Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ginger Clobbers talks about anorexia and roller derby

I was driving a group of roller girls to a game one day, and we started talking about eating disorders. It shocked me to realize that as we talked, three of the four women in the car had dealt with an eating disorder. I myself have never had an eating disorder, but it made me wonder how many women in derby have had to struggle with it. My teammate, Ginger Clobbers took on the topic for this next blog post.


Hello, my name is Ginger Clobbers, I play roller derby, and I have an eating disorder.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
An eating disorder isn’t really about food or weight – this is just a distraction from other, deeper issues. For me it’s about control; some part of my life may be in chaos, but the one thing I do have power over (and no one else!) is my body and what I put in it. I developed an eating disorder in part because of the environment I grew up in. I was a figure skater and dancer, and I was heavily influenced by body image.

I began my skating career at the age of 4. Eventually I started taking private classes, and I was hooked. My parents shelled out the money for the fancy figure skates, all the private sessions, the outfits, and the countless hours of ice time, all because I loved it so. I competed against my peers, locally and on the regional level. By middle school I practically lived at the ice rink, going before school and right after. Meals were eaten and homework was done in the rink snack bar. It was a lifestyle, and yes, an obsession.
  
I had two coaches, one male and one female. Both were good teachers who taught me a lot about skating and work ethic. They were both very strict; if I was on the ice, I was to be working. There was no time for goofing off; this was serious business. And I wanted nothing more than to please both of my coaches, so I worked my ass off.
  
My male coach was very judgmental of all his skaters, both on and off the ice. He would judge our bodies and talk about a girl’s flaws in front of all of us. He would also critique what we ate. A coach should promote healthy eating to better us as athletes, but he didn’t teach us about nutrition and how to make good choices. Needless to say, food and body image became an issue for me.
 
 When I was 13 I fractured my L4 and L5 vertebrae and had to take a break from all exercise. I put on a little weight because I went from constant exercise to doing nothing. When I recovered I tried to return to skating, but the fire was gone. I loved the skating, but I didn’t like the environment and the cutthroat competition. There was constant rivalry on and off the ice. A bunch of girls, each out for themselves, constantly competing on every little thing - who successfully landed a jump first, who the coaches liked best, who weighed the least.

I felt lost without this thing that had been such an integral part of my life for so long. I also started high school, which is a big change all on its own, but I had also been separated from all my school friends. They went to public school, and my parents sent me to private school so I could get a better education. To avoid dealing with all these changes and losses, I obsessed with losing the extra weight I was carrying. I was an avid runner, and I did a lot of exercise videos. I have always eaten a healthy diet, but I cut out all sweets and greasy foods. The weight fell off quickly, and I got lots of compliments. I liked the compliments. A lot. I hit my target weight, the one the doctor said was right for my height and body type, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Photo by a Boy Named Tsunami
I still saw the flaws and imperfections. I examined my body in the mirror every day and weighed myself obsessively. I counted calories, the ones I took in and the ones I burned through exercise. I began limiting the maximum number I could eat in a day but slowly increased the number I must burn. I put more foods on the Do Not Touch list. But in my mind there was nothing wrong with that. My weight loss plan was working; I was losing the inches and pounds at a steady rate. And yet it was never enough.

Anorexia and other eating disorders warp a person’s reality and self-image. Even at my lowest weight of 85 pounds I still thought I needed to lose a little more. I swear to you that I would look in the mirror and still see a chunky girl staring back at me. And despite the outcries of my family and friends, and all the doctors and therapists I was dragged to, I didn’t see that what I was doing was wrong. Which is why these things are so difficult to treat. I had to hit rock bottom (being hospitalized for 3 weeks and almost dying), to understand that things had to change, and that maybe I wasn’t in a good state of mind to decide what was best for me. I had to choose to get better. Making that choice and pulling myself out of that pit was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I almost didn’t make it. But now I know I can do anything.

I am not ashamed of my disorder, I’m not angry at the lot I’ve been given, and I like to talk about it. Talking gives it less control over my life, and maybe there are others out there I can help with my story and experiences. I’ve learned many things from my struggles, including to ask for help when I need it, to forgive myself when I fail, that I’m not alone, and that I’m incredibly strong.

 I’m able to keep the disorder under control most of the time, but it’s something that will always be with me. I struggle in times of stress. I’m aware of the triggers that will get me in trouble and try to stay away from them. Eating what makes me feel healthy and satisfied is key – a well-balanced diet with the occasional treat. If I get a craving I satisfy it. I don’t count calories or put myself on any kind of restrictive diet. I can’t do workouts or sports that focus on numbers to gauge progress, such as weightlifting. I also avoid weighing myself on a regular basis.

Finding derby has been extremely helpful in many facets of my recovery and has added new issues I’ve had to learn to deal with. Roller derby is the first team sport I’ve ever played, and I love it. The pressure of winning or performing isn’t all on me. How wonderful it is to be on the track with teammates I can trust to do their part and be there to support me, and to be there for them! Working together towards a common goal is a million times better than being out there all on my own and fighting against the ones I train with. The wins are that much sweeter, and the losses aren’t so bad when we know we played together and gave it our very best.

Body image within derby is much healthier than what I was used to. Women of all body types are successful players, and strength and fitness is celebrated over size and weight. Seeing woman celebrate their big butts and large thighs, and being surrounded by others who also struggle to find pants that fit right has been the biggest boon to my own self image. I still have a small sense of dread when I must shop for a new pair of pants, but buying that larger size doesn’t reduce me to a quivering mass of despair as it once did. I’ve finally learned to love my body, because I know what it can do and how strong I am. I’m more physically fit than most people out there in the world, and I can skate hard and hit hard on the track. 

Being part of a team has also given me an added responsibility to stay healthy. That’s not to say it isn’t important to take care of myself for me, but I’m also no good to my team if I’m starving myself and over-exercising. I can’t be at my best when I’m straining my body in such a way, and I owe it to myself AND my teammates to be at my best. I have those I can turn to when my resolve waivers, and I know they will support me and won’t judge.

I’ve recently come to realize that derby does provide me with some pitfalls, which I was blind to for some time. I let myself believe that derby would solve all my problems, and this was a mistake. I won’t be able to play derby forever, and there are times when my training may plateau or I may get overwhelmed with all the sport requires of me. The latter happened recently, and I found myself falling back into old habits. Before I fell too far into the hole, I was able to remember that my recovery, and my sense of self-worth, comes from within. I can’t rely on other people or things to keep me above water; there’s no easy fix or magic cure-all. I don’t want to lose my love of derby because I expected more from it than it could provide, nor do I want to lose the respect of my teammates by looking to them to keep me going. I’m relieved to have had my eyes opened before things went too far.

I’m a very competitive person; I wouldn’t be playing derby if I weren’t. But this natural desire to be the best is something I have to constantly temper so as not to regress. I still don’t have a good solution to this one, and I just take it day by day. But I try not to compare myself to others or judge myself against my teammates. It helps me be a better player and teammate when I’m focused on my own progression. Putting the team first also helps keep things in perspective. 
  
Although anorexia is a part of who I am, I don’t want it to be my identity.

I write this not to elicit pity or concern but to shed light on a topic that isn’t always easy to talk about. And to let others in similar situations know they are not alone. Eating disorders exist in many forms and in all walks of life, even that of an athlete. If you know someone who is struggling with food or body issues there are ways to reach out. Many local and national organizations exist with resources and hotlines that can help direct you, such as this one.

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