“You’re just too small to be good at double polling” *emphasized with a squeeze of my arm*. “You’re having more food?”. *looks at legs* “Have you been working out? . . . It’s a good thing your sport results in lean muscle”. “You’re a skier? Move out to where I can see you. . . oh, your legs are really small”. “Are you really going to eat another serving?”. “Your butt’s small, you should do more squats”. 

Over the years, my body and eating habits have been commented on quite a bit, something I think most athletes can relate to. Oftentimes these comments come from people who think they’re being helpful and supportive but don’t take the time to consider the phrasing/necessity of their comment or that I have most likely already had a conversation with my coach and dietitian to establish a strength, nutrition and training plan to address my weaknesses and keep me healthy as I work towards my goals. 

Thankfully the dysfunction surrounding athletes’ bodies and nutrition is starting to be recognized, with increased talk about body image, eating disorders and RED-S and the beginning of an important switch in the dialogue to focus on athletes’ physical and psychological health rather than their weight. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. And, this isn’t just coming from me; when I floated the question of whether “there is room for improvement regarding how people talk about bodies and nutrition in sport” on instagram, 95% of people agreed.

This topic has been on my mind a lot over the summer and I’ve been thinking that although there is increasing talk surrounding body image and nutrition in sport (shout out to all the athletes for opening up and getting the conversation started!!), I think there has been less talk about what we can do to keep things moving in the right direction. However, I didn’t want this blog post to be full of just my own opinions and so, as aforementioned, reached out to my athlete community on instagram with a few questions. Most comments that emerged fell into a few main categories:

1. Increased Education for Coaches and Athletes.

Coaches: Coaches are athletes first point of contact. Creating an environment where athletes feel comfortable reaching out, listening to them, treating their concerns seriously, and finding an experienced nutritionist/dietitian/psychologist to refer athletes to can make a big difference. Having increased information on body image/nutrition/eating disorders at coaching courses would be amazing, but a few other good places to start can be found in the resource section at the end of this blog.

Athletes: I highly recommend talking to coaches or teammates to find a nutritionist/dietitian with experience working with endurance athletes. Just like with training plans, it’s important to recognize that everyone is different, so making a nutrition plan to suit one’s own needs is really key. While it can be expensive meeting with a nutritionist one on one, a good place to start would be reaching out to teammates and going together; it will give a solid base of information, help identify strengths/weakness which can then supplement individual session(s) based on need.

2. Moving talk away from praising weight loss/specific body type and shifting focus towards the importance of refuelling, health and strength. Especially at a young age. I don’t think this means constantly monitoring everything one says — we want talk about weight and body image to become less taboo!! — but rather let’s just be more aware of the language we’re using. And, if someone says something in a way you don’t find appropriate, it’s a wonderful opportunity to educate them on body image and nutrition in sport.

3. Open Conversations between/with coaches and athletes. This identified area of improvement is my absolute favourite because as athletes we have the potential to make a difference here. By talking to our teammates, coaches and others in our lives about body image/nutrition we not only decrease the stigma surrounding these topics, but can also decide how they are discusses and what language is used. 

There has already been some good progress made through athletes sharing their stories/experiences over the past number of years. I’m so excited to see how much further we can go by continuing to work together!!

– Zoë


*Please note that the female athlete triad has been replaced by RED-S (International Olympic Committee (IOC) consensus statement on RED-S )

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