A Letter to Athletes
Dear Athletes Endeavoring to Navigate this Current Global Crisis,
To the competitors that were at the height of their careers, retired and recreational athletes, and the aspiring athletes seeking mentorship, guidance and inspiration.
What a bizarre time! Honestly, this feels like some sort of twisted episode of the Twilight Zone. This surely is one opponent we never knew we would face. Yet, here we are – all sidelined, confused on what will happen next.
I understand that this may feel like a time of great loss and recipe for eating and exercise struggles. I also realize that without proper guidance, food and exercise plans can become unclear. Some common questions may arise: “What do I eat now that I am not training to compete? My workouts have significantly changed – should my meal plan change, too? All of my meals were provided by my team dietician, what do I do now in social isolation? My coaches and trainers were prescribing and guiding my workouts, what do I do now that I don’t have access to my team?”
I get it. The struggle is real.
In my career, I have listened to countless stories of athletes in all seasons of life. Every athlete that I have worked with, in the context of eating disorder treatment, has devastatingly faced the gripping and raw experience of the love, joy and passion for their sport being stripped away from their hearts due to the manipulative and alluring comfort that the eating disorder provides them. Right now may feel like a double whammy with life and sport coming to a standstill – intensifying any underlying struggles.
Please know: I recognize, that during this uncertain time, eating and exercise thoughts may get loud and unkind. I know the internal and external voices yelling at us to be “productive” during this shutdown are very real and quite alarming. Mixed messaging may be circling around our minds, homes, and athletic environments…we are being told to utilize this time to gain the competitive advantage in ANY WAY possible. Concurrently, we are required to slow down while our training facilities are closed and social distancing orders are in place.
This shared pause is certainly a call to (collectively) filter through the constant and changing information and our unknown future with awareness, patience, and hope.
I write to you, today, from a place of empathy and respect as you work to gain clarity on where to go next with your athletic and life aspirations.
I truly understand that this situation stings. While facing the many uncertainties this abrupt circumstance brings, it may lead some down a painful path of unbalanced eating and/or exercising. I am fully aware of the desire to spend this extra time (in social quarantine) developing your athletic talents, abilities, endurance, speed, and significance. I also know that in a muddled mindset this can morph into a narrow and painful place. I share, with caution: this is where the eating disorder often likes to sneak in. I, recurrently, watch this mindset swiftly lead athletes to a place of resentment and loss of passion for the very endeavor that once brought them true joy, while stealing their focus, strength and overall well-being.
Please remember during this “collective off-season,” that approaching your alternate training in a state of energy deficiency will create even more opponents to battle. Without proper nourishment, sport performance (and enjoyment) will inevitably decline. Unbalanced fueling is simply not sustainable. When we neglect to give our bodies’ suitable nourishment, hydration and rest, we hold back our potential and are actually working against our body, instead of with it! Nurturing, resting and being compassionate to our bodies and minds not only gives us what we need for our optimal performance, but also our lives beyond sport!
Understandably, it can be intimidating to take this unplanned time off from competition and some may be questioning their sport future. I am aware that there is a fear associated with interruptions or adjustments to training opportunities, intensity, volume and frequency. I empathize and truly have hope that you can navigate these challenges with support and time.
Being an athlete provides us with the gift of important life lessons. What if we take this time to truly reflect on them? As painful and confusing as this time is, how unique to share this (globally) athlete to athlete?
During this pause, please remember that not all strength is developed in the gym.
-Remember: your true strength comes from within.
-Seek out the support needed to cultivate healing and understanding.
-Keep sport a sacred place: one filled with compassion, grace, creativity and adventure. Tapping into these principles are a true strength and will help you cultivate your passion and perseverance.
-Focus on your long-term health and happiness.
-Utilize this time to get familiar with your values, talents, contributions, gifts, and quirks…Explore what energizes you!
-Enjoy the journey: Remember the adventurous thrill that athletic competition brings.
-Celebrate this shared hiatus with imagination and contemplation.
-Sit, learn and reflect during this season that may be full of setbacks, disappointments and defeat.
-You are more than an athlete. You are more than your past, present and prospective rankings and accomplishments. While the future may be unknown, working through these challenges will, undoubtingly, set you on a path to develop more resilience.
As an athlete, you will absolutely encounter your share of obstacles. Find value in each experience. As you take this intentional time to foster safety, well-being and enjoyment – things will genuinely fall into place.
Just a reminder – you DO NOT need to navigate these unexpected circumstances with unbalanced eating and exercise practices. Be loyal to your body, whole-self and unique experience!
…and remember we are all in this together!
Amanda Schlitzer Tierney, MS, CSCS is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and holds her Master’s degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Lock Haven University and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College. Amanda is currently the Co-Chair of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology: Eating Disorder Special Interest Group. Amanda has been working with athletes and non-athletes with eating disorders since 2006.
McCallum Place is a nationally acclaimed, comprehensive eating disorder treatment center for pre-adolescents, adolescents, adults, and athletes of all genders. With locations in St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas we are unique in that we offer on-site medical and psychiatric management and care combined with intensive individualized psychotherapy, making our center a center of excellence and great alternative to traditional hospital settings.