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Go for the Gold or the Golden Mean?

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gold *
Crowd your life with intense activity, focus on achievement, steel yourself to bear relentless competition, take personal pride in tolerating physical and emotional pain, ignore or repel people who offer you alternatives and you create fertile ground for an eating disorder to take hold of your mind, body and soul.


I read a telling article, Girls Gymnastics: When a Bright Spotlight Casts a Dark Shadow. It's  on the Eating Disorder Hope Blog and written by the staff of Timberline Knolls.

As I read the descriptions of what it takes to be a competitive gymnast I saw all the danger signals for developing an eating disorder.  But I also saw something that applies to far more than young girls doing their best to be perfect Olympic 10's.

I saw a determined, all encompassing life style and brain set that would be highly resistant to eating disorder recovery work.  I saw a system designed to surround, hold and encourage - no demand - the pursuit of excellence that takes the individual far beyond the limits of physical, emotional and mental health.

To introduce eating disorder recovery work to young girls caught in competitive gymnastics would involve changing the sport, changing the judging system, scaling back the training and moving away from making it the extreme sport it has become.  After all, how can you be competitive and go for a win if your style is to be balanced, practice self care and live a well rounded life?

Are you in such a situation?  Are you "going for the gold" in some way that throws your life off balance? Are your days filled with intensity?  Do you have a narrow and extreme focus on particular activities or tasks? Are you sacrificing your health and your relationships as you compete with others or yourself to reach a near or actual impossible goal?

I think of residents in medical training, lawyers in competitive practices and students in military academies. I think of mothers and fathers working beyond their limits, perhaps to make enough money for the family to function, but perhaps to be able to afford a lifestyle that is costing them their health, their family and their lives. 

If you are living a 24/7 life of demands and have an eating disorder, please know that recovery will involve what you may experience as a massive change in your life style. 

For solid recovery from an eating disorder you need an overarching philosophy that says balance in life is what makes you a successful person.  Eating disorders are extreme measures designed to blind and numb a person to their genuine experiences as they move on a destructive course.  Healing and health brings us back to the **golden mean. Can you "go for the golden mean?"

*This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the United States Geological Survey, an agency of the United States Department of Interior. For more information, see the official USGS copyright policy.

**Iphilosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example courage, a virtue, if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness and if deficient as cowardice.

Comments  

PTC
0 # GymnasticsPTC 2014-03-02 17:30
I stopped taking gymnastics when I was 10 years old because I wanted to play other sports.  I often wonder how disordered I would've become if I had continued.  I wonder if it would have been a lot worse and taken care of sooner.  I guess I'll never know.
pinkjoanna
0 # wise ten year old!pinkjoanna 2014-03-02 20:00
Dear PTC,

I think you dodged a disaster.  You know now how vulnerable you were to developing an eating disorder. You know now how far your eating disorder could take you down a dangerous path.

My hunch is that part of you knew that vulnerability even when you were ten and took you away from harm's way.  

No matter what we go through, it could always have been worse.  You drew a line when you were ten and went for other activities you cared about.  

I think you took the healthy choice, and probably the choice that put more fun in your life.

Health, joy and fun go together.   :-)

I salute the ten year old you were.

Joanna
PTC
0 # :)PTC 2014-03-03 04:52
Thanks Joanna,

I still love gymnastics, and most likely it wouldv'e gotten me a college scholarship, but I'm guessing I would have burnt out from it by the time I got to high school.  I didn't want to be stuck doing 1 sport, and one sport only every day of my life.  Instead, I moved on and played three sports growing up.  One of which got me a college scholarship. :-)  In college, I decided to try a new sport, lacrosse, in the spring season.  Well, I picked that up pretty quickly and became a two sport D-1 athlete.  That would not have happened if I was doing gymnastics.  And as you pointed out, I would have most likely ended up in the hospital due to a very bad ED.  Sometimes I wonder if that would have been better.  Then maybe I would have gotten more intense help sooner and wouldn't have an ED 21 years later.  I guess we'll never know.
mylifex2
0 # Chantelmylifex2 2014-03-10 21:01
My 6 year old has been taking gymnastics since she was 3.  She is taking classes 3 days a week now.  I get criticism from my mom for "letting gymnastics take over her life". My daughter and I have had conversations recently about what it will mean to pursue gymnastics for the next 10 or so years.

She already knows her life will be different from her friends. She already knows she will be in the gym 20 hours a week by time she's 8, and more as she gets older. But it's what she wants. She knows that when she's 16 the Olympics will be held in the USA. She is determined to be an elite gymnast. Will this happen?  Probably not. But I'm not going to destroy her dream. 

This being said, I do have my concerns. My daughter is bi-racial. She is short and muscular. She has a beautiful booty :-) and round, rock hard legs. I overheard two of her team mates talking about how much they weigh recently. These are two naturally thin and taller girls. My  child heard them too and cast a look back at me.  She used to weigh herself everyday. I got rid of the scales. 

