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Helping Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Athletes

My Thoughts On The Impact of Society’s Body Expectations

Being an athlete in a bigger body is not easy. People assume you are not fit based on how you look. Actually people will find a way to judge your body no matter what size it is. Even if you are confident and feel comfortable in your body, those judgments will have an impact on you. I have lived in a bigger body most of my life. I am pretty tough; my size doesn’t stop me from doing anything. My parents encouraged me to join sports, play an instrument, be creative, explore nature, learn a lot and be kind to others. They never commented on my size as being a factor in my ability to try anything.

Nonetheless, as far back as I can remember every doctor I’ve seen has told me the same thing: “you’re in great health but you could stand to lose a few pounds.” I seriously have the most boring medical history – no broken bones, no allergies to food or medications, never smoked anything or tried drugs, and the only time I stayed overnight in a hospital was to birth my 2 children (didn’t even take the drugs then). I’m not perfect, of course – I love to eat, appreciate a good cocktail, and suffered a few sports related injuries. But I still say no to more questions during a medical interview than a toddler being asked to eat their veggies.

How Do Comments on Bodies Impact Us?

What if the second part of those doctors’ comments was never mentioned? What if for over 40 years doctors weren’t sending a message that there was something wrong with my body? What if I wasn’t constantly trying to lose those few pounds that ultimately led to disordered eating and additional weight gain? What if the doctors ignored BMI (which by the way was created in the 1800s by a mathematician for statistical purposes, not medical diagnoses) and simply looked at me as a person? They would have seen a strong, healthy, smart, successful, confident human.

I’m not blind to the extra fat on my body. If you’ve been following my journey you may remember a leaner Adina a few years back. Well, that leaner body came with a price.

When I started losing weight I received so many compliments about how great I looked. The positive attention made me feel good. I can’t describe the joy of finally being able to find clothes that fit me. As a coach my focus was far more about long term health and enjoying exercise. I certainly got caught up in the before and after pictures, especially my own with a thin body for the first time in my adult life. I believed I was inspiring people with positivity, but celebrating weight loss as better health was contributing to the problem. Not to mention that I was obsessed with what I ate: overthinking, overplanning and overly concerned that if I let up for one moment I’d go back to that old body.

The Breaking Point

Somewhere at the intersection of leaving a toxic job environment, the onset of perimenopause and preparing teenagers for college, it was too hard to maintain and I was suffering mentally. Little by little, I began to let go of food rules and diet culture. I am making progress. It’s a slow process, but it will take time to undo 40 years of negative messaging. It doesn’t help that even last year a nurse practitioner told me I should walk more to improve my fitness just a few days before I completed a 10 mile swim.

The doctors are not the only ones fueling the fire. Our society has imposed unrealistic metrics and expectations through all types of media: magazines, advertisements, film, tv, and social media along with the acceptance to comment on people’s bodies. Watch some old sitcoms from the 80s and 90s – you’ll be appalled at all the fat shaming. It’s no surprise that body image is a source of mental distress. During the 2021 Ironman World Championships, comments were made that winner Kristian Blummenfelt could have gone faster if he weighed less. Seriously? The guy swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles faster than anyone else out there! And it happens to everyday athletes as well. I’ve heard dozens of endurance athletes share stories of mental anguish, anxiety and depression as a result of insensitive comments or medical professionals claiming they are overweight or obese.

So What Do We Do?

We seek out safe spaces. We find experts to educate and support our growth. We look for camaraderie. We lift each other in an effort to rebuild our mental strength and confidence. We celebrate our bodies for getting us through each day, not what it looks like. We fight. Every day.

I reached out to Dr. Amy Porto, a registered dietitian with a PhD in Nutrition Science and BS in Biochemistry. Her combination of science and common sense has helped me unpack my personal food issues, learn how to talk about my needs and empowered me to advocate for myself. Plus she knows how to keep it REAL, reminding us the value of carbs, that calories can’t tell time and the only time food isn’t clean is when you drop it on the floor.

Ultimately, I learned that I am so much more than my body. I am confident, empathetic, and caring. I am smart, creative, and driven. I have a strong voice that shares my story and experiences knowing that it will resonate with someone along the way. I value the lessons learned through this unfortunate process and have made it my mission to inspire every body to celebrate themselves for who they are.

Since 2021 Team B*REAL provides a safe space where anyone can celebrate being an extraordinary athlete, whatever that means to them. No stressful applications. No wondering if you’re good enough by someone else’s standards to belong. No judgment about size (or ability, age, race, identity…) We are a community of support, acceptance and camaraderie. We are extraordinary athletes because we show up everyday to do our personal best and cheer for each other. The focus is not on setting records or reaching podiums (although sometimes that happens), but inspiring each other while building confidence in ourselves.

There’s so much more I can say on this topic, but for now let’s stop talking about what bodies look like and focus on the people who live in them and their extraordinary experiences.

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