Are You Calling Me Fat?
The topic of body weight and body composition in elite sports is something that really hits home with me. Throughout my life I've always had trouble losing weight and keeping it off. Growing up swimming I was always severely self conscious of my weight. I wasn't eating any worse than the kids I was training with but some of these guys had six packs that looked like they belonged on billboards while I was finding every opportunity I could to cover myself with a towel. After taking a semester off tennis in College I ballooned out to 85kg (187lbs). Finally, enough was enough and I'll be the first to admit I went a little extreme. My diet and exercise went through the roof. At the end of an intense 8 months I finished the Vancouver marathon weighing 66kg (145lbs). On the surface things were great, but in reality I was beginning to feel severely fatigued. On top of that, I had strained some relationships that were beyond the point of repair. In dealing with weight loss and body image there is a fine line. I had probably crossed it.
That was the day that triathlon became my passion. It was something that ensured my weight didn't skyrocket again. I loved what I was doing. That was until I began to get injured. Jumping to the elite levels of triathlon rather quickly meant I was put under all sorts of pressure to fit a certain mould. Triathletes were skinny and if I was to be a pro triathlete, I had damn well better be skinny as well. The pressure to keep this image meant I put a lot mental effort in to stay on top of my weight. As soon as I got injured the pressure was off and I felt some relief knowing the start line wasn't immediately around the corner. The strict dieting took a back seat.
Travelling around Europe with a broken foot was a wonderful example of this. I was unlikely to see the start line for at least six months and I was in Italy on crutches. You had better believe I was going to try and find the best gelato I could. The gelato hunt, coupled with the immobility my crutches provided meant my weight once again began to blow out. On return to training I weighed approximately 82kg. I wasn't pleased with it, but I also knew it wasn't the heaviest I'd ever been and I'd lost the weight before. Most importantly, I was more prepared. I knew it would take some time to get down to where I wanted to, but I had time. There were no pressures.
Joining PTC was a rude shock to that system. I rocked up at swimming on day one and immediately felt out of place. These guys are skinny. I'm pretty sure I can see each muscle fiber through some of those guys' skin. They looked like elite athletes and I did not. If I wasn't feeling enough internal pressure to start dropping the weight, my skin fold testing and the comments I was receiving from other's would surely help. I got my diet completely back on track and reached my goal of getting to 69.5kg (153lbs) before heading to the start line in Subic Bay.
The weeks since have been interesting for me. After taking a rest week and backing off the running just a little bit with a foot injury, I put on a couple of kilograms. Not much, but apparently enough for everyone to notice. I have had more comments on my weight in the last month than I have had ever.The majority have been extremely negative. I've been asked why I'm struggling to lean up if I've been eating well. On top of this, there have been times where I've pretty much straight up been told that I'm fat. Thankfully, there's the other side of the coin and I've had some good support. With my current housemate, fellow pro triathlete Jack Hickey on a tear listening to podcasts on the topic and our four combined degrees in exercise science I feel we are well and truly on the right track.
Thankfully that means I am starting to feel positive about my own body image and am now able to drown out the rest of the comments. However, others are not as fortunate. The impacts of negative comments on body image can't be underestimated. As Ian Maclaren put it; "Everyone's fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."