Eating disorders in the climbing community are kept kinda hush, hush, Yes there was the so called climborexia phase but now climbers realize technique also plays an important part. This being very true. Technique is important. But how does climbing place
in the role of a developing or success of recovery from an eating disorder.
Sport and eating disorders.
Well research has shown that people participating in competitive sport are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder such as Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa. OSFED (Previously EDNOS) is also a cause for concern as it has been highlighted as the most dangerous of eating disorders. I guess sports can be categorized into Technical, endurance, aesthetic, weight dependent. ball games and power sports. Amongst these Aesthetic sports carries the highest rate of eating disorders with weight dependent sports coming a close second.
You may ask. What does this have to do with climbing? Well to be climbing is not one sole category but a multitude. One of those being weight dependent. Not forgetting technique and potentially endurance and power sport. This however is all dependent on your chosen area of climbing. Be it sport, trad, Alpine,bouldering, mountaineering or competition.
So of course your ability to climb at any given time is partly down to weight to muscle ratio. Fat won’t help you get up the wall.Specially in female climbers pressures to be thin are added. This could all lead to the development or severity of an eating disorder. There are some very thin climbers out there.
There is also the pressure factor. Be it from family or your coach. There is the potential that climbing families can apply too much pressure on the child. The potential on a coach pushing a young person too far. To a predisposed individual talk about simple things such as weight- to – muscle and healthy eating could play a part in the cause or increasing severity of an eating disorder when mixed with other known factors such us; bullying, perfectionism, pressure from school, abuse or death of a loved one.
Your eating disorder may portray itself to you as a way to excel in your sport. It may start as a fitness plan or a healthy eating plan and rapidly spiral out of control.
Climbing and recovery.
This section I guess specifically focuses in indoor climbing and competition climbing. When grades are most important. While in recovery from an eating disorder simple things such as putting your harness on or your chalk- bag round your waist may become triggering. Maybe the feeling that your going backwards instead of forwards. The inevitable weight gain. This can all effect recovery. Not just mentally but physically.
We all know that exercising at a low weight is extremely dangerous and can be the cause of heart attacks and premature death. There is also the fact that exercising during the weight gain process can cause you to overshoot your natural weight. Of course us climbers can’t just not climb. It’s like a drug and to many sufferers of eating disorders exercise is like a drug.
So yes not only can climbing be a cause or reason for an increase in severity it can also be a hindrance during the recovery process. Especially when not many people know of your disorder.
Well I’ve had an Eating disorder for six years. EDNOS. About 18 months ago I started climbing. I was rubbish at it but I loved it. It was just for fun then really. No weight-to-muscle to triggering coaches, no targets apart from those which were self set. May 2013. I climbed my first 6a. My instructor said something about how I was light so it was easy for me. Not that this was the cause of the increased severity in my eating disorder as many other factors played a part but it was something I remember almost a year on.
June 2013 I had lost A LOT OF WEIGHT. Ok probably not that much. We don’t have working scales at home so I can’t give definitive numbers but people were commenting. June 2013. Marking the start of recovery. When recognized and openly admitted there was a problem. June 22nd, I went to my friends party. A buffet. Ok I didn’t eat a huge amount and refused to eat dinner that evening. I also proceeded to do some silly amount of sit ups that evening but it was a step in the right direction.
I guess I was fighting for recovery from then on really. I was however still losing weight. Late July I gained a whole 1/2lb. This freaked me out like hell. Returning from holiday in august things started to slip again. Thing is with this slip my climbing was noticeably better. I onsited a 6a+ Not just climbed, no hours spent. Just straight up. No effort what-so-ever. I was so tiny it was all so easy.
Picking myself back up from the relapse. Eventually I guess climbing wasn’t a problem until 2014 came along. Since the new year I have been gaining and gaining and gaining. This is due to a failure to be-able to intuitively eat. A failure to be-able to eat what my body needs when not in control. Sometimes it feels like I’ve developed Binge eating disorder. I may have climbed my first 6b about a month ago. Bouldered my first v3 along with that. Following a series of recant injury’s however climbing the crack was near impossible last Friday. My arms are just too weak for it. They never used to be. I can only attribute that to the impeding far growth on my stomach. I can’t deny it to myself. It is there and it is real. There could of course be many other factors attributing to a drop in performance. This could include how I hadn’t eaten lunch and how my shoulder was not actually fully healed. There is also the fact that the recant injuries meant training had been lacking.
So now I’m sitting on the fence. I don’t gain as much enjoyment from climbing as I once did. I swear I’ve gained atleast a stone since the Friday…A lack of workouts and being at my nans. She forces food down my throat and I feel pressured to eat it. Writing about it makes me feel so guilty. I need to be skinny again. I need to lose weight not give in to this.
I guess I can’t quit climbing for another 9 weeks. It would be unfair on my mother. Maybe in those 9 weeks I will find new perspective. When I get home tomorrow I will beable to train again. Maybe if my parents allow me to become a vegan that will make a difference. Or maybe my climbing ability will not get any better and I may still be climbing worse than everyone else but I will have learnt to accept that and stop comparing myself to others. There is a chance that one day I will be-able enjoy climbing once more. Not for the competition and not for the grades but out pure love for the sport. The sense of freedom and challenge. I guess there’s no point in me climbing if it’s to “be the best”. I never started climbing to be the best. I started out of pure enjoyment. The feeling I get when climbing.
Maybe happiness well come and one day I may find my passion once more. Climb for enjoyment not to be good at it and not let my eating disorder allow me to believe anything about how I should lose weight, need to lose weight and how my BMI is way to heavy for a climbers. I need to learn to climb for fun and not competition. Only then will my love and passion return.