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Skating and Eating Disorders

I'm not really trying to ruin your weeks, it's just that a lot of depressing skating stuff is out there right now. Jennifer Kirk (perhaps better known to skating fans as "Jenny") has a great blog on trueslant.com and she has just written about her eating disorder, which she's thankfully recovered from. She doesn't completely blame skating for the issue, but does point out that the sport is rife with eating disorders and food issues. Here is an excerpt:

As time went on and the disorder grew, I began to take note of what the skaters around me were eating and doing to their bodies. This came to a head when I started touring with Champions On Ice, which meant living and spending nearly every waking moment with a group of the most acclaimed skaters in the sport. Suddenly any thoughts about the uniqueness of my behavior around food were erased, as I witnessed so many of my peers with the same obsession taking drastic measures to keep their weight down.

I saw a skater eat the cheese off of a Cheeto and then throw the leftover chip on the floor of the tour bus in order not to ingest any carbohydrates. I found leftover vomit in the toilet. A skater once told me that they had almost missed the finale because they were busy throwing up their dessert in the bathroom, and another told me that their coach was more weight-obsessed than they were and told the waiters at restaurants that she was allergic to butter and oil in order to make sure no fat would touch her lips. The chatter of non-fat, low-carb, splenda vs. real sugar never ceased. The more I was living in this weight-obsessed sport, the more I sunk deeper and deeper into my own web of eating disorder hell. I couldn’t believe that so many skaters struggled with the same thing as me, and yet so many of them appeared completely content with ruining their bodies in order to achieve a certain image. I wondered why none of my coaches or the people around me had tried to stop me from my self-destruction? Why none of these skaters got help? Perhaps it was because this was the "norm" and being thin and a particular weight was more important than a skater’s health? I still am searching for the answers to these questions

The thing that scares me is the fact that Kirk found that coaches appeared silent to the situations. Is it just an awkward situation (although authority figures like coaches should be trained to deal with such conversations, in my opinion) or are they silently reinforcing the disorder because they thought it was helping the skaters in their skating? So sad. Similar to the idea of letting someone skate while badly injured or something.

Again, this is all not really surprising, which is unfortunate-you often hear speculation about a high percentage of figure skaters having eating disorders. But it's interesting to get Kirk's personal perspective. She says that part of why she quit skating was to deal with this disorder. But another scary question is this: How many of the skaters who are out there winning national and world championships have similar issues to Kirk's, and have not dealt with their problems because the skating is so successful? And is that why we haven't seen more high-profile analysis of this issue (because the top skaters are mostly silent) by organizations like US Figure Skating? Obviously USFSA encourages healthy eating habits but I don't know of any major public movements to curb this problem and draw attention to it, and I haven't heard too many stories of the negative consequences of eating disorders in skating. Perhaps Kirk will start the ball rolling as she bravely puts her story out there. She deserves kudos for drawing attention to a problem that most in skating do not speak about publicly.