stuff but there’s always the risk of taking it too far, sometimes without even realizing it, and having someone else point out that they can see you doing the same things they did can be the wake up call that gets them to reassess their approach. Point is, I’d be much more responsive to someone that said “hey, I’ve dealt with disordered eating, it started off as just wanting to lose a few pounds but I got really caught up in counting calories, it spiraled out of control pretty fast, etc. and I’m concerned because I see you doing some of the same things I did, which I now realize was doing more harm than good…” than someone who said “you stopped eating lunch, you stopped eating salt, you must have an eating disorder”.

The response there will either be “I’m good” or “…hmm”, in which case you should drop it if it’s the former (I mean, keep an eye on it if you’re really that concerned but don’t hover or keep belaboring the point) or offer her some advice if it’s the latter. If you’ve since recovered or are recovering from your eating disorder, talk with her about what you’re doing now to be healthy and maintain a good diet. If talking with a nutritionist, one of your coaches, etc. helped you, recommend it to her as an option if she finds she wants or needs help.

Also point out that as a freshman (presumably novice) coxswain, no one gives a fuck what you weigh. It’s literally the least important thing when you’re just learning how to cox. None of you are competitive enough at that stage for your coxswain’s weight to make any sort of difference in your speed. As long as you’re under like, 135 max (there’s gotta be a line somewhere), you should be perfectly fine.

Look, you’re closer to this situation than I am so you have to use your best judgment based on whatever you’re seeing. There is no perfect, step-by-step way to handle stuff like this. If you’re afraid to confront her directly, maybe ask your coach if they can address coxswain weight in general to all the coxswains (that way she’s not being singled out) and dispel the myth that they must weigh 110lbs or 120lbs on the dot every day of their entire high school career or else they’ll never get boated ever. Maybe hearing that will alleviate some of her worries.

College Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hello! I’m a collegiate rower currently at a D3 school. Recently I’ve noticed that my team’s top coxswain has seemed to have lost a lot of weight in the past few months. By this, I mean she seems to have lost 10 to 15lbs, which is a lot considering she’s 5’4″ and wasn’t over the 110lb minimum by more than 7 or 8lbs last season. I don’t believe she eats very often but when I do see her eat she doesn’t seem to have an eating disorder. I’m not sure whether or not I should be concerned about her weight loss and if I should bring it up with someone?

I’ve gone back and forth on this numerous times but I’m sticking with my initial response, which is “no”. From your vantage point I can see why it might be concerning to see her losing weight when it seems like she doesn’t need to but without knowing her motives all you’re doing is speculating, which isn’t fair even though it’s coming from a good place.

Assuming “a few months” is something like three or four, losing 10lbs in that timeframe isn’t unhealthy by conventional standards. Losing 10lbs in two months isn’t usually considered unhealthy. 5’4″ and 105ish (give or take) describes a lot, if not the majority, of the female coxswains (who are coxing women) that I personally know. One of my friends in college was around that height (I think she’s 5’3″) and weighed 118lbs our freshman year. She made some pretty basic changes to her diet that summer and came back the fall of our sophomore year weighing 106 having put the most minimal amount of effort into losing weight before leveling off around 109ish over the next few months. I know all that is anecdotal and not applicable to everyone but my point is that I wouldn’t immediately jump to her losing weight as being a negative thing.

Unless you have actual cause for concern beyond it just “seeming” like she’s lost weight, I don’t think it’d be appropriate to say anything (to her or anyone else). I’m not trying to be dismissive of what you’re saying but having been on the receiving end of numerous comments and conversations (both to my face and behind my back) about my weight, my exercise habits, what I eat, when I eat, how much I eat, etc., it just feels like an invasion of privacy whenever it gets brought up, especially since I’ve never given anyone a reason to think I’m doing something unhealthy. It also gets exhausting having to constantly defend yourself against people who think you should weigh more, eat more, or whatever else despite you being at a healthy weight. Bottom line, it’s none of your business.

This is a really slippery slope, as most weight-related situations are, and there’s no clear cut way for how to approach it. If it gets to a point where the situation is clearly unhealthy by all common sense standards (not just your own personal ones but actual medical standards) then yea, bring it up with your coach and let them approach it with her. I think you’re a good friend for asking this question in the first place but ultimately I think your concern might just be coming from the fact that seeing her 10lbs lighter is new vs. it being an actual issue.

Anyone else – thoughts?

College Coxing High School Racing Rowing Training & Nutrition

Coxswains + Weight Management

Given that it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week I thought this was an appropriate video to share. It’s from a talk on weight management that was given during the Sparks coxswain camp this past December. It’s only about nine minutes long so I encourage you to set aside some time to watch it (in addition to sharing it with the other coxswains on your team). There’s some great info, advice, and anecdotes in here but beyond that, at the very least I hope this serves as a wake-up call for those of you who are or are considering employing unsafe methods of losing weight.

“Do you really need that?”

Coxing Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

“Do you really need that?”

Over the last few days I’ve been emailing with a coxswain who initially wanted some advice on what to do over the summer to make sure they’re in shape for the upcoming fall season. As most of you who have asked me the same or similar questions over the last few weeks know, my response was and has been to just make sure you’re within a healthy range (which gives you plenty of leeway) of your respective racing weight by being smart about your diet and doing something  like running, cycling, etc. a couple times a week. Really simple stuff, nothing too crazy.

