Body image concerns as an athlete

I’ve always been pretty body consicious, but when you are attempting to reach elite level at a sport, you prioritise performance over body shape. Most sports people are extremely fit and healthy, but it is definitely not right to assume every athlete has a positive body image.

Last year I dedicated the off season to gaining strength.This training invloved a limited range of excercises five days a week for almost three months. I was constantly comparing myself to my friends. I couldn’t understand why a similar weights program was making us look so different.

Poor body image

Last summer was an absolute nightmare for me. I was uncomfortable in every item of clothing I owned, and only felt happy when wearing 3/4 sleeves that hid my biceps. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t feel lean and strong, just slow and bulky.

When you’re already training twice a day and attempting to reach international level, there is no room to experiment with different workouts. I was spending all possible training time on the water kayaking, or in the gym lifting heavy. So I felt miserable, but had no one I could talk to about it.

There was no way I was going to tell the kayaking world I was unhappy with how training made me look. I couldn’t tell friends, because I never want my concerns to become theirs. I couldn’t tell my family, because there is only so many times you can stand to hear the words ‘it’s all in your head’.

Restrictive eating

Instead I turned to the one thing I could control: what I ate. Almost subconciously I was always choosing the lighter option and cutting out certain things. I was still eating more than most girls my size. However this wasn’t enough for the amount of energy I was expending each day.

In my head I thought if weights were making me bigger, then I could counteract it by eating less. In reality I was putting my body under considerable stress and limiting my kayaking peformance by not fuelling myself properly.

The intense exercise, lack of sleep and restricted calories were also likely to have promoted production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol production is stimulated by both physical and mental stressors, and has been linked to increased fat storage. So totally counterproductive!

Breaking the vicious circle

To prioritise your sporting performance you need to eat to fuel your body. Make sure you have enough rest days and sleep 8 hours a night. I reached a point where no matter what I looked like in the mirror I would have thought I was ugly. This is low self confidence, nothing else.

We all have different body types, and some people gain muscle more obviously than others. If your sport requires a certain level of ‘bulk’, embrace it. It will be worth it once you achieve your dreams. Plus you can always sustainably lean out later on when you eventually stop competing.

Here is an amazing post discussing the contradictions between training your body for sport versus matching up to current beauty standards. British Slalom athlete Kim Woods also speaks from the heart about overcoming negative body image in the video below.

Despite #bodypositive, there are many athletes that still feel isolated. High level training for most sports will not leave you with the tiny waist and big bum look all over instagram. We need to be more accepting of different body types, and what strong, fit healthy bodies can achieve.

Keep smiling, and have a good day x

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Fed up of my own lack of self confidence holding me back. This is me trying new things, pushing myself outside my comfort zone and sharing my love for sustainable fitness.

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