This photo has graced multiple magazine covers over the last decade. It was taken in October, 2010. During this time, I was beginning a chapter in my life that I would only look back at, eleven years later, with a sense of reflection and somewhat sadness to what can happen when we let others’ opinions and the dark side of our own sport influence the minds of our teenage/adolescent girls and boys.
At this time, I was a senior in high school. 17. I had just come off of a summer climbing around Europe and had been very successful in competitions. I climbed my first 8c (5.14b) that summer and was being active outside for long days.
During the course of this summer, I began to lose weight. Unintentionally. Obviously, when your caloric output is greater than your caloric input, that happens. This was unintentional as I was a kid who loved climbing and pushing herself, driven to succeed, and naturally a petite person. My caloric input could not match my output. I did not work with a nutritionist, either.
I didn’t think much of it. Until that fall when people started complimenting me on how great I looked. How well I was climbing. How fit I seemed.
Oh? I had already won US Open Nationals and Continental Championships years prior, yet I was soaring beyond these successes.
When I returned to my senior year of high school, I resumed a more “sedentary” (in comparison) life of school and training. Though, what had changed was this idea- that I read about on forums in response to my outdoor and competition success (I since don’t read that noise, because yes — I learned) and this idea started permeating my thoughts. Was I climbing better because I was lighter, had I improved because of this? Comments like, “If I weighed nothing, I could do that, too;” or, “I bet she doesn’t even get her period, hahah.” “Skeletor.” A loud known climber was one of those voices.
As climbing is a gravity sport, there’s probably an element to this that had to do with it. Though, I was also climbing every day and pushing myself on harder climbs I’d ever done all summer. This feedback completely negated all of my hard work and natural skill and dedication I was putting in to the sport. I could not see that, though, either.
This commentary affected me. I started thinking about it more and more and as I settled in back to high school, away from the rocks, it became a sticking point for me mentally.
If I wanted to keep improving, I would have to watch what I ate like a hawk. If I wanted to succeed in climbing, this is what success would require. At the time, this thinness was the image of the climbers that I looked up to.
I had always felt almost “heavy” on the World Cup circuit. Now, I was fitting more of the part. Perhaps that’s why people were so complimentary? I looked more like a lot of the women I looked up to.
To be clear, I am grateful to not have had an eating disorder. However, I developed very disordered eating patterns and I would pair eating too much with excessive exercising after. Toxic habits (for me) included counting my calories and not eating when I was hungry.
At the time of this photo, I was in the thick of these patterns. I was tired, hangry, insecure, and extremely driven.
I have always had quite Type A traits when it comes to my profession and work ethic. But this sense of need for control over everything that I ate bled into and affected a lot of aspects of my life in unhealthy ways.
We do celebrate thinness as a society. And as a sport, it’s really hard to drive away from these patterns. I see it happen again and again across so many athletes; male and female. I see it happen with teenage girls breaking on to the scene. And the scary thing is; it does have a pattern of “working” for a time. But it is not a long term solution and it can lead to a total crash.
I am really thankful to have overcome these patterns quite shortly after. However, my relationship with food has never been the same. It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my body that was not that of a pre pubescent girl. And, it took me some time and a wave of ups and downs for me to find my strength and embrace it again in climbing.
I am really committed to nourishing my body and strengthening myself from the inside out. I am lucky to have a robust team that I work with, including a nutritionist and a sports psychologist. That is not a privilege everyone shares, and I know that because it is not something I could afford as a teenager breaking on to the professional climbing scene.
I do not know the solution, but I do know that highlighting this issue is important. Talking about it openly instead of whispering about people going through it behind their backs or being keyboard warriors to their demise is the healthier way to address it.
For me, doing big ascents like all of my 5.14 big walls, even recently bouldering harder than I have before in a few tries, at a healthy weight — to prove to myself that I can be a healthy climber, and a strong climber. I train harder now than I have before. I take care of my body better than I ever did. And I understand the need to fuel myself to perform for the long term is important.
Weight fluctuations in sport are normal, and I don’t believe we need to shy away from this concept. However, it can be a slippery slope, and in a sport like climber that can be year-round, we can’t expect our bodies to be at ‘fighting weight’ 365 days of the year. I also believe that what we put in to our bodies cannot be garbage either. Real food and nourishing ingredients are so important for long term health and long term performance.
It is why I founded Send Bars. I really believe that we need more education and awareness around what to eat, when to eat it, and understanding the labels of the food that we eat.
I now can speak openly about this subject because after years of feeling insecure and judged, I feel empowered by what I have learned, and driven to spread this message so more girls and boys, women and men, don’t go through the same experience that I did. Let’s spread awareness and learn to nourish ourselves properly.