It’s Mental Health Month and today we have a fab interview with Megan Marshall, who previously ran for Penn State and Jody Whipple, a dietician with focus on disordered eating. They’re currently using their experience and expertise to educate runners about a positive body image.
So what is a positive body image?
“Body image is the way you see yourself and imagine how you look. Having a positive body image means that, most of the time, you see yourself accurately, you feel comfortable in your body, and you feel good about the way you look.”
Jody and Megan randomly met about a year ago. They formed a strong connection over similar passions, both bringing something special to share towards the same central concern in the sport.
They have since created The F.L.Y movement,
“We hold educational workshops, behavior-changing activities and open conversations so athletes, teammates, and coaches can learn how to fuel, love, and support bodies in motion. Our mission is to create transparency in the way you think and talk about body image and eating disorders in athletics.”
Belle Lap asked them some questions about their experience, what pro athletes, coaches and schools can do to create awareness and how we can increase our own positive body image.
Belle Lap: So how did you start running and what was your main inspiration behind getting into the sport?
MM: I started running on a team in 9th grade, but was always running around as a kid and in team sports (soccer/softball) growing up. I think “trying” track and field was a leap of faith. A lot of coaches and friends that already ran kept trying to convince me that I was a runner ☺ My nickname was Meg Legs in soccer haha.
JW: I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so I was always outside running around. My main sport was figure skating, but it wasn’t a school sport. I ran track in middle school and high school mainly as a way to hang out with school friends.
Belle Lap: Did you have any personal struggles through your running career? When did they start and what did you face?
MM: I didn’t see struggles until collegiate running. I went through a period of injury/surgery/mental illness. I was a freshman when I got injured but I went through depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder starting sophomore year. It was a period of secrecy for me and not being honest with myself and my teammates. It was challenging being injured because I was so used to being active and competing. I think it was a shock to the system and somewhat isolating.
JW: I don’t really see myself as having a “running career”. However, I have competed in local races, from 5ks up to ½ marathons. The struggle I’ve had until this last year is that I didn’t love running. I did it because it was convenient and social. Also, I have felt pressure to compete and run a certain pace, both of which were self-imposed by my interpretation of the running culture. In the past year, something changed (maybe it was meeting Megan 😉 and I can say I really, really enjoy it!
Belle Lap: How was your college experience? What did you find tough and what did you enjoy?
MM: I’ve met some great friends throughout my college experience. I would say that the people I met make up most of my greatest memories in college and the places I got to visit. I am thankful for the opportunity as a student-athlete as I was able to get a B.S. and M.Ed. and run at both D1 and D2 schools. I focused a lot on my athletic life, which is why it was devastating to me to be injured. I now see the value in finding passions outside of being an athlete and serving the community.
JW: My experience was great because I was able to counsel athletes on wholesome nutrition, having a healthy relationship with food and cultivating a positive body image. I also had the tremendous opportunity to work with athletes who had eating disorders and be part of the healthcare team that helped them heal. The tough part was the lack of transparency in the athletic department around the above issues, their lack of desire to collaborate, and having to sit by and watch it happen.
Belle Lap: When do you think body consciousness starts? Why is it more apparent among female runners?
MM: For me personally it didn’t start until I was in a competitive environment in college. I know for a fact that it’s starting as early as elementary school. Social media and how much we compare ourselves to others is very prominent in this day and age. I know I personally compared myself to other runners, but there was also the pressure to be thin on the team. We’re also in a sport where there is a formula for weight loss and how many seconds that equals to dropping in a race.
JW: Body consciousness is starting earlier and earlier. Studies have been done suggesting children as young as 4 are dissatisfied with their bodies.
Belle Lap: Which personal pressures did you face? Were they external pressures from coaches/ teams/ parents or internal pressures you put on yourself?
MM: I wanted to be the best. I wasn’t sure what that looked like in college & no one ever talked to me about how the environment would change. I think most of the pressures came from the coaching and the environment that was created on the team. In high school I remember running being fun and I was joyful doing it. Being a D1 athlete requires a lot of dedication and hard work to be good. I know of all those pressures came to a head for me my sophomore year. I felt like there was a negative team environment and a lot of secrecy with body image and eating disorders. I was praised for running fast and being lean, but most of the praise was only garnered if you were doing well. Injuries were a way of getting lost in the crowd.
JW: Sadly, I remember both my parents being very weight conscious. My dad told me the only people he hated were fat people. My mother didn’t feel pretty unless she had a flat stomach. I was always complimented for my thinness, especially in the figure skating world. One summer at camp, we had weigh-ins. At 5’8” and 125 lbs, I was told I better be careful to not get any heavier. I didn’t put pressure on myself until I went to college, ate more, drank more and moved less. I felt bad about a lot of things, and remember thinking, “If I could just be thinner, I would be happier.”
Belle Lap: How did you overcome any adversity you faced? Which steps did you take to getting a healthier mindset?
