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Eating Disorders – Pt.2 It’s Prevalence in Figure Skating & How to Help Yourself or Loved Ones

Hey guys. Welcome back, this is part two of our last blog on Eating Disorders. Unfortunately, EDs are a common issue, especially in figure skating. Multiple athletes have talked and discussed this topic before, yet it hasn’t gotten much better. Although the last few years have held huge transformations in the sports culture, it’s only the start. Figure skating is a lovely and beautiful sport with a sadly dark underbelly. While it’s become a more public sport recently it still holds a lot of people back due to financing. Figure skating is an extremely expensive sport. It’s almost an exclusive sport, often feeling like a club or sorority that’s hard to get into if you don’t fit the “aesthetic” perfectly. You’re given pressure when entering figure skating to be skinny yet muscular, rich enough to pay for all of it (coaching, often times multiple coaches, ice time, equipment, and off-ice training classes, etc.), own good/ popular athletic clothing, and to be mentally tough in a toxic way. While I’ve seen huge improvements just in my home rink with this standard changing it’s still present. Especially the part about having a perfect, and very specific body type.

While weighing less can make it easier to jump, and less hard on our joints when landing, it’s unhealthy to expect everyone to hold to this. Everyone’s bodies are different with different genetics. Some skaters who are larger have enough muscle to perform just as well. And telling them otherwise is degrading. Sometimes it is necessary to lose weight for health benefits or joint issues, but not every skater who isn’t the “perfect size” needs to. I’ve heard stories and seen others be told they “aren’t going to be able to improve” or they “can’t achieve [goal] because they are too fat” when in reality they’re a very normal-sized guy/girl.
There are plenty of stories out there of abused skaters, mentally and physically. Eating Disorders are an important issue we need to take about more in the sport. We need to change this exclusive atmosphere into one of inclusivity and encouragement. EDs have gotten so bad in figure skating, one study found that 20.5% of competitive skaters reported having a history of an eating disorder, and half of those reported still having an eating disorder. Furthermore, a majority of the skaters (62.5%) reported symptoms of anorexia. Eating Disorder Hope talks about this and other related issues in skating on their website in this article: Eating Disorder Hope – Figure Skating

Dozens of world-class skaters — Johnny Weir, Gabrielle Daleman, Nancy Kerrigan, Tanith Belbin, Jennifer Kirk, and Akiko Suzuki— have openly spoken about their own struggles with EDs. So, if the top skaters who are mentally tough enough and skilled to make it struggle what does that tell us about the sport? It’s coaching culture?

I’m sure every skater knows or is a figure skater who’s struggled with an ED, AND KNOWS OR IS a skater who’s been abused by a coach. But how can we fix this? To be completely honest I’m not sure, but I believe bringing it into the conversation is a good start. If you’re fighting this battle I want you to tell someone, find a support buddy. Whether that’s a parent, friend, or coach. Please reach out, you’re not alone, and having support in your life changes things.

If you are that support buddy here are some ways you might be able to better help your loved ones:

  •  Become a better listener. Simply hear them out and listen to what they have to say. Part of healing is just getting the issue out in the open. Don’t cut them off or shut down their ideas or feelings, even if you disagree. Let them speak first and explain. Then go from there, encouraging and correcting the bad habits and thoughts.
  • Provide counter messages. Encourage eating well and in moderation (not too little or too much). Show acceptance and kindness if they tell you they’ve messed up. Show you love them for who they are, and their image isn’t that important.
  • Don’t shame. Let them know there’s no shame in struggling with an ED, it’s okay and you’re there for them when they need it.

Overall, the most important thing to offer someone struggling with an ED is a safe place, to be honest, and heal. If there’s nowhere/ no one they feel safe enough, to be honest, it makes it hard to heal because they’ll be stuck on the defensive physically and mentally. So just spread positivity and be kind.
Kindness is honey to the soul.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” – Proverbs 16:24

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