Tag: neda

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
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Signs + Symptoms

Rowing Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Signs + Symptoms

Previously: Introduction || Eating disorders defined + explained 

Similarly to yesterday’s post where I briefly described the different types of eating disorders, this post is going to list some of their warning signs and symptoms, as well as how your rowing is affected by them.

Due to the higher prevalence of and more readily available information for certain eating disorders than others, I’m only going to go over anorexia and bulimia. This is in no way meant to make light of the other disorders I discussed yesterday or take away from the seriousness of their complications though. These two disorders have much more severe physical consequences that directly effect rowers (and athletes in general) so that’s what I’m going to spend time going over.

Anorexia Nervosa

“A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.”

Warning signs

Dramatic weight loss, refusal to eat certain foods or abstaining completely from an entire food group (no fats, no carbs, etc.), frequently suffering from or displaying signs of anxiety, engaging in negative self-talk (we all do this, but in this case it’s taken to the extreme), having carefully calculated food rituals (obsessively chewing, pushing food around the plate, etc.), maintaining rigid exercise regimes regardless of weather, injury, health status, etc. (part of the reason why this disorder can be easily hidden amongst rowers is because most of us already do this), making excuses to avoid eating, increasing your intake of caffeine (since caffeine makes you have to pee, which leads to water loss), etc.


The body eventually goes into starvation mode due to malnutrition, hair and nails become brittle (multiple your standard dry hair and split ends by tenfold), your skin dries out (sometimes you can actually see scaly patches), you frequently get chills (due to the body’s inability to regulate temperature and from the lack of fat mass), energy levels plummet, vital organs are damaged (the kidneys can’t handle all the proteins being broken down or the lack of water, heart rate slows, blood pressure falls, the brain begins wasting away, etc.), electrolyte imbalances are exaggerated, the lack of and/or loss of calcium leads to weakening of the skeleton, you’re in a perpetual state of confusion because your brain isn’t receiving enough energy to maintain function, muscles are broken down for energy when there is no fatty tissue left, etc.

How this effects rowing

Anorexia (and other EDs) affect your rowing in all the obvious ways. Carbohydrates and fats are the main fuels we use during practice and races. If our glycogen and fatty tissue stores are depleted, the next thing the body is going to go to for fuel is protein, which is what our muscles are comprised of. If your muscles are being broken down, your kidneys go into overdrive trying to filter the proteins from your system, which can eventually lead to kidney failure due to the stress put on them. Not having any muscle mass is a huge detriment to rowers because, obviously, that’s where we draw our power from.

As the muscles begin wasting away, so to does our ability to maintain the amount of power we can produce. As we try to continue maintaining a high power output, we have to exert more and more energy to do so, which is hard to do when our energy levels are at rock bottom levels due to the lack of nutrients from not eating. Low energy levels + high power output = fatiguing fast. If your body isn’t getting any nutrients, your brain isn’t either which can lead to increased incidences of you experiencing serious bouts of confusion, dizziness, and fainting. I’ve seen people pass out on the water in the middle of a row (including some in my own boat) and it’s terrifying.

Another consequence of reduced brain function and low fat mass is the body’s inability to regulate it’s own temperature. Temperature regulation is very important to rowers since it’s very easy for us to become overheated quickly. With disorders like anorexia, the inability to regulate and maintain temperature tends to cause those suffering from it to experience intense cold chills all the time, which sucks to begin with because who enjoys being cold all the time, but it’s also dangerous when you’re out rowing in the fall, late winter, or spring when the temperatures are low.

Bulimia Nervosa

“A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.”

Warning signs

Unexplained stomach pain(s), blood tests indicating electrolyte imbalances, withdrawing from friends, family, and activities (most often as a way to continue hiding their behavior), decay and discoloration of the teeth, swelling in the face (due to damaged glands in the cheeks), rigid exercise regime (similar to anorexia), evidence of purging (frequently leaving meals to go to the bathroom, signs and smells of vomit, finding laxatives and/or diuretics, or the less often discussed but still obvious sounds of purging – vomiting obviously, but the longer-than-necessary sounds of running water can also be an indication that something is going on), and evidence of binge eating (large quantities of food suddenly go missing in short periods of time, finding empty food wrappers hidden away), etc.