Related: I know it’s silly but staying a lightweight is consuming me. Literally every moment of the day I’m thinking of ways to be smaller and I hate myself for even worrying about this so much, like 123 is a FINE weight but at the same time … I hate being like this. It’s really worrying and I’m not eating as much anymore and I just need advice. 

Now, as most of you know, I have zero patience when it comes to coaches and rowers who openly disrespect coxswains and make unnecessary (and often times, pretty hurtful) comments about their weight when their weight isn’t an issue. I totally get being pissed when your coxswain is far, far over the minimum but seriously, speaking in general here, you guys have got to stop doing this. Below are some excerpts of the emails this coxswain sent me after our initial ones where we talked about getting in shape for the fall (shared with their permission).

“…Our coach is generally just impatient with us while we’re on the water and they complain about it more than I do. And to top it off, whenever we went to a meal during races, our coach would scrutinize what I ate and tell me things like. “Hey you need to fit in the seat…” Or “Do you really need that” but then tell me that she would prefer I didn’t starve myself.  She mentioned me losing weight before going into summer and said that “then we can actually go fast”.”

They told me that they’re a vegetarian so a lot of what they eat when they’re traveling is fruit or something else light.

“… I honestly have never had an eating disorder, like EVER. But after being treated like that I have been so vulnerable and not confident and it is so horrible because it made me not confident in other things too, so much that when I came home I asked my mum if I could talk to a therapist about it, like I’ve been struggling to bring myself back to the person I know I am, which yeah, is completely shitty.”

Making comments like that is not cool, it’s not funny, and it’s not appropriate. There’s a difference between playfully ragging on a friend (which you can really only get away with if you have a solid relationship with the person and even then, there are limits…) and being a jerk. I don’t want to get too into this because I’ve talked about all of it numerous times on here before but consider this another reminder/plea to just think before you say anything like what’s posted above to your coxswain(s). You don’t know how it’s going to affect them and if an eating disorder is something they’re already struggling with (which you most likely wouldn’t know about), hearing someone say “you need to find in the seat” or “do you really need that” can be pretty damaging. For more on that you can check out the posts in the link below.

Related: National eating disorder awareness week

I would also stop for a sec and consider this: I get a lot of emails from coxswains and when I find them serious enough to post on here I keep the details as vague as possible so as to not give away who they are or who they cox for. There are obvious reasons for doing that but I also do it because I want everyone who reads this to assume that it was your athlete and your coxswain that emailed me because, for all you know, it was. So … if you’re reading this and are thinking “wow…that sounds like something I said to my coxswain this year…”, this post is probably about you.

Image via // @schurwanzpics
Mental health + rowing

College Coxing High School Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Mental health + rowing

This week, Feb. 22nd – 28th, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’ve talked about eating disorders on here before and wanted to link those posts here for those of you who haven’t seen them before or for those who might want to revisit them again.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Intro

Eating disorders defined + explained

Warning signs + symptoms

Coxswains

Lightweight Rowing

Your experiences

More so than probably any other set of posts on the blog, I think I’m most proud of these ones because of the discussion/realizations that they sparked. It was scary when I got so many emails initially saying “I have an eating disorder, I’ve been dealing with it for awhile” or “That describes me, I know I have bad habits when it comes to food, I think this might be me, what do I do?” because eating disorders aren’t something you mess around with. There’s obviously a huge mental component to it and with the stigma around mental health issues in the US it’s no wonder why so many people don’t know where to turn or what to do.

I remember spending a good deal of time thinking “Oh shit, what did I get myself into” when I first wrote those posts because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing or give the wrong advice but I learned really quickly that what a lot of the people needed was someone to talk to and just some genuine encouragement to seek help. It’s been so exciting to hear back from a lot of those people and hear them say that they did talk to their coaches, parents, doctors, teammates, etc. and are working on normalizing their relationship with food and their bodies. That alone takes more willpower and strength than any 2k you’ll ever pull.

Below I’m posting an excerpt from an email I got at the beginning of the year from a rower-turned-coxswain who has really motivated me to make sure that I’m doing my part to keep this discussion alive.

“You were the first one that I confessed to after my coaches. Things have gotten worse (broken foot, plus being put in the B boat and freaking out forever until we won the second novice race) and better (not being able to work out sucks and I already eat healthy – sometimes borderline orthorexia), my weight is nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing still, and everything still feels “off” (energy levels, thyroid, mood, ability to lose weight is nonexistent I swear it drives me crazy) – but that’s definitely a byproduct of almost seven years of disordered eating. And after talking to you and feeling your understanding and support, I was brave enough to open up to so many other people in my life who have been incredibly supportive.

Thank you for always reminding us to take care of ourselves. Whenever I start to slip up and make bad decisions the NEDA week posts are my go-to reading. Your frank, honest attitude and advice about telling people who make those insensitive comments to your readers are so refreshing and they always remind me to take care of myself. When I freak out about weighing more than the four (for two boats!) other, shorter coxswains on my team and losing my spot, you always remind me that I cannot steer and motivate a boat if I do not take care of myself. Thank you for always, always, stressing your advice with weight with “healthy” and “sensible” and “obligatory reading.” Because sometimes you don’t want to admit your darkest parts to yourself until someone else makes you face them.”