MM: It takes time and I’m still learning and growing while having a strong faith. And a great support system. Being transparent about mental health is SO important. I realized that talking about how I’m feeling and what I went through is healing in itself. There’s nothing embarrassing about going through a hard time. It’s only made me a stronger person. I’ve also utilized counseling and open communication with my support system. Being married to someone that loves me unconditionally doesn’t hurt either ☺ I never sought out professional help when I was in college for my issues, which only delayed the healing. I encourage any athlete that is struggling with mental health issues (anxiety, depression, eating disorder) to reach out to someone that they feel comfortable talking to and to get professional help as early as possible.
JW: After about 10 years of feeling uncomfortable in my body (age 18-28), I was introduced to Ellyn Satter and the concept of Internal Regulation of Food Intake. I also read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Reich. I am a Registered Dietitian, and these women are, too. Their ideas were quite novel in the 1990s. I was so sick of the time and space dieting was taking up in my brain. The concepts and ideas they wrote about and taught fit for me from the beginning. I started eating according to my hunger and fullness, stopped depriving myself of “bad” foods, moved because it felt good and not to change my body, and started appreciating my body for all the things it could do ~ not just how it looked. I was sold and have never looked back!
Belle Lap: Doing a competitive sport can be challenging and comes with many pressures, a lot of discipline and self control. What are your thoughts on how to make a competitive environment healthy and sustainable?
MM: Having conversations about what to expect earlier. I also think talking about body image and other topics would be a positive aspect in any sport. I don’t ever think results should come before the athlete. Keeping mental health in check is important and talking about that as well. Building relationships both athlete to athlete and coach to athlete can be the solid foundation of any team. Team building, goal setting, and positive affirmations are all things I value.
JW: Coaches and athletes need to collectively create an affirming environment by being transparent about the challenges. Very few individuals are involved in competitive sports in order to put food on their table or a roof over their heads, so there needs to be perspective. Openly discussing the risks of injury, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and depression/anxiety need to be part of the conversation……..like concussions. Our mind, body and souls are one. We need to obliterate the stigma.
Belle Lap: What is your motivation behind the new workshops you’re starting?
MM: The current and future athletes and having a healthy mind and body. I think that if we talk more about on the topics of body image and eating disorders we can prevent issues from arising down the road. We also want to create environments without judgement and comparison. Positive body image pledging.
JW: My motivation is to change the conversation about body image and eating disorders so individuals feel safe seeking out the resources they need to prevent a problem or heal from one.
Belle Lap: What is your vision for this new resource?
MM: We are starting with presentations and workshops. We want to build a solid base with information and then doing activities so that there is a take-a-way for each group. We hope to grow from there. These workshops will be geared for specific populations (teams, coaches, parents & friends) and then different age groups (middle school, high school, college, and post-collegiate).
JW: Workshops for athletes, coaches, parents; Increase awareness and education; Prevent/reduce the prevalence of poor body image/eating disorders; Create a movement; Expand visibility through social media, blogs, articles, interviews.
Belle Lap: How can schools and colleges help with spreading the awareness of ED’s and supporting those suffering?
MM: By bringing in education to classes and to teams. By starting the conversation around body image. By pledging to have a safe and positive environment. By supporting each other.
JW: Provide education and resources for athletes. Make sure the athletic department is supportive of all athletes ~ not just the star performers. Make referrals to qualified professionals.
Belle Lap: How can pro female runners help with the culture of ED’s and body consciousness that happens to high schoolers and college athletes in the sport?
MM: The more transparency the better! We want to hear about pro athletes struggles and triumphs. These are our role models and I think they can be the most valuable players in all of this.
Belle Lap: What has your research found so far about the connection with runners and ED’s?
JW: About 1% of the general population suffers from eating disorders. That number is closer to 15% for runners. Runners are at especially high risk because of the aesthetic desire to be lean, the improvement in performance that comes with being thinner (even for just a short time) and the shear number of calories burned during training (RED-S; relative energy deficiency in sport)
Belle Lap: It is clearly a much bigger risk in our sport and from my experience many cases don’t get diagnosed, so how can the FLY movement help?
JW: By creating a safe, welcoming, transparent environment to deliver workshops for athletes, coaches and parents about the risks of eating disorders and poor body image in sports. We plan to educate, provide resources and change the conversation around this topic to reduce the stigma and get individuals the help they need.
Belle Lap: When can we attend one of your workshops?
JW: We are hoping to have our curriculum finalized by the end of 2016. If you want to submit an inquiry for a workshop, please email us directly or submit your email via our landing site. You will be the first to know when our curriculum and schedule is finalized!
Belle Lap: What will it cover?
- The importance of body image in sports.
- Factors that contribute to poor body image.
- Health risks that stem from poor body image
- Strategies, tools and resources for improving body image.
- Experiential activities.
- Post workshop follow up.
Belle Lap: Can athletes contact you in the meantime for support?
JW: Yes! Email us at LoveFLYmovement@gmail.com or request more information by submitting their email on our landing site: The FLY movement