Nine out of 10 American teen girls feel pressured to be thin, according to a survey of 1,000 girls ages 13-17, by the Girl Scouts of America. In addition, one-third said they starved themselves or refused to eat in order to lose weight.
These statistics are not just pertinent to young teen girls. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance to some degree, and 45% of all women are on a diet any given day. With these facts, it is no surprise that as many as 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from bulimia, anorexia, or other eating disorders.
So how does CrossFit come into play?
Strong is the new skinny. Literally.
Women who once struggled with feeling inadequate, who were body-conscious, food-obsessed, exercise addicts are finding freedom in and through CrossFit thanks to the emphasis on balance—training that is short and intense, fueling the machine with adequate nutrition and also making sure to incorporate a rest day or two.
I am in fact one of those statistics. I was once wasting away at 79lbs in 6-hour plus workouts a day, chained to a StairMaster, 8-pound dumbbell curls, and surviving off very little fuel—turkey patties and vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Life was miserable before I found CrossFit.
While I struggled with anorexia and orthorexia for about 14 years and knew I didn’t want to live that way as I grew older, I couldn’t help but live that way. It was part of me, a part of who I was and how I functioned in life. How I felt better about myself—accomplishing superhuman hours of workouts, denying myself any gram that resembled a carb or fat, upholding self-control to be “stronger” than the hunger taking over my body.
Luckily and thankfully, I had an amazing group of now friends and fellow gym goers that stepped in to intervene when I was on my last leg.
I seriously do not believe I would have made it past last Thanksgiving given the state my health was in—heart rate in the 40s, glucose levels in the 30s (normal is 70s), and weight spiraling downward.
Before I set foot on the Stairmaster at 5am one morning last August, my “eight YMCA angels” surrounded me, placed their arms on my shoulders and said, “Lauryn, we can’t keep watching you do this to yourself—you’re not doing well. We don’t want you to die.”
They drove me to Vanderbilt Hospital in Tennessee, where I was admitted and began what I did not foresee would be nearly a year spent in treatment. I stayed 2 ½ weeks in the hospital, on bed rest, with IV fluids, a feeding tube and heart monitors hooked up to me, before going to an inpatient treatment center in Miami, Florida, where the “real work” began.
While I had been in treatment before, I had never been more ready to get my life back—truly back—than I was this time around. Treatment was challenging to say the least. Lots of sitting around on couches talking about “issues”, group therapies, challenging meals such as pizza night every Saturday night, McDonald’s Egg McMuffins for breakfasts, ice cream and packaged cheese crackers for snacks, and very little activity, gentle yoga 3x per week. However as challenging as it was, I needed that time of taking a step back from the crazy, demanding life I had been living for 14 years in order to truly get well and know what it was that I desperately wanted: Optimal health.
Not the “I’m on a diet” healthy, or the “I workout 6-hours-a-day” healthy.
But a positive relationship with food and exercise.
Finding CrossFit post-treatment has been a healing part of my recovery process. Stumble into practically any CrossFit box, you don’t find any mirrors—which goes to show, CrossFit is more than about concocting a “dream” or ideal body. It’s about getting stronger and fitter—from the inside out.
Stronger and fitter for life—life’s ups and downs, whatever comes your way. You know if you can get through a CrossFit WOD, you can do practically anything. CrossFit forced me to get off the hamster wheel of the day in, day out same ol’, same ol’ gym routine: two hours of weights and 40 minutes of Stairmaster in the mornings; 1½ hours of weights, 30 minutes of cardio mid-day; 1 hour 15 minutes of weights in the evenings.
Today, I am stronger, fitter and feel better than ever doing a met-con in 10-30 minutes, and strength training the “big lifts” in order to actually build my body up—not break it down. No more bicep curls and calf raises for me!
CrossFit also promotes eating well—and eating a lot—in order to perform the WODs and strength routines I want to do. No more subsisting off less than 1200-calories per day, eating just steamed zucchini and three turkey patties. Now, I love nut butter, avocado, nuts, olive oil, fresh fruits, sweet potatoes, recovery protein shakes, lots of good protein, a variety of fresh veggies, eggs, turkey bacon—more sustenance to my diet.
The more fuel, the more energy, the better I feel and perform. CrossFit is not just something done inside a gym, it is a lifestyle that has made me fit across the board, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually—thanking God daily for the gift of health and wholeness.
Other women, much like myself, have had similar experiences—and are just now coming out to share their stories.
Meet 2011 CrossFit Games competitor and 2013 Games prospect, Cheryl Nasso, from Florida. Cheryl is winning the fight over her former bad body image and eating disorder.
Just two years ago, she was on death’s doorstep—both in mind and body—at 85 lbs wasting away in her own exercise addiction and anorexia. She entered treatment for her eating disorder and upon discharge, gave up her old ways of the globo-gym and traditional workouts after stumbling into a CrossFit box.