Coaches, I really encourage you to talk about these issues with your teams (regardless of whether you coach men or women) because this stuff is real. There are probably rowers and coxswains on your team right now who are dealing with an eating disorder or walking that fine line between trying to be healthy and experiencing disordered eating. If you’re not comfortable doing it, reach out to a nutritionist at a local hospital or within the athletic department and have them come talk to the team. Trust me, it’s worth losing 45 minutes of practice time for.  I’ve said this a thousand times but part of being a good teammate is looking out for each other. If you think that one of your teammates might be dealing with something like this, don’t jump the gun and accuse them because when has that ever been a logical and successful approach? Instead, just let them know that if they need someone to talk to you’re there if they need anything. More often than not that’s all it takes, just knowing that someone is willing to listen without being judgmental.

And on that note I also wanted to link back to this post on suicide awareness. Last week the rowing community lost a high school rower named Draven Rodriguez. Some of you might know him as “laser cat meme guy“, others of you might know him as a teammate and member of Shenendehowa Crew. I remembered reading the story about the yearbook and his cat (seriously though, how great is that picture…) last year but I didn’t know he was a rower until this weekend when someone messaged me on Tumblr about it. They said they didn’t know him personally but as a fellow 17 year old rower they were upset and shocked and didn’t know how to react.

Related: Suicide awareness + prevention

I’ve never known anyone who’s died (at least not that I’ve been close enough to that would evoke some kind of response) so I don’t really know how to react in situations like this either. I think the only thing you can really do is use this to reinforce to yourself that everybody’s got their own shit that they’re dealing with and you never truly know how someone is feeling at any given moment. Be supportive of your teammates, even the ones you might not be friends with, and if you’re going through something find someone you trust to talk to about it. You can always email me of course (sometimes it’s a lot easier to talk to someone who doesn’t know you personally … I totally get that) but I would encourage you to reach out to someone at home too, whether it’s a sibling, parent, coach, friend, teammate, teacher, etc. just so that you have a support system nearby if/when you need it.

I know that this is a pretty random post and not at all about rowing or coxing but like I said earlier, I think we all have a responsibility to do our part in eliminating the stigma that surrounds these issues by talking about it with our teams and teammates. I encourage all of you to read the posts I’ve linked to in here and find some small way to do your part, either by making the decision to seek help if you need it or by reaching out to a teammate who might be having a hard time. At the end of the day, all of this is a lot bigger than crew and I hope reading through all of this helps to hammer that point home.

Image via // @rowinginmainz
Female coxswain weight minimums

College Coxing

Female coxswain weight minimums

If you follow me on Instagram then you’ll know that I’ve been going through about 40 years worth of rowing magazines over the last month. I was going through my latest stack this evening and came across this letter to the editor from the July/August 1991 issue of American Rowing that I thought was worth sharing.

What I appreciated about this letter was that it was coming from a coach (and a very successful one at that) who actually appears to understand how difficult the process of making weight can be for a coxswain.

Related: National eating disorder awareness week: Coxswains

I’ll be honest, I really don’t see that same kind of concern from many coaches these days and that’s pretty upsetting. The number of emails I’ve gotten from both male and female coxswains describing the things their coaches have told them to do to lose weight or the nasty offhand remarks they make about their size disgust me. I’ve witnessed it in person too and it’s taken a lot of restraint to not say anything (although in retrospect I always feel like I should have).

Saying “oh, just do what you have to do” and/or looking the other way when you know that one of your athletes is taking drastic measures like this is really offensive. I mean really, all it does is perpetuate the idea that coxswains aren’t real athletes so why does it matter if they’re doing stuff like this to their bodies? It does matter and for the exact reasons that were stated in the letter – there are serious physical and psychological effects to depriving your body of energy and nutrients and those effects will be felt on race day.

I’m mainly sharing this because I thought it was interesting but if you take anything away from it, I hope it’s that resorting to extremes like not eating, making yourself throw up, taking laxatives, etc. are all dangerous behaviors that will have a serious impact on your ability to perform your duties at the level you need to. Be realistic about your weight and don’t try to force your body down to a number that it’s not capable of being at. Also keep in mind that your skills on the water are worth far more to your crew than whatever the number on the scale says.

Image via // @tsarel
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Your experiences

Coxing Rowing Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Your experiences

Previously: Introduction || Eating disorders defined + explained || Signs + symptoms || Coxswains || Lightweights

When I decided to do the posts highlighting NEDA this week I knew that this post had to be one of the ones I did. Throughout the week I’ve collected a couple of messages and emails from rowers and coxswains who have experienced, are recovered, or are currently dealing with an eating disorder. One of the biggest things that I hope you guys get out of this post is to realize that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing these issues. You aren’t the only one. Other people have faced and overcome them and if they can, so can you.

These emails have made me sad, happy, angry, encouraged, frustrated, uncomfortable, and a whole range of other emotions. It’s saddening to read about this but at the same time I feel a sense of pride for everyone who says they’re recovered, are in recovery, or want to recover.

Thanks to everyone that reached out and was willing to share their experiences.

“I think it’s amazing that you’re doing this so here’s my story. In the summer before 6th grade (I’m in 9th grade now) I stopped eating. I went from my healthy 130lbs to under 90lbs at my worst. I wore baggy clothes and no one even noticed. When I told my best friend finally she just said, “oh yeah sometimes I won’t eat for like 6 hours if I’ve just had a big meal.” She didn’t get it and didn’t help. Then in 8th grade I discovered rowing. The sport pushed me to regain my health and now I’m recovered completely. Rowing saved me from everything and I couldn’t be more appreciative. But I know my story is a lot better than a lot of people’s and I owe it all to the sport that gave me it all. Thanks again so much for doing this.”

