The “Number Free” Athlete

(For those that engage in fitness while suffering through Eating disorders)

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 3-09-2022

      I want to step on the scale over and over, yet I begin to ignore it. I want to pinch my body fat again, while obsessively looking in the mirror, but I will not.  I want to change my outfit, over and over again, I settle on the first thing I pick. I want to self-hate when I sit down and feel the rolls scrunch up, I reframe and move on. I want to tell myself to get down to XXX pant size, I choose not to care anymore. I have two sets of sizes for my tops and bottoms, because my weight tends to fluctuate. I want to have a goal weight, I had to give that up. I want to count calories, instead I purposely lose track and get in tune with my body instead. When I am overweight, I want to avoid the mirror completely. I also force my mind to create an illusion of a thin girl staring back at me in the mirror; denial. When I am small, I look in the mirror and see myself as heavy, to reinforce the behaviors over and over; self-destructiveness.

As I workout, I want to count my reps, but instead I alternate sides while listening to my body and what it tells me it can handle. I want to tell myself I should do x, y, z because some magazine, source or person told me to. Instead, my body tells me what workout I should do. I want to use time as a measure, for circuits and for the workout in its entirety. Instead, I use songs on my iPod to give me cues to switch over to a different set of exercises. I want to workout until my lungs feel like they’re going to explode, but I remind myself that its not necessary for every workout. I do not have a plan per say, I go where my mind and body take me. I have the workout equipment and the skills necessary to not cheat myself out of what I need. I want to sign up for another martial arts competition, I hate competing, but… it will force me to lose weight. I’ve put this to a halt! (We should only do things out of love, no more self-punishment)

This is me, being a number free athlete. Why? Because for countless years, I suffered through every fad diet imaginable. I suffered through obsessing over numbers when it came to weight, clothes sizes, reps, distances etc. For years, I engaged in perfectionism and standards that felt impossible to live up to. I worked out like a pro athlete, but for no money. The injuries, fatigue and lack of a social life was in vain. For ten years, I belonged to the Air Force and had a PT test that I had to pass in order to remain deployable for the military. Because of this cycle, I developed an eating disorder. I lost all sense of self-worth, and/ or an identity beyond how I looked and performed.

     Because the eating disorder was the first thing I ever received mental health treatment for, I was able to develop the cognitive strategies to go into remission. Then, after years of practice, I used my clinical skills and fitness skills to develop my own strategies that would no longer exacerbate my eating disordered mind. The rules are: There are no rules. There are no numbers. Then, there are no more reason’s to exhaust ourselves, to hate ourselves, to expect more than what we are willing to give. THIS WAS NOT EASY, but it was necessary for self-preservation. So, for anyone that suffers through any type of ED, and is also trying to figure out how to balance it with fitness, this is for you.

Becoming a Number Free Athlete

The behavioral modifications- (Behavior changes that can help reduce the ED cycle)

The scale– Many ED experts will tell you no more than 1X a wk on the scale to reduce obsessive weighing and shame cycles. I personally am not using a scale, I find it simpler this way. I do not need it without a competition or PT test. 

The outfits– Accept your size as it is if/ when you are working out moderately to extreme, and also eating your average diet that fulfills your hunger. If your weight fluctuates, have smaller and larger clothes so that you do not have to keep shopping and discarding outfits year round! Choose clothes you feel great/ comfortable in, not clothes that force you to change sizes upon buying them.

The workouts- 1: Find the workout you LOVE and do it. If this requires experimentation, then explore and have a blast while at it. 2- Once you find your physical activity, gym and/ or class to attend, decide realistically, where it fits into your schedule!  Days and ‘timeframes’ could be helpful, but nothing needs to be forced. 3- During workouts, be as number free as possible. Do not obsess over time, do not obsess over sets & reps (alternate sides if necessary to avoid counting as much as possible), and do not obsess over the calories being burnt. Feel your body and be HONEST with yourself. Push yourself to discomfort, but not to injury! If you’re going to a class, relax and let them lead! But advocate for yourself if you feel you are being pushed beyond your limit. Coach selection is also crucial!

