Over the past month or so, theres been a bit of talk around body image issues and eating disorders in our sport. It’s not only our sport where we can see these issues, as they are also present in day to day society. Most of the talk and information is aimed towards female athletes, but also with the non-athletic population. Now, what a lot of people may not recognize, is that body image issues and eating disorders are just as much of an issue in male endurance athletes. For this reason I’ve decided to tell my story of my not so standard issues and what I have seen others go through. I am quite sure this will probably cause a bit of back lash, but I’m just calling it how I saw things.
The issue with it is that in male sports, people either don’t recognize there’s an issue, or if they do, just sweep it under the rug and choose to ignore it. I’ve read about it and seen it first hand. Larger athletes with huge potential and ability all of a sudden fall off the face of the earth. Trying to lose a few extra kilos is often one of the factors to it. With the depth in male sports, these athletes are easily forgotten about pretty damn quickly, usually before there is any time to ask questions.
I can say I am an athlete who has suffered with body image issues and eating disorders on and off for pretty much most of my life. My issues first started around the age of 7-8, with me stopping eating my lunches while at school thanks to endless bullying about my size. Fast forward through my high school years where this habit continued on and off. This mixed with depression often lead to it being mixed with binge eating of junk comfort food creating the ultimate vicious circle. At my lowest points, I would force myself to throw up the junk food that I had just consumed.
Once I finished high school, I started competitive cycling again (I stopped for a bit due to school commitments). Thanks to raw power and a half decent engine, I found myself progressing through the grades and then competing in A grade and NRS races. Now, all through this time my weight was always a issue in the back of my mind, but was something I was able to get around due to the racing I was doing. The big issues came when I started to step up. Suddenly weight wasn't only an issue on the hills, it became an issue on the flats. I just couldn't continue to go with the accelerations. It wasn't that I didn't have the raw power, it was that I was just having to use so much more than others to get up to speed. What made issues worse was that I would find myself with light, skinny riders in team kits getting dropped with me on climbs.
All this lead to me trying just about everything to drop the extra weight, and ended with me at times going to some pretty extreme lengths. One of the stupidest things I did was go as low as 800 calls a day while still doing full training volume of 15-20hrs a week. I lost a little weight but not enough to warrant the effort I was putting in, and ultimately slowed my metabolism down to nothing. This made me even more depressed resulting in binge eating again which lead to weight gain which lead to more starving. The vicious circle again. In the end I think this was one thing that burnt me out from cycling.
The thing is, I never actually got skinny and never got to the weight I “should have”. This was the hardest pill to swallow. The lightest I got was 85Kg, giving well over 80% of the peloton a minimum of a 10kg head start. This is massive in a sport where power to weight is a key factor. If I was 85kg and pure muscle and 7% body fat would have excepted it. I kinda understood my physical limitations, but the leanest I got was around 13% body fat. That's pretty healthy and normal for the average male, but hardly lean for a endurance athlete.
My move to triathlon has helped me deal with these issues a fair bit. No longer was weight a major factor in my performance and results. Sure its still going to be a factor, its a power to weigh sport. I’ve learn to except the fact I’m never going to be light and I’m never going to be narrow. My frame will just not allow it. My size is something that still comes up in conversation and is made fun of. The majority of the time its only meant as a joke, but it’s still not an easy thing for me to deal with at times. Most of the time I try to beat others to it as a way of limiting damage. On the odd occasion I’ll slip back into old habits. These habits don't last long enough to cause any damage. I still have plenty of days where I’m self conscious about how I look. These are things that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. The moment I let these thoughts get the best of me is the moment that it start to do more damage.