There are overlaps between anorexia and bulimia, but additional symptoms of bulimia include irregular heart rates, heart failure (leading to death due to dehydration and the lack of potassium and sodium), electrolyte imbalances, inflammation and/or rupture of the esophagus, development of gastric ulcers, tooth decay, acid reflux, etc.

How this effects rowing

The biggest detriments to rowing for someone suffering from bulimia come from the electrolyte imbalances and heart problems. Everything else is just an added layer of discomfort on top of what can already be an uncomfortable sport. Electrolytes “affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood (pH), your muscle function, and other important processes. You lose electrolytes when you sweat” and “must replace them by drinking fluids”. Electrolyte imbalances, as I talked about with anorexia, leads to heart and brain function problems. When we’re rowing at high pressure/rates our heart rates enter the red zone a lot. Having a condition where the heart rate is no longer regulated and you’re experiencing palpitations, arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, etc. (which can and most likely will result from those imbalances) can lead to many things, including stroke and/or death.

Acid reflux, bowel irregularities, etc. are serious issues on their own but when you’re out on the water, they are a huge inconvenience and will make you miserable. How well do you row when you don’t feel well? Now think about being on the water, doing hard steady state, and suddenly having a stroke. Seriously. Imagine what that would be like for second.

A lot of the medical issues associated with bulimia are ones that are detected through medical tests (or a dental check up) but even though we routinely go through physicals, clearance procedures, etc. the root issue of the eating disorder itself can still go undetected unless you are specifically questioned on your eating habits.

If you go through your medical exams and it’s determined that you have or on your way towards developing one or more of these problems, hopefully that will serve as a wake up call that you need to make some changes but also that you should reach out to someone for help, particularly if you feel like you’re losing or have lost control over your habits.

Image via // @tristanshipsides
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Eating disorders defined + explained

Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Eating disorders defined + explained

Previously: Introduction

The first, most basic thing I want to discuss is what eating disorders are and then highlight the different types that exist. The majority of this information is coming from the National Eating Disorders website, with information from other resources thrown in.

“Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder – include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.” They are known for their “serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males.”

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is defined as “a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss” and is characterized by a fear of gaining weight, a resistance to or refusal to maintain an appropriate weight for one’s age and height, and debilitating thoughts of feeling “fat” or overweight (when in fact they are most often the direct opposite). In women, losing your period (amenorrhea) can be a sign and/or symptom of anorexia. At the very least, it’s a sign you’re not eating enough, regardless of whether or not an eating disorder is a factor.

While the specific causes of anorexia aren’t known, it is thought that one can be predisposed to it if you suffer from anxiety, poor self-image, etc.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is defined as “a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating”. Those who suffer from it tend to ingest larger than normal quantities of food before feeling a sense of loss-of-control, which results in their use of laxatives, water pills, self-induced vomiting, etc. to purge what they ate.

“Larger than normal” quantities of food doesn’t mean eating an extra 1000 calories at dinner – for some people, it could mean eating an extra 10,000 calories in one sitting. Most often, people will hoard their food and then secretly indulge in it later when no one else is around to witness their behavior. That secretive behavior can be one of the main giveaways for someone suffering from bulimia. Their weight tends to be fairly normal since they’re not usually losing any weight, which is why it’s easier to hide bulimia. The only person who might be able to easily spot someone suffering from it is your dentist, since cavities, gingivitis, and worn enamel on the teeth (thanks to the stomach acid) are all trademark signs of bulimia.

One compensatory behavior of bulimia that we often forget about is obsessive and/or compulsive exercise. As athletes, our workout regimens are pretty regimented to begin with so hiding this behavior can be pretty easy. Sometimes this is classified as it’s own disorder known as “exercise bulimia“.

Binge Eating

Binge eating, while not as commonly recognized as anorexia or bulimia (despite being more common than both), is an eating disorder that is “characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.” Similarly to bulimia, it involves consuming large quantities of food in short periods of time. They differ in that binge eating isn’t accompanied by the purging behaviors that bulimia is associated with.

Like other eating disorders the causes aren’t known but it’s thought to be linked with dieting, since after a period of dieting some people “reward” themselves by eating large quantities of food but then end up taking it too far by experiencing a loss of control in how much they consume, which leads to them eating to the point where they are uncomfortably full. This leads to strong feelings of guilt and depression which can come full circle and start the process of binging all over again. Stress, boredom, etc. are all emotions that can lead to binging.