Today she’s paying it forward, with her recently released documentary called “Box of Salvation” about her struggles with an eating disorder and recovery through CrossFit: overcoming the worst, to become the best.
“There’s a lot of women in the world who are struggling and I want to be a resource, an outreach for them. Even for people without eating disorders too—we all go through tough stuff in life and I think most everyone can relate to being in a place they didn’t want to be at one time or another,” she says.
Now, a healthy, energetic 132-pounds at 5’5’’, Nasso can Clean and Jerk 165-pounds and Deadlift 305-pounds with gusto, and she thanks her newfound knowledge of proper training, eating and resting habits through CrossFit.
She follows the CrossFit website WODs most days, as well as incorporates strength training with one to two rest days any given week.
“Rest days are learned.” Nasso says. “I see the value in rest days now. To get better, to recover—from both an eating disorder or just a workout…you can’t just tell someone to do something that’s going to make them better…they have to see it…and I see it now. I never used to rest. Now, rest days have helped me get stronger,” Nasso says.
For her, it’s the proper balance. She’s learned to trust her body and the art of work and rest in her routine, no matter what criticism or doubts she may get from others who don’t understand how a recovering anorexic could re-engage in movement in a healthy way.
“You know, when I left treatment and went back to try and film some of my documentary recently, the center was not thrilled that I was involved with CrossFit or anything around exercise—but I think anyone who doesn’t understand CrossFit from a personal level can’t understand it. There’s also a lot of people in the professional eating disorder community who probably don’t agree with the Paleo diet, they may think it’s too restrictive…but you know what? I don’t restrict my food anymore. I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I am full, and I feel better than I ever have,” she says.
This coming from a woman who once subsisted off half a can of tuna fish, a spinach salad and loads of vegetables as “filler” food in a day, on top of all-day marathon workouts.
“Now on the Paleo diet, I eat what I want—I can eat lots of almond butter because I like it and I am ok with it…I know it’s fuel for my body,” she says.
Nasso has found success in keeping fueled with multiple meals throughout the day, and instead of measuring exact amounts, she listens to her body’s hunger-fullness cues, as well as her likes and dislikes.
More than the workouts or what she eats though, Nasso says the best part about CrossFit has been the community—no longer living in isolation, “I have a family with CrossFit. They are all my family, and my support system. Had I not found that box, I don’t know where I would be,” she says.
The key to staying well for Nasso has been being open and honest, “I can’t close myself off anymore. I need to talk and just be open with people and let them know I am struggling, even if it’s about something silly. I just need to talk about it. With an eating disorder, I believe, it’s always going to be there. You always have it, no matter if you’re 13 or 65—it’s going to be there, and the important thing is rechanneling your mind.”
Nasso has rechanneled her mind in a positive way. “It’s not a one day thing, it’s a give it time thing. I feel better than ever today,” Nasso says.
Annie Thorisdottir, the 2011 and 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games named-champion “Fittest Woman on Earth” is a former competitive gymnast from Iceland, at 5’5’’ and 147-pounds, one may never guess the strong, fit 22-year-old was once a tiny, self-conscious gymnast.
“When I was in gymnastics there was a lot of pressure. I was so skinny, I didn’t get my period until I was 17 or 18 because I was so tiny. My coach would say, ‘don’t eat this or that’. If going to a pizza party with my friends I’d always eat something else before I went so I wouldn’t eat the pizza. I never went badly through it [an eating disorder]—but I definitely saw girls not eating around me…and it made me more aware of what I was eating,” Thorisdottir says.
But then she found CrossFit, shortly before her run at the 2009 CrossFit Games, where she took 11th place and the rest is history, “CrossFit has completely changed my life,” she says. “I’ve never felt as good about my body as I do now, because I’m giving it the right nutrition, treating it the right way. CrossFit is all about functional movements so I am actually doing things my body gets used to doing. I’ve never been in better shape.”
Her advice for women who want to get stronger, fitter and get off the hamster wheel?
“I think what females often miss the most is not eating enough and you actually have to eat more to get in better shape. Be aware of what you’re eating but don’t go to an extreme. Diet is crucial to getting stronger. Not necessarily chocolate cake everyday, but also eating chocolate cake. I eat chocolate cake at least once a week, especially on my cheat day—and I don’t feel like I deprive myself,” Thorisdottir says.
Above all, “I listen to my body—and I’ve gotten to know my body really well the more I’ve been training. My coach programs for me. I work hard, train hard, eat to fuel my workouts, and if I really feel like I need a rest day, I take a rest day,” she says.
Strong is the new skinny when it comes to CrossFit. From the box down the street, to training to compete at the next level to the CrossFit Games arena, women worldwide are revamping the “ideal” of beauty, health and strength—from the inside out.