Emotional Eating and Self-Discovery – The Brave Story of a High-Performance Athlete
As a high performance athlete, I love the feeling of being in the water. My ability to move quickly through water surprised me. My very first practice was extremely exhausting, I was the slowest in the group but that didn’t discourage me from becoming faster.
In a short period of time, the pool became my happy place and what was driving me to grow. I’d like to share with you my experience of how I surprised myself with unexpected success early on before being confronted with a series of injuries that led to feeling at a low-point. Also, the journey of how I got involved in the sport of swimming, its highs and lows to go along with a dim, personal struggle with emotional eating as an unhealthy habit.
High performance athletes have their own set of struggles in life. Athletes experience an inordinate amount of stress because we need to fulfill the commitment to sport and other aspects in life such as school or a job which can be a challenge to juggle. However, the sport is perceived differently from an amateur to a high-performance athlete. Sport becomes the athlete’s identity.
I started to swim when I was 12 years old (late for swimming) and my parents suggested I join a competitive swim team. However, I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have the basic skills in swimming. I took a year to learn the basics and progressed quickly. I had developed pure joy from just being in the water and finally after a year I was able to join a small competitive swim club North of Toronto.
I had set a long term goal of being an Olympic swimmer one day. It may be a common goal for all competitive swimmers but for me I really believed I could do it with hard work and commitment.
I was so committed to my swimming development that I trained physically for countless hours each day on dryland to gain strength and reach the same level as those who have been more experienced in the sport.
After a year of swimming, I had lost about 20 lbs and gained lean muscle from the massive amount of continuous and strenuous cardio in the pool. I moved to a different swim club closer to home after a year of training for the convenience. The coach there gladly accepted me to train in the second fastest group on the swim team. I was so happy, and knew things were going the right direction after only a year of training!
I spent five years training in Richmond Hill and had my successes and my failures and realized that I did not create myself a realistic goal. On my road to reaching my goal I had stumbled upon illness and injuries to my ankles and my shoulders.
The setbacks caused me to react emotionally and almost quit because I felt as if I had underachieved and gotten off track in pursuit of the long-term goal.
I moved to Toronto and joined the varsity swim team at the University of Toronto. I was very shy and didn’t make friends that easily. This caused me to feel a little more home sick and definitely made me believe that my abilities in the pool were inferior. In the first year at U of T, I gained back about fifteen pounds and felt horrible about it because I knew that the weight would slow me down. My performance in swimming started to plateau or didn’t meet my goals I set for myself. I had started to turn to food and was digging deeper into an unhealthy habit.
I had become so obsessed about what I ate that I had been on and off on diet for over 3 consecutive years. On top of that I stressed about losing sleep, work, and, school had been the hardest to juggle throughout my university career. But most of all, the stress came from how or what I was eating. It was a vicious cycle. I knew something had gone when I started to develop a negative relationship with swimming. I would relate my poor performance to my weight and would feel even worse about myself which reinforced the same unhealthy habit.
I tried to turn this around by talking to a sport psychologist and nutritionist. They had consistently helped me with my struggles by just letting me talk freely without judgement. That was a huge personal step to self-awareness. I have slowly turned around from what could have been a dangerous eating disorder.
In the end, the biggest realization through it all is the importance of reaching out to seek help and talk about things when you need it. (Even for high performing athletes). Really, just talking about things makes a huge difference sometimes. That was the beginning for me. I have grown so much from my sport and am very happy to share my experiences with others to help them succeed and not go in the path I was leading myself to.
By Victoria Radounski
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