“As a 5’7” rower who isn’t lightweight I felt a lot of pressure to drop weight from my coaches and teammates. “You either need to start eating less or throwing up more.” That’s what my COACH told me to do. Needless to say I have never been more disgusted in my entire life. The saddest part is that at the time, I listened. My coach finally got the message when I passed out just before weighing in. Luckily I’m now being coached under some more level headed people and am happily (and healthily) 10lbs over.”

“I used to row and I was always the smallest on my team (who didn’t race lightweight). My coach used to always tell me to eat heaps to try to gain weight to keep up with the other girls because most of them were 40lbs heavier than me. Now I’ve stopped but I keep over eating and I know I am and it disgusts me and I want to make myself throw up to get rid of the food but that disgusts me too because I should be stronger than that but I’m not. Sorry for telling you all this, I just needed to say it out loud to somebody.”

“I’ve been reading all your posts on eating disorders awareness and I want to tell you about my dick of a coach. Last season we only had one coxswain for 18 rowers so he made this girl who was 60kg (about 130lb I think) cox cause she was the lightest novice and for the first five months he was fine with it. Then about 3 weeks before the biggest regatta of the season for the novices he told her that she was too heavy as another girl (who liked to stir a lot) had been saying that it was the coxswain’s fault that they had been losing because she was overweight (it wasn’t, the girls were just lazy and didn’t have a good attitude). The coach then told the coxswain that she had to lose 10kg (about 20lb) in 3 weeks so she was pretty much starving herself and running in track pants and jerseys every day in an effort to lose weight which didn’t work because she was of a very athletic build due to being a swimmer before and would have struggled to lose weight.

There is also another girl who had to cox for similar reasons the season before that and got similar treatment from the coach but he stopped her from coxing about 2 months before the big regattas because she was “too heavy”. She transferred to rowing where she struggled due to being 6 months behind the other novices in terms of experience. About 3 months into the next season her parents pulled her out of rowing due to the fact that she had developed anorexia and they didn’t think that rowing would be healthy for her. Luckily she is alright now.”

“I rowed for three years before coxing and when I started I was about 116lbs, no muscle, and still growing. By the end of the spring season of my freshman year of high school I was 126lbs and an inch taller. I grew a few more inches, gained some weight, and by my senior year was about 140lbs. When an injury worsened and made me unable to row, I asked to cox. To make weight for my freshman year of college I started eating a meal a day, sometimes a meal every other day. I averaged out eating 400 calories a day. I lost a lot of weight but I think the stress on my body actually prevented me from losing some of the weight I could’ve lost.

It’s sad – part of me only regrets that diet because I could’ve lost more weight if I hadn’t stressed out, not because I acknowledge that it was unhealthy for me. It’s twisted. Even today, I struggle to put enough food on my plate at school and it’s a major lose lose situation: I hate myself if I put enough food on my plate because I think I’m going to gain weight and I hate myself if I don’t put enough because I’m falling back into old habits. Long story short: eating disorders suck. People who encourage unhealthy weight loss habits don’t know what rabbit hole they’re pushing someone into. And once you develop one, I’m pretty sure it will always be with you in one capacity or another.”

“I am a lightweight rowerandat 5’6”, quite happily have a maintenance weight of around 125lbs. I also am recovering from bulimia. My disordered eating started a few years before rowing, and it was very on and off. It started as throwing up my meals, and varied from that, to starving, to over-exercising, and everything in between. When I got into rowing, and learned about weight categories, I saw no reason to try and recover when simply throwing up was a ‘convenient’ (and soon my main) way of maintaining my weight. Despite believing this, my weight  has since ranged from 87lbs to 139lbs!

I started to recover when I was weighed (90.4 lbs) after fainting during training. I was dehydrated, starving, and probably smelled of ketones. My coach took me into his office and had a long talk, because a BMI of <15 is not on, no matter who you are. He knew a bit about EDs, and he saw how mine was destroying my rowing, not to mention my health and body. He offered to help, and I accepted. I won’t pretend it was easy, but I‘m so glad I did!

He started to carefully (but not obsessively) monitor my food, making sure I kept at least a protein shake or some small meal, and moved on from there. He’s not qualified, so he also made me get help from professionals, although personally I hated them. It was important I went, but the real help came from my coach and my team. I know the coach/ therapist situation is NOT the norm, but it works for us!

I‘m happy to say that today I am (mostly) recovered. Yes, the thoughts are there, and probably always will be. Do I slip up sometimes still? Yes. But my coach and I always keep an eye on my weight. If it changes madly, we discuss options. Thanks to my collapsing/ catastrophe and being very open with the crew (who were amazingly supportive, and I love then for that), a male openweight also came forward with disordered eating, and now he’s doing really well with recovery. We are proudly an ED-free crew, and we all know each other well enough that we could come and chat if there was ever a problem, and not just ED related.

EDs have no business ruining anyone’s life, so if you’re ever in doubt, talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a therapist. Catch your club barman, coxswain, partner, librarian, anyone you can trust. You won’t regret it. I promise.”

Im a rower struggling with an ED right now and I thought I‘d share my story. It seems kind of silly to me, to already have this sort of issue, since I‘ve only completed one season. But the problem with rowing is that it consumes your life. You can’t get away from it so when trouble arises, you’re stuck with it.