I tell her everyday how beautiful she is. She likes to cover her thighs with gym shorts because she thinks she's fat. (She's 45 lbs).  I do worry about how things will go down the road, but I feel right now she's in a gym that is supportive and does not focus on the size of the girls or their diet -at least not at her level. 

The older teens in her gym are all shapes and sizes- they are musculafat not fat.  I rarely see any girls that look anorexic - but I know bulimia can be disguised as healthy looking. so I'm not kidding myself here.

i think the most important thing I can do as her mother is to keep my ears open, my eyes open, and use my instinct as well as use open dialogue with her.  I don't think it's necessary to have an eating disorder to be a great gymnast and I will use all my energy to keep this from happening. I pray I am able. 

I am working hard on my own recovery and can say that I have made great strides in the past two years. 

I have been on chemo for the past 5 weeks and get sick often. It easily could be a trigger, but I can honestly say I'm sick of throwing up. 

it's going to be a challenge for my daughter, I'm sure. But I also know what to look for.
pinkjoanna
0 # 6 year old gymnastpinkjoanna 2014-03-14 19:42
Dear Tracy,

Your post raises so many issues. It took me some time before I could respond.  I can see why there is contraversy about your decision.  

You've chosen a complex and demanding road for you and your daughter.  

In order for you to be open and clear about her experience, the challenges she faces, the quality of her daily life and the value of experiences not chosen or not yet chosen and to be willing to change your direction if she wants something different in the near or far future -  whew, that's a lot --
you have to be solid on your own recovery path.

If you go are steadfast in your recovery work you'll free your perceptions to see what's happening with your daughter.  You'll free your feelings from old routines and be able to emotionally connect with the reality of her experiences and your own.

Then you'll have the equipment within to make wise decisions for her which include staying on track or changing her mind.

No decision is final until we die.  It might turn out to be the final decision, but we don't know that till the game is over.

I wish the two of you every success in living well.   :-)
mylifex2
0 # Decisionsmylifex2 2014-03-14 23:57
Thank you for your response.  I want to be clear that it is understood that this is her decision.  If she decides tomorrow that she wants to quit, I will have no problem with her decision. I'm not forcing her to do this. She LOVES gymnastics.  It's been a natural progression of her abilities that she is a level 3 gymnast at 6. 

she's gifted, sure. But I know it's almost impossible for her to reach the elite level.  So many girls, so little space. I have never lived through my children. I want them to do what they choose to do - pursue their dreams - without interference from me beyond what's unsafe or impractical. 

BeliEve me. I have spent much time mulling over this. I have support groups in my network of moms whose kids are in the gym  as often as mine. I see firsthand the moms that do not think of their daughters welfare first. I see the tears and the unhappiness in the faces of some of her team mates that don't enjoy the sport like my daughter does. 

I'm still reading through what you wrote, not knowing if its disapproval or what.  I am working on my recovery. My head is very clear these days. And I know that you would never push your influence on me anyway. 

I truly think and feel that my daughter is ok.  I watch her like a hawk to keep my eye on any issues she would have that would make this a negative or dangerous experience for her.  I am making sure this something she wants, not what anyone else tells her to want. 

Unfortunately, it's a sport that demands hard work at an early age.
shh
0 # Going for gold, ED recovery and parentingshh 2014-03-15 07:29

I think many of us with EDs, myself included, have grown up, believing that whatever we do will never be good enough, and feeling we need to strive for perfection in order to be accepted and deemed good enough. I think many of us have never been shown how to set healthy, more balanced goals, or boundaries for ourselves - and it's not easy after all these years to learn how to do that, but I hope that as I work on my recovery and start to set and uphold healthier goals and boundaries for myself, that I will also set them for my children whilst they are young in the hope that they will grow to learn how to set them for themselves as they become older, and be able to carry those life-skills forwards into adulthood.


As a result of my upbringing I naturally want to support my girls in their choices and the things they want to do, I don't want to be the controlling or dismissive mum, as that's how my mum was with me and I know how that feels, but equally I am aware that so many people go too far the other way, and  would like to avoid that too. It is hard sometimes, being a parent is such a powerful influence, and there are days when I have to question how much of what my children believe in and believe is the right thing to do comes from mindsets that I have helped them to develop before I started ED treatment or when I was in earlier stages of recovery, that I didn't even realise were flawed or unhealthy. I think as an ED parent sometimes we see our children as extensions of ourselves and use them on a subconscious level to feed into how we feel about ourselves - if our children are good, well-behaved, high achievers etc then we derive some comfort and self-worth from that. I'm thankful that I can see that now, and that I'm no longer overly bothered what other people think of my children or how they are performing compared to other children in their class at school (within reason as long as there are no significant issues). I really hope that unlike my own upbringing, that I am able to help my girls seek less external verification than I have always needed, and place more emphasis on a sense happiness and value that comes from within, and from acknowledging that nobody is perfect, but as humans we are essentially good, loveable and deserving of good things in our lives.