The Food-  Colories vs Calories is an incredible concept and encouraged by therapists. The more color on your plate, generally the more nutritional value you will get. Eat what your mind and body tells you it needs, and eat until your body tells you it’s satisfied. Then put the food away with the knowledge of knowing you can go back to it later if you are still hungry.  Do another activity!  (Especially if depressed, stressed or bored…  have many coping outlets to engage in. You deserve multiple coping strategies.)

The cognitive reframing- (Healthy thoughts related to Food & Body)

  • I’m hungry, therefore I should eat.
  • If I’m hungry later, I can eat more of this. But I’m full now, therefore I’ll put it away and do something else.
  • It’s normal for our body to scrunch up or have rolls when we sit or bend.
  • It’s normal for weight to fluctuate, and it’s okay to have a variation of clothes sizes for when this happens.
  • A change in diet and workout routine can alter my appearance, but it cannot change my genetics. (Take the time to distinguish the difference)
  • Forbidden foods will only exacerbate my urge to restrict and then binge/ purge. I will eat what I want, and will strive to practice moderation.
  • I love _____________________ about my body.
  • My body requires certain nutrients that I want to strive to give it.
  • I deserve clothes that I feel comfortable and attractive in.
  • Numbers NEVER tell the whole story. More importantly, how do I feel?
  • People may throw unsolicited advice at me regularly, but they do not know what my goals are. I’ll take what’s helpful, and discard the rest.

The mental filtering- (Filtering & combatting the triggers that exacerbate ED symptoms)

Books/ Mags– If you find yourself absorbed in paper content that induces shame due to advertisements using ONLY 1 type of model, toss it away. It’s not for you. There are plenty of campaigns that choose to include all body types/ sizes. And no, it is not to promote an agenda. Rather, it is acknowledging that body types and sizes range all over the spectrum, and everyone needs CLOTHES and accessories. The end.

Friends/ Family– They often mean well, or sometimes they are assholes, it’s one or the other. Friends/ family may lure us in with ‘weight loss competitions’, comparing sizes, commenting on your weight gain or weight loss, chastising you about what you put in your mouth… etc. Be firm with your body/ goals being personal to you, and that you are not soliciting advice at this time. Let them continue with the fad frenzies if they would like, but it’s NOT FOR YOU anymore.

Social Media/ InternetThe athletes to look up to on social media: They are helpful and humble. They are dedicated to their regiments, they are happy and inspire. They show proof of what they are capable of, they align with your values and preferences. Most importantly, they do not shame others, but rather, they uplift & give constructive advice/ feedback. The athletes to NOT look up to:  They are starving, they are excessively at the gym & neglecting other important life realms: social/ family/ spiritual/ occupational/ mental. They have excess cosmetic surgery, and do not show proof of discipline. They body shame. They act perfect, or are under the delusion that they are ‘perfect’.

Intimate Partners– It may be tempting to get your S/O involved in your ED, but NEVER do it. This means, your partner has no right to count your calories, monitor your weight and workouts, or pressure you into an activity or regiment you hate. This is getting into abuse territory. Find people that love your body as is, and that prioritize your happiness and health. Life is too short to be with someone that does not like your body.

Grocery store & Food ads– If you know there’s a specific grocery aisle and/ or fast food logo/ sign that will make your mouth water and make a ravenous beast out of you… either avoid it, or listen to it. (For example I typically avoid chip and baking aisles) Avoiding can mean not having the temptation in the first place. However, if it couldn’t be avoided and your mind/ body now need a juicy burger or you may just kill someone, then…. Eat the damn burger! You wanted it, you had it, no shame. Just keep up your fitness regimen and remember colories!  Human’s lapse and relapse, it’s a normal part of the change process.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

2 thoughts on “The “Number Free” Athlete

  1. Oh so much to like here. Have been told so many shoulds…none worked. Was fine when younger working horses. Office work added…much. The last several years been settled around 10# from 200…hard loss got to 190 then of course didn’t stay…didn’t matter if salads 6x a week from garden or ice cream desserts during blah time. Depression has removed some but not…healthy. Did bloodwork…no reason found. Could find it for the dog but not me. Coming in to spring it’s a good time to deal with the issue again. Thanks for the push!

    Liked by 1 person

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