For me the concept of being a “lightweight” really threw me off. When I joined the team I kept seeing all these varsity girls at my highly competitive club do weigh ins, we had this tradition of really fast lightweights going to D1 schools and all of a sudden I got this idea in my head that that is the only way Igoing to get into a school. Currently, I am 124 lbs and 5’9″. The average 5’9″ girl on my team is at least 140.

I‘ve always been very tall and very skinny. When I joined my team, I gained 5 pounds, and that was fairly new for me, considering I‘ve never really put on weight quickly.That added weight and the new stimuli, the new idea of lightweight and weight classes and weight efficiency, it all scared me, I suppose. I look in the mirror and I hate what see. I want my muscles more defined, I want my hard work to show, but I still want to be the twiggy little girl I was. But I want to be strong.

The wonderful part of rowing is that even with all the pressure of weight restrictions and good times for heavies or moving up boat, even with all of that, you still see the beauty of the human body. I joined rowing because I loved how our US Women’s 8+ moved, how they were able to make it look so graceful but at the same time, holy crap, their muscles. The sport has made me love what my body can do, with the weight or without it. And so I want to keep fighting, I want to eat healthy, get good times, feel GOOD about myself, just because Im a goddamn rower and I put in so much effort that I deserve as much from myself.

This is really long winded, but my point is that it’s scary, the idea that if you play with the heavies, you need to get times like them, but if you ‘re lightweight, you need to keep it down. It’s hard to find a good weight and a good time and everything, it torments me all the time, it’s terrifying, it hurts, half the time I hate my body, half the time I hate myself for hating my body.”

“It’s been almost a year since I first started my battle with my eating disorder. It’s tough to be an athlete and have one. I used to run on the treadmill to prepare for soccer season. When I got down to 107 lbs my mom stopped me. She wouldn’t let me leave the house because it was likely I would be going to the gym and on an empty stomach.

My eating disorder has brought me to my knees, especially today. Today was the start of soccer tryouts. Because I purge constantly my lungs tend to act up. In the middle of a drill it happened today. I lack just about every vitamin and mineral that I need. My back does a weird twitch from it. It’s hard to control my movements with spasms running about. Not only has my eating disorder affected my breathing, but it’s also affected my muscles. It’s true when people say you lose muscle from starving. I was never strong to begin with, but it was hard for me to run today; harder than it should have been. My bones have also lost some density and find it difficult to support myself and kick a ball far.

Playing a game on an empty stomach because you just can’t bring yourself to eat is dangerous. Feeling light-headed and faint isn’t something I wanted. This isn’t how I imagined my life to be, which is why I am where I am. I’m not sure if I want recovery. All I know is that I can’t keep this up forever. Thankfully, I’ve gotten a healthy amount of calories today. Maybe this year I’ll recover. I hope so.”

I saw your post on EDs and lightweightsand I have a little bit of input. I had developed an ED prior to becoming a rower. I swam for several years, and putting a muscular girl into a swim suit does a number on your self esteem. So when I switched to rowing, and I learned about lightweightsI thought about trying to starve myself that much more just to get to 130. That would have killed me. I‘m 5″8, and I should be about 160 lbs, but I‘m 150 because I still have a habit of restricting. So I thought about trying to hit the light weight mark, but after my first practice with restrictions, I nearly passed out. I knew I couldn’t do it. And staying healthy was more important to me than being a lightweight.

In a weird way, rowing actually helped my ED. I couldn’t restrict my intake like I had done while I was swimming. Rowing took more out of me than I had anticipated, and I ended up dropping weight without even trying. So I learned that I was allowed to eat, even if I wasn’t one of the lightest girls on the team.”

“I was in pain for a long time. As is the case in anyone with an eating disorder, or anyone with a mental disorder in general. I was quite underweight – never to the point that I needed to go to the hospital, but I was definitely hurting my body. I didn’t get my period anymore, and I regularly had trouble with my blood glucose levels. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t concentrate, and I couldn’t remember much. How I managed to get a 3.6 GPA by the time I graduated, bearing in my I had been struggling with this for 2/3 of my college years, is still a miracle to me. But I did it, and after an extremely stressful last semester where my ED was the worst of all time, I started feeling peaceful. I don’t know where it came from, but I had ended another chapter of my life, I had achieved my academic goals and had another adventure in front of me. The adventure being moving to another country to go to graduate school. I associated my college town with my disorder, and I associated my hometown with stress and family problems, so I wanted to get away. But I didn’t want to taint my experience abroad with this stupid disorder, I was done with it, I didn’t want it in my life any longer.

There wasn’t a moment where it all clicked. Sometimes you hear that from people, ED survivors, that they went out and did something and suddenly it clicked. Or they went to therapy and had an epiphany. It didn’t work like that for me. I didn’t go to therapy. I didn’t go to the doctor. I wasn’t even diagnosed. As far as I know, no one knew except for the people I told. But I wanted to get better. I started eating more regularly and I felt better. My body image was still very distorted and it was a struggle not to look in the mirror and not to stand on the scale, but at a certain point it became normal not to. It sounds so much easier when I write it down like this, but I promise to anyone who is reading this: it was the fucking hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It is harder than a 2k. It is harder than a 5k, 6k, 10k, power hour, ergathon, anything. But you distract yourself. You find things that make you feel good. Whether that’s a song, or a bath, or knitting, or drawing – anything. YOU KEEP GOING, until it becomes normal.