PS Tracy - I see you mentioned having chemo in your earlier post , I'm not sure why, but really hope it goes well for you, it must be a tough time for you! I also wanted to wish you luck in helping your little one through the minefield of gymnastics and body image. xx

pinkjoanna
0 # Decisionspinkjoanna 2014-03-15 14:48
Dear tracy,

I can see why you would wonder if my post was approving or disapproving.   :-)  I reread your post a few times, wanted to respond, and wanted to be sure I was as clear as possible.

It's so easy to misinterpret an internet communication.  We don't have facial expressions, tone of voice, body language going on between us that can clarify meaning and intent.

I've been in those high waiting rooms with moms ( some dads), watching the gymnasts work out below.

Everybody is there from dutiful chauffeurs driving their children from one event to another and waiting it out with or without interest in the goings on, moms who are doing homework on their laptops, moms who are working either on their laptop or phone, moms who are talking to each other and have been for years as their children grow up in the same gymnastic classes and moms who are glued to every movement of their child, speaking outloud to themselves about errors or improvements and taking notes, moms who are bragging, moms who are in intense conversations about teachers, training programs and the next step all the while voicing confidence or fear about their child's qualifications. And more.

What I'm saying to you is that as long as you focus on recovery and keep your mind and wits about your and keep the cost/benefit ratio for your child based on who she is in mind, you'll be okay.  There's a lot of pressure there to pull a parent or a child onto a track that might not be best.  But if you know that and can deal with it, then you can make the right decisions as choices present themselves along the way.

It's not about approving or disapproving.  Gymnastics is a beautiful sport. Girls love it. It's a glorious feeling to tumble, fly through the air, twirl around on bars, leap and roll.  It's joyous plus so much fun to find out what your body can do.  And it helps a young girl in other aspects of her life because she develops coordination, grace, strength, self confidence and a sense of joy and determination when starting something new.

It is about how you live through the experience.  Sounds like you are considering the aspects you need to be considering now.
pinkjoanna
0 # ED, parenting and goalspinkjoanna 2014-03-15 15:00
Dear Shh,

You raise a subject I need to address more. Setting goals and not meeting them is not a disaster.  It's part of learning where boundaries are.

Not meeting a goal and failure are very very different things.  It's how you look at the meaning of the words.  For example, you could say that a person fails many times before she succeeds. 
I don't think failure is the right word there.

They did a study many years ago about success and failure, involving ice skating.  About 40 people who had never skated in their lives gathered on one side of a pond.  The goal was to get to the other side of the pond while skating.

People slipped, slided and fell many times.  Some gave up after a few falls.  Others continued to fall but stayed the course and got across the pond. 

Results:  the people who fell the most were successful.

I love this study.  Children need to lean how to fall and get up.  They need to learn what it feels like to overextend such things as their time, strength, ability, developmental stage, finances and learn.
They need to learn that achieving a small part of a grandiose goal can be terrific. It can be the beginning of learning what it takes to do more.  It can be the beginning of learning that they don't want to pursue that goal.

Being a child in a safe, wise and loving environment gives the child the room and space to try things, explore, miss a goal, not do well, try again or change her mind and redirect herself.  

In my opinion we support our children's strength of mind, heart and character when we teach them that others cannot define our children's failure or success.  That is for the individual to decide. (And she needs to be free of an eating disorder to make her wise and realistic decisions.)
mylifex2
0 # :)mylifex2 2014-03-15 15:23
you have that waiting room right, Joanna, except ours is on bleachers and beach chairs with no wall or window. I tend to be the mom who watches and talks casually to other moms. I purposefully do not sit on "those" bleachers where the competitive moms sit and compare and brag about their child's level and abilities. 

i am proud of her, don't get me wrong. I would question her if she wanted to quit, only to make sure she's just not "giving up" because something challenged her. Heck, life is full of challenges!!!

Joanna, I have grown and overcome so much in my ED in the past year. I am full force into recovery work and have not relapsed in months. I have a team of supportive recovering friends I talk to weekly.  being sick, I see how much my body can turn against me without me doing it on purpose. I am doing everything possible to keep my body as well and strong as it can be while I dump chemicals into it to eliminate bad cells that are filling my body with inflammation.

I look at my past knowing relapse is one bad thought away.  I want better for my kids and I am hypervigilent about how iI act and talk around them.

Thank you.   :-)
pinkjoanna
0 # :)pinkjoanna 2014-03-15 15:56
Dear Tracy,

Your growing appreciation of life, the love you have for your daughter and both the love and respect you are building for yourself are inspirational, Tracy!

Your daughter is learning these things by being with you.  No matter how the gymnastics turn out, she's learning what it means to be a champion.

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