Unlike anorexia and bulimia, at this time binge eating doesn’t fall under the DSM-IV‘s definition of mental illnesses but it has been studied and treated for well over 50 years.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS)

Anorexia and bulimia are both known and classified as the two “main” eating disorders but there is another classification known as ED-NOS for those who are “struggling with eating disordered thoughts, feelings or behaviors, but does not have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia”. If you fall under the criteria for suffering from anorexia but you still get your period or your weight is still relatively normal, you would be classified under ED-NOS.

Men and women may also fall under the ED-NOS classification if they indulge in behaviors of multiple eating disorders (“crossing over” is how it’s defined). Of all the EDs though ED-NOS has a higher death rate than all of them so it’s just as serious, if not more, than anorexia and bulimia.


While not technically considered an eating disorder per se, orthorexia displays compulsions similar to those seen in anorexia and bulimia. The focus is not on losing weight or being thin but instead on eating healthy. It was considered an eating disorder in the 90s but due to society’s sudden fascination with organic food it’s become too “mainstream” to be considered one anymore.


This is a really interesting one and not something I had heard of until I started doing research for this post. It affects those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes and “is the reduction of insulin intake to lose weight.” Although those with diabetes can suffer from other eating disorders as well, diabulimia is specifically related to diabetes because instead of cutting calories through starvation (as in anorexia) or purging (as in bulimia), they’ll “eliminate” calories by restricting their insulin intake. If you know even the basics of diabetes you know how imperative it is for diabetics to follow a strict insulin regime so in addition to the negative health effects the would suffer from the eating disorder, they are  also seriously comprising their health by ignoring the dangers of not taking their insulin.

Because there are two diseases that make up diabulimia, it is considered a “dual-diagnosis” disorder. The mortality rate of diabetes jumps to 35% when combined with an eating disorder but despite this it’s probably the least discussed disorder of all the ones listed so far. All of the usual diabetic symptoms would be experienced, in addition to a severe drop in energy, higher than normal levels of glucose, organ damage, etc.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to finish this series with a post that highlights the experiences of rowers and coxswains who read the blog. Everything will be kept anonymous so if you’re interested in participating, send me an email.

Image via // @bassebus
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Rowing Training & Nutrition

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This is one of the few posts I plan on writing that is a little off the topic of rowing and coxing but I think it’s an important one that needs to be discussed, mainly because I don’t think anyone else will or has discussed it. February 24th through March 2nd is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I want to take the opportunity to utilize the (small) platform I have here to shed some light on the issues rowers and coxswains face with regards to disordered eating, pressures to maintain or lose weight, etc. Eating disorders are a taboo topic regardless of what “world” you’re in (rowing or not) and people tend to shy away from the topic because it’s an uncomfortable one to talk about. With regards to rowing, most coaches don’t have the breadth of knowledge to recognize and understand the signs and symptoms of an ED, let alone what to do about it if they’re confronted with one of their athletes dealing with one.

I can’t and won’t claim to know everything there is to know about eating disorders, but it is something I studied pretty intensely in college as part of my major and something I’ve witnessed first hand several times. Even though I’m 15 pounds below the women’s minimum for coxswains, I’ve still been pressured by coaches to keep my weight down so I’ll admit to doing some not-to-healthy things on occasion for the sake of keeping my boat fast. Believe me when I say it’s never worth it.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders aren’t just physical, they’re psychological as well. The stigma surrounding mental health disorders is tends to perpetuate the disorders even more. Please don’t let other people’s opinions, actions, offhand comments, etc. discourage you from asking for and/or getting help. I think it’s important in situations like these for people to recognize that they aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues, so if you are a rower or coxswain who has dealt with an eating disorder (either in the past or currently) and wouldn’t mind sharing your experience, please send me an email. The point of this is to let other rowers and coxswains know that they aren’t the only ones going through this and to encourage them to seek help, whether it be from their peers or a professional.

Check back for a new post each afternoon this week. You can find all the posts (and other related questions and posts) under the “eating disorders” tag.

Image via // @rowingcelebration