I was looking at my graduate university’s website and after being sedentary for quite a long time (aside from the occasional yoga and run a bit earlier in my disorder), I wanted to do some exercise. I didn’t know what, until I found information about rowing. I was scared at first, because rowers tend to look quite buff, but I read up on it and I got excited. I watched youtube videos and I got excited. I wanted that connection with people, after being alone in my disorder for so long. At first I thought I would cox, because I was still quite small, but on the open day at the beginning of the academic year I decided I was gonna row. I realised I was only this small because I hadn’t been taking care of myself, and if I would eat normally and work out normally like any other person, I would be too big for coxing, as I am quite tall. I was still scared of the weight gain, but I hadn’t been weighing myself for a long time, and I finally started wanting something more than I wanted to be thin. I wanted to be fast and strong more than I wanted to be thin. I started training with the novices, and although I was obviously out of shape, I caught on quickly and made first novice boat in November. That’s when I decided I was more interested in what my body could do than what it looked like.

It was a struggle, especially during winter training where you pack on the pounds (of muscle, but still) but I got through it. I realised that in order to be a fast rower, you need the calories. You need the food. And if that sometimes means that you have to force yourself to eat, and force yourself to overeat to the point of being uncomfortable every so often, then so be it. I remember vividly the first time I realised that my thighs were touching once more – it’s a silly little thing but for someone with an ED it’s important. It shows your ‘status’. Losing your ‘status’ means failing and failure isn’t fun for anyone. The only way I got over that was by ignoring it. Ignoring it, doing other things, ignoring it some more until it no longer matters. Until you know longer care. Make it angry. Show it who’s boss. I gained the weight and leaped over the lightweight limit over Christmas break, and leaned back down to my normal, pre-ED weight a month and a half later, just within the lightweight zone. But I’m beating PB after PB. I’m winning medals. I’m stronger, and faster, and more determined to move the boat to the finish line as fast as I can, than I ever was to be skinny.”

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Lightweights

Rowing Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Lightweights

Previously: Introduction || Eating disorders defined + explained || Signs + symptoms || Coxswains

Today’s post is going to be about lightweight rowing. That’s not to say that eating disorders don’t happen to heavyweights because they can and do but the potential of disordered eating amongst lightweights, particularly lightweight women, is much higher. Even knowing this though, it’s still not something that is often talked about or discussed. If you’re a heavy/open weight rower and you’re suffering from an eating disorder or think you might be engaging in some of the behaviors (voluntarily or involuntarily), this post is in no way meant to minimize those issues because they are just as serious.

What is lightweight rowing?

Lightweight rowing is a specific category of rowing that sets a maximum weight limit for each individual member of a crew. It was created as an offshoot of open weight and heavyweight rowing in order to give “average sized” athletes a chance at being competitive against similarly built rowers. Heavyweight rowers are typically taller and have more build on them so they often had a physical advantage over the smaller competition. FISA’s politically correct rationale for creating an international lightweight racing program is “to encourage more universality in the sport especially among nations with less statuesque people”. In layman’s terms, it levels the playing field.

Related: Are lightweight rowers expected to be taller? I always see a ton of heavies on the shorter side, but I’m 5’9″ and a lightweight so would I probably need to gain some weight?

In high school and college, the weight limits are 160lbs for men and 130lbs for women, with no changes to the minimums for the coxswain of a lightweight crew. In international competition, things are slightly different. Instead of looking at the weight of each individual member of a crew, officials look at those plus the average weight of the entire crew. Individual weights for men should be no more than 159.8lbs and 154.3 for the crew. Women should average no more than 125.6lbs for the crew and 130lbs for each individual.

Related: If I’m currently a lightweight at 129 but on the border of open weight. Do you think it is better to be a small open weight or a big lightweight? (Btw I’m a sophomore in high school.)

Averaging is becoming a more and more hotly contested topic and most recently came up at FISA’s annual Congress meeting a week or two ago. Here is what was said about it with regards to potential rule changes in the press release:

“Lightweight Averaging – The Congress rejected the proposal of the Council to eliminate lightweight averaging in order to establish a system in which each athlete is responsible for his own weight, and not have to undergo sudden weight loss due to a teammate just before the race. Many delegates expressed the opinion that the current system of averaging allows a wider spectrum of participation in this category which might be lost if there is only one weight limit. The vote was 62 in favour of the change and 72 against.”

In collegiate rowing, the entire lightweight program across the country is small when looking at the number of schools competing vs. those who compete in the open weight or heavyweight categories. Part of this is due to funding, part of it is the school, athletic department, and/or coaches don’t think it would give their program a competitive advantage, and part of it is due to the stigma surrounding the propensity for disordered eating and the subsequent issues that arise with that when combining competitive athletes (particularly women) with weight restrictions.

Weight management

It’s often said that due to the limits on weight, lightweight rowers have a higher chance of developing eating disorders. Although that might seem obvious, when looking at the research a lot of studies found no measurable correlation between the two. What some studies did find, however, is that lightweight rowers were more highly associated with increased caloric restraints, diuretic misuse, and disordered eating patterns. Even though there was no measurable correlation, lightweights that participated in the research were on the fast track to possibly developing eating disorders in the future since they’re already doing many of the things that are clearly spelled out as warning signs and/or symptoms of them.

