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Body Image, Food, and Fueling the Female Athlete

Body Image, Food, and Fueling the Female Athlete

I had a dramatic break-up several years ago.

No, it wasn’t with a guy.

No, it wasn’t write-a-song like Taylor Swift worthy.

Pretty close.

Instead, it was a break-up so cathartic I’m grateful I mustered up all my willpower to do it.

I broke up with my scale.

Yes, the scale – the evil tool that you step on and it stares back at you with a soul sucking number.

For the longest time I turned to myself over to it – my value, my worth, my identity. It became tantamount to an abusive relationship with the elated highs and the gut wrenching lows, the unending cycle of beaming confidence, followed by crashing self doubt.

‘I’m 5 pounds lighter! I can take over the world!’ I would shout with excitement.

‘I was 5 pounds lighter last week! Why am I heavier now? What the heck!’ I would pout with resentment.

No response.

The scale didn’t care. It had me wrapped around it’s unforgiving web, forever tangled in its mess of numbers.

A little background story: throughout my youth and college soccer career, I had a healthy relationship with my weight. I trained to perform, I ate to fuel, and I never felt less than because of a number.

When I finished college soccer and playing internationally, I’m embarrassed to admit this: I signed up to do a fitness competition.

For those of you in my audience who don’t know what this is, here is a quick overview:

– You train and eat to become your absolute leanest.
– You eat asparagus, tuna, egg whites and almonds for 3-6 months straight.
– You say ‘no’ to any outing with friends to avoid tempting food scenarios.
– You do 7 days a week of training, endless cardio and strength.
– You go on stage half naked with a spray tan similar to an oopma loopma.


This is a picture of me with my amazing boxing trainer, Kwame. Alas, I was 125 pounds at 5’7″ which is not the weight I felt the healthiest or most energized at, and it’s not a weight I aspire for today. At all.

Keep in mind, if you see a model this lean, it’s not okay. I urge you to ask questions like is she happy, or how is her hormonal balance, and how are her energy levels and mood, before you follow her exact workout plan that she sells on Instagram. ;-O

Anyway…

The show training was an exhausting several months of waking up for 4am fasted cardio, turning to pre-workout caffeine for energy, churning out two hour resistance workouts, meal prepping with hundreds of tupperware boxes, and popping fat burning supplements.

Of course, my body melted away. I saw the numbers on the scale drop so fast because of the endless cardio and caloric restriction, I began to see my “hard work” paying off. And mind you, this was the time when fitness influencers permeated into the online space, and everyone, including myself, wanted to be like them.

Not only did I come closer each day to becoming my leanest physique ever, I also missed my period.

In fact, I didn’t get it for that entire length of time, and I wore it like a badge of honor.

I thought it was normal and just a natural part of what all fitness models experienced.

At age 23, I couldn’t have been more ignorant and naive.

Alas, I digress.

None of this was okay.

I repeat, NONE OF THIS WAS OKAY.

Going into the training for the show, I thought it would be a fun ride that wouldn’t lead to such a damaging relationship with food and my weight, and a disruption to my hormones and nervous system.

‘How hard could it be?’ I thought when the journey began.

Turns out, it was immensely disorienting and it destroyed my healthy relationship with food that I had cultivated all these years as a powerful, resilient athlete.

The worst part was, once the show was all said and done, the obsession with weight exacerbated.

Without my lean-driven routine of cardio and two-a-day workouts and tuppeware meals, I began to see the pounds come back.

Worse yet, I slept horribly, was in a constant state of fatigue, and was moody and irritable.

So what did I do? I turned to eating jars full of peanut butter, full pizzas, boxes of Oreos. My body had been restricted for far too long, the splurge to mitigated my mood swings was inevitable.

And so was the mental break down.

A few weeks after the show ended, I decided to hire my soccer strength and conditioning coach again, so I could get back on a training schedule.

As I walked into his facility, he was shocked to see me emaciated and worn out.

He took me through a re-evaluation of exercises I used to crush – Pull-Ups, lunge isometrics, max crawls and all the movements I used to tackled with fervor.

Not this time.

My heart was pounding and it felt like it was going to explode out of my chest, yet my brain was fogged and exhausted, even the pre-workout wasn’t saving me. I couldn’t do one Pull-Up, a movement that was always effortless for me.

The bomb of adrenal fatigue went off in my body. After the months of restriction and over training, my system responded with vengeance.

I jumped down from the pull-up bar, frustrated, and collapsed on the turf of his facility, in tears with my head in my hands.

“I’m exhausted, Coach,” I sobbed.

He put his arm around me and listened to the entire story of what I had endured for these past several months with the bikini prep.

Of course, my strength coach was flabbergasted I put myself through this, but he was understanding of my choice to try a show and give it a shot.