Other studies showed that while women were more prone to eating disorders and indulging in drastic weight control methods, men suffered from more frequent and greater overall weight fluctuations (i.e. yo-yo dieting), which is dangerous in its own right.

It’s important that whatever training and dieting regime you conclude works best for you is monitored by your coaches and/or training staff. Ideally the plan you come up with would be a collaborative effort. Athletes who are closely monitored tend to be more successful in managing their weight because of the resources and support available to them. It’s when that support system isn’t there that things tend to go poorly. In 2000, a rower from Germany who was trying to make a lightweight boat died because they weren’t being closely monitored. If someone offers you help, guidance, assistance, etc. during your lightweight career, don’t be stubborn and brush it off. You might not need them now but down the road you probably will for any variety of reasons.

Related: I know it’s silly but staying a lightweight is consuming me. Literally every moment of the day I’m thinking of ways to be smaller and I hate myself for even worrying about this so much, like 123 is a FINE weight but at the same time … I hate being like this. It’s really worrying and I’m not eating as much anymore and I just need advice.

One study that’s cited a lot when talking about weight loss and lightweight rowing is this one. Some of you guys have asked me about this too – can a smaller heavyweight rower lose weight and be competitive as a lightweight? This study found that it is possible but what is worth noting is that the “heavier” heavyweight athletes lost more muscle than fat mass over the course of the 16 weeks this study was conducted. Winter training through mid-spring season is about the same period of time so think about that if you are considering making the transition. Preparation must start well before the time you plan to fully compete as a lightweight. The rowers who suffered the greatest loss in muscle mass weren’t able to be competitive as lightweights because of the drastic reduction in power output, energy, etc.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a heavyweight trying to become a lightweight or if you’re already a lightweight, your weight loss needs to be a season long priority, not something you try and achieve four hours before weigh in. I say priority because that’s what it is, plain and simple. The recommended amount of weight loss per week for anyone, athlete or not, is 1-2lbs. Is it a lot, no. Does progress take time, yea. This is the one time in rowing where slow and steady wins the race. Plus, the benefits of losing weight slowly and responsibly ensure that you aren’t compromising your muscle mass at the same time.

Related: I’m trying to go down from heavyweight to lightweight. Since the beginning of our training trip, I’ve gained three pounds (137 to 140 lbs) even though I’m basically eating fruits, veggies, limited carbs, no artificial sugars, protein, and quite a bit of water. I’ve been doing two a days (OTW/ergs) and then additional cardio and core work. What suggestions do you have for losing weight? I’d love to go down to 130 by end of Feb. Thanks!

If you’re weighing yourself, don’t do it every day because any changes you see will likely be normal fluctuations that occur throughout the day or as a result of water weight. Weigh yourself once to start (in the morning when you first wake up) and then again a few days later (again, in the morning when you wake up). Just because the scale only shows a one or two pound difference doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong and you should resort to other techniques to speed up the process. Weighing yourself too much (every day, multiple times a day, etc.) does nothing except fuck with your head. You should be weighing yourself on a consistent basis – that’s just part of being a responsible lightweight – but be smart about it.

The effects of dehydration

One of the things I briefly talked about yesterday with coxswains is dehydrating oneself as a way to get closer to the minimum or in the case of lightweights, to make weight. Other than what I hope are painfully obvious reasons as to why you shouldn’t do this, here’s some more evidence as to why it’s harmful. Let’s assume this is for a 132lb woman trying to make weight for her boat.

2% reduction (roughly 2.5lbs in this case) in water volume leads to a decreased ability for the body to cool itself, but for the most part, her ability to perform will remain unchanged. She may experience some fatigue or dizziness and will probably appear very flushed.

3% reduction (roughly 4lbs) results in a decrease in muscle endurance, which will lead to a faster onset of fatigue. Her heart rate will be elevated because the blood is thicker, so it has to work harder to pump it through the body. Confusion, fatigue, dizziness, etc. will start to become apparent as oxygen is more slowly transported to the brain. She may also be experiencing muscle cramps, thanks in part to the increased amount of lactate that is accumulating in her body due to the increased amount of energy she’s expending (which is due to the body’s decreasing ability to pump blood and slower delivery of oxygen to the tissues).

4% reduction (roughly 5lbs) or more leads to a severe decrease in endurance, loss of the body’s ability to cool itself (which means she won’t be sweating at all), very low blood pressure, a rapid heart rate (due to the increased thickness of the blood and the increased amount of energy the heart has to expend to pump it), dizziness, and/or fainting.

All of that is stuff you should keep in mind the next time you think about putting on several layers of thick clothing (with a trash bag on top) before running around a regatta site a few hours before weigh-ins to make weight.

If you want to read more, check out this article from Rowing News in 2003. If that link doesn’t take you directly to the start of the article, it starts on page 30 and is titled “Drained and Confused”. It’s pretty informative and talks about a lot of issues regarding lightweight rowing.

Image via // @rowingpost_teguran
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Coxswains

Coxing Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Coxswains

Previously: Introduction || Eating disorders defined + explained || Signs + symptoms

Today I’m going to talk about coxswains and eating disorders. While lightweights have maximums, we have minimums when it comes to weight standards. In high school and college it’s 110lbs for women and 120/125lbs for men, respectively. As the smallest and lightest members of the crew we’re basically dead weight since we aren’t physically helping to move the boat and because of that, crews understandably want the least amount of dead weight to carry as possible.

For me, I’ve always been 15-20 pounds under the women’s minimum so at larger regattas I’ve had to carry weight in the boat with me so that I would be at 110lbs. Despite always being well below 110, I’ve still been pressured and felt pressure to keep my weight down. Coaches would joke or make offhand comments if they saw me eating fast food and say things like “better watch out, you’re not going to be able to fit in the seat if you keep eating like that”. There were also times where people would say “if light is good, lighter must be even better … what’s another few pounds if it helps your boat go faster?” Ah, the guilt trip. Obviously I always wanted what was best for my boat so this was the one that really got stuck in my head. I’d skip meals (usually breakfast and lunch since they were the easiest ones to skip), say that I wasn’t hungry or had already eaten, push food around on my plate to make it look like I’d eaten something, etc. I’m a picky eater to begin with so none of my habits ever appeared that abnormal to anyone. I knew it wasn’t normal but I still felt healthy so I continued on that trend for awhile.

Related: I’m currently a novice coxswain at my school’s club team. I weigh about 125ish. I’m thinking about transferring schools but I still want to do crew. One of the schools I was looking at was D3 and they said that coxswains should weigh less than 115. Do you think they would let me cox because I have already been doing that or would I need to lose weight? I try to work out. I’m planning on doing winter training but I’m not a good runner and I don’t have much erg experience so I don’t know if it would pay off.

All of this was way more prevalent my junior and senior year, particularly my junior year when I was coxing the lightweight 8+. I don’t know how much weight I lost but at most it was maybe five pounds so it wouldn’t have made a difference in my boat’s speed anyways, which I realized after I stopped coxing the lightweights my senior year. I gave up the weird eating patterns, etc. but I’m still overly aware of my weight, what I eat, etc. and it all goes back to offhand comments and jokes made by my coaches and teammates. None of it was ever malicious in any way but this goes to show that something you say to someone in passing can stick with them for a long time.

For coxswains who are above the minimum, they can sometimes have a lot of pressure put on them by their teammates and coaches to lose weight and get closer to racing weight, regardless of the fact that it might not be physically possible for them. Some coaches refuse to weigh their coxswains for fearing of instilling a “complex” in them but then freak out when that coxswain weighs in over racing weight three days before a regatta. Others don’t know how to approach talking about weight with their coxswains (especially if you have men coaching high school women) or how to address the issue of coxswains who are overweight.

Related: Hi! I have two questions about coxing, if that’s alright. I’m a varsity mens HS cox and I weigh around 122-123 on average. Is that a good weight for men’s? I used to cox women’s but the men’s coach asked me if I wanted to switch so I coxed both for a season before switching and the women’s coach kept asking me to drop weight. Also, can you recommend any workouts to stay in shape? I don’t really have much time to work out. Thank you so so so so much!! 

By overweight I don’t mean overweight for their body types but over the “acceptable” racing weight. I generally give coxswains a buffer of few pounds but I also think you have to be realistic and know that coaches aren’t going to pick, for example, a women’s coxswain who weighs 135lbs. The stress on the coxswain and the coach isn’t worth it.

Eating disorders and similar issues tend to arise when coxswains (or their coaches) set “goal weights” for them to be at by a certain point in the season. I think having targets to hit are a smart approach as long as they’re realistic and attainable in a reasonable amount of time. When they’re not, that’s when coxswains begin engaging in unhealthy weight loss tactics.

Throughout my time in this sport I’ve seen coxswains do some pretty ridiculous shit to get their weight down. Let’s just ignore the fact that a simple adjustment in diet or exercise would have been more than enough. Taking Adderall (whether it was prescribed to them or not) to suppress their appetite was a big one, as was purposely dehydrating themselves until they had to weigh in.

Related: How does getting weighed in work during the spring season? I’m a coxswain for a collegiate men’s team where the weight minimum is 125. I’m naturally under 110, so what’s going to happen? Sand bags? Will it be a problem?

Laxatives and diuretics were luckily never something I saw any of my friends use but that’s another thing coxswains turn to. The health consequences of engaging in tactics like this include confusion, dizziness, severe migraines, appearing more impatient or on edge than usual, slow reaction times, etc. in addition to heart and kidney problems from the amphetamines and laxatives. One of the symptoms of laxative use is a really sore back (due to stressed kidneys), which coxswains can easily wave off as it just being sore and/or bruised from hitting the back of the boat.

So, how can weight issues with coxswains be avoided or alleviated (before they become a problem)?

Don’t make offhand comments to them about what they’re eating, how they aren’t going to fit in the seat tomorrow, etc.

As a coxswain, be proactive and note your weight at the beginning of the season. If you’re more than 8-10ish pounds over the minimum, start paying closer attention to what you’re eating, how much you’re working out, and how much you’re sleeping. It’s literally that simple.

Don’t wait until the last minute before a big regatta where you know you’ll be weighed in to see how much you weigh. This only leads to you being that fool running around the regatta site in sweats and a trash bag. It’s unhealthy, it’s stupid, and you’re hurting yourself more than you’re helping your boat.

If you’re a coxswain who is currently engaging in tactics like this, stop for a second and think about all that. Is it worth doing permanent damage to your body? Even if you think what you’re doing is minor (“I only did this for those three races in the spring…”), it’s still a problem. As I said before, you have to be realistic about where your weight’s at and take responsibility for/not ignore the fact that being aware of your weight is part of the job.

Image via // @kevrlight