“You’ve been through a lot, Erica. Your body just needs a reboot,” he solaced me.

He continued with a deep question, “is this how you want to live moving forward?”

And that was all he needed to ask. I had to dig in the depths of my soul and remind myself of who I truly was on the inside: a powerful athlete not just in soccer, but for life.


Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t regret the experience I had training for a bikini competition. Sure, I would never do it again, but that doesn’t mean several valuable lessons bubbled to the surface.

While it had its downsides as far as the intense training and the restrictive eating, I learned a lot about myself and my core values.

I learned I value feeling energized, and I’m not willing to lose a few pounds to give up that energy.

I learned I value being social, and I’m not willing to say ‘no’ to eating tacos with friends just to maintain less than 10% body fat.

I learned I value training like a soccer player, and I’m not willing to do endless cardio just to melt away.

I learned I value my strength, and I’m not willing to succumb to the mainstream ‘tone it up’ message on social media.

I learned I value my friendships, and I’m not willing to be the least fun person because I’m on a stringent plan.


In retrospect, I’m not mad at myself for giving a bikini competition a whirl. Quite frankly, I look back on it with levity and gratitude. And sometimes, I even laugh about it.

It’s funny to look back on carrying a gallon of water to the gym.

It’s funny to look back on having a bag of exactly 7 almonds because I thought that was the magic ‘fat burning’ number. LOLOLOL.

It’s funny to look back on how much time I spent on the elliptical. <—forgive me, audience. ;-O

It’s funny to look back on how obsessed I was with the mirror.

It’s funny to look back on how stressed I was when I went on a plane to make sure I could travel with my tupperware.

Truthfully, I’m forgiving of myself and I believe I needed this experience to see what I was made of, but more critically, remind myself of my life values of feeling strong, fulfilled and empowered.

I urge all female athletes to get clear on their values any time they’re caught up with body image, their self worth and the number on the scale.

I urge all female athletes to get clear on their values any time they're caught up with body image, their self worth and the number on the scale. Click To Tweet

I urge all female athletes to acknowledge the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

At my leanest at 125 pounds, yes, the number looked shiny, but the story behind the number was a catastrophic one.

Now, at however-much-I-weigh-now, the story behind it is empowering.

It’s a story of a woman who continues to challenge herself, build her strength and thrive.

It’s a story of a woman who isn’t on a diet, but rather, eats intuitively and listens to her body’s needs.

It’s a story of a woman who crushes tacos and Pull-Ups.

It’s a story of an imperfect woman who falls short, and who makes stupid freaking decisions to do bikini shows, yet prevails and gets even clearer on her life values.

It’s a story of a woman who doesn’t train for physique, but rather, trains to be able to do daily human activities like walking, getting up from the floor, hiking and snowboarding – all the things that fulfill her and promote a life of healthy movement.

It’s a story of a woman who has broken up with her scale, and who doesn’t need a number to define her worth.

It’s a story of a woman who urges all young female athletes to find clarity in their values and why they train.

Is it for someone else?

Or is it for YOU?

To listen to The Soccer Queens Podcast on body image, muscle building and food, go here:

To get Soccer Queens Apparel, GO HERE.

To get the year-round speed, strength and conditioning youth soccer fitness program, GO HERE.

 

10 Comments
  • Ted Kernosh
    Posted at 16:25h, 19 August Reply

    Very good post.

    • erica
      Posted at 16:59h, 19 August Reply

      THANK YOU, TED!!

  • Cece
    Posted at 01:29h, 21 August Reply

    Excellent message for young females Erica- and what a profound learning experience for you. Think you for sharing your story!

    • erica
      Posted at 11:04h, 21 August Reply

      I appreciate you reading, Cece!! 🙂

  • Ben
    Posted at 04:07h, 26 August Reply

    Hi Erica,

    Excellent post as usual, there is one other thing that you got from doing the contest “the right to actually comment/criticise on doing the contest”. If more people spoke from actually experience instead of just guessing/having social media arguments I think we would be in a better place

    • erica
      Posted at 11:51h, 26 August Reply

      Thank you, Ben! 🙂 And yes, if people FELT more or even meditated then discussed, world would be better.

  • Kevin
    Posted at 17:46h, 29 August Reply

    Wow, just wow, Erica. An article that many young females need to read as they navigate this challenging patriarchal world we all live in. As always, I applaud your honesty and transparency.

    • erica
      Posted at 19:02h, 29 August Reply

      thank you!!!!

  • Robert
    Posted at 22:43h, 13 September Reply

    Great article, thank you for continuing to be a wonderful role model for STRONG girls!

    • erica
      Posted at 12:16h, 14 September Reply

      Thank you, I am happy to help! :))

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