Eating Disorders among men in skating: Shawn Sawyer, Joe Johnson, Sean Rabbitt speak out

el henry

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Changing the direction of this thread (and thanks to @apgold and @Ic3Rabbit for the links) as more men skaters have been speaking out more recently:

Joe Johnson: (IG link below)

I dealt with an eating disorder for almost a decade.

.... What I want to say is this: it did not help me. It did not make me better. It did not make me love myself, or my body. It does not have to be obvious to be real. And I would have been a better athlete, and far more importantly, a happier person, without it. .... And I have learned, above all, that discipline and deprivation are not synonymous. There is beauty in abundance, there is success in health. I hope we all find it.


Sean Rabbitt in response:

I dealt with these things and after it was all said and done I was weaker, less healthy, and not happy with the result....


Shawn Sawyer
Eating Disorders, poorly treated injuries, abuse among elite figure skaters
(in French, translations mine)


A good spring cleaning is always necessary, says Shawn Sawyer Olympic athlete now trainer ....

Sawyer, like many other athletes, suffered eating disorders, notably anorexia and bulimia. His weight had been an obsession for a long time, so much that he didn't eat anything before competitions and weighed himself three times a day.
....
Many skaters reported the weigh-ins that were routinely required ....
Skate Canada confirmed that coaches are no longer permitted to weigh skaters as part of their daily training. Only health professionals are permitted to monitor weight. But who assures that the rule is followed? The organization did not respond.
 
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apgold

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el henry

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Oh, now I'm thinking I should separate out the Shawn from the Jessica to talk about the men. (Ice Rabbit also mentioned Joe Johnson in another thread).

I will need to listen to the Sean Rabbitt podcast with Polina (I will be honest, I have listened to other Polina podcasts with my favs, and I get frustrated: Jason can talk over Polina, Andrew T. not so much ;).) But I am a huge Sean fan and so sorry he also dealt with this :(
 

Ic3Rabbit

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And also adding there have been many, many elite skaters in the past who have overcome eating disorders: US Ice dancer Jamie Silverstein is one who spoke of her previous struggles with anorexia and bulimia. She is now a yoga instructor and eating disorders advocate. She has a College Scholar degree with specialization in catharsis and emotional psychology from Cornell University.


ETA: Adam Rippon as well.
 

el henry

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What I find so "on point" is Joe J's statement: deprivation is not discipline. Even today, unfortunately, the attitude from some quarters appears to be, well, of course, a high driven and devoted athlete would take these measures. It just shows what a high level athlete needs to do.

No, it isn't, and encouraging it does not make for better athletes. Or more importantly, people. Grrrr :devilish:
 

LutzDance

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Thank you for making this thread! Hope you don't mind me dumping a few other articles on eating disorders in figure skating here:

1. Jenny Kirk on Figure Skating’s Eating Disorder Epidemic
A two-part interview that remains the most visceral account of eating disorders in skating I've read. I would've copy-pasted the whole thing, but here're some especially poignant quotes from Jenny:
Based on my experience there, and after speaking with skaters after leaving the sport, I would say about 85% of skaters have suffered or are suffering with various forms of disordered eating.
For me personally, I started to control the types of food I was eating—think labeling foods “good” and “bad”—after a disappointing finish at the 2003 National Championships. At the time I believed that if I became very aware of the types of food that were going into my body, how hard I was working out off the ice, and how much I weighed, then I would be able to control my results on the ice. There are so many things in skating that a competitor can’t control, particularly the judging, and I felt that if I were a certain weight, I would feel more in control of all those external variables. What really happened, though, is that the disorder started to control me, and it took over my life.
The pressure to look a certain weight comes from all of the above — other skaters, coaches, judges, the media, parents, etc. It also comes from society. Unfortunately, many skaters have really low self-esteem. After years of having their fate in the hands of judges and being pressured to look and act a certain way in order to achieve the best results, a skater’s self-esteem becomes basically non-existent...And because skating is such an image-driven sport, weight is often a primary topic. At a competition, weight is usually made to be an indicator of who is ready to “fight” and who isn’t prepared for the event. There were dozens of times when my coaches or those around me told me not to worry about a certain competitor because they had gained weight, which according to them meant that the skater wasn’t a threat anymore.
The second quote is an extremely common theme among sufferers of eating disorders: they see food and body as means to control a life filled with uncertainties. It is important to realize that when a skater (or someone around you) suffers from a eating disorder it's not only about body image, but about gaining self-esteem through the only way they see as viable.

2. Figure Skating's Dark History Of Eating Disorders Worries Expert
Mentions the struggles of Gaby Daleman, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Gracie Gold, and Akiko Suzuki with eating disorders.

3. Adam Rippon on Quiet Starvation in Men’s Figure Skating
New York Times article that includes some interesting quotes from Brian Boitano, Johnny Weir, Raf, and Adam's mom. Also on men's reservation in opening up about eating disorders:
Ron A. Thompson, a consulting psychologist for the Indiana University athletic department, said there was a cultural component to male skaters’ reserve about discussing their body image problems.

“Males are supposed to be stronger and not need psychological assistance,” he wrote in an email. But he said that eating disorders and disordered eating “are not discriminatory, they occur in both genders in all sports.”

4. Two other articles in the same series as the Dubé interview:
Joannie Rochette has faced comments about her weight during her Olympic career
“For some girls, it was a way to intimidate, to get to a super thin competition, where you see all the bones,” she says. I spoke to one of my competitors several years later, when we were doing shows, and that was clearly her motivation. She wanted to compete as thin as possible to intimidate others and then show that she was in good shape. ”
Elite skater Camille Ruest weighed herself three times a day as a teenager
Between 16 and 21, Camille checks her weight three times a day to make sure she doesn't exceed a certain threshold. She enters a compulsive phase, develops negative ideas, her mood depending on what she saw in the mirror, she recalls.

I'm very proud of everyone who had to courage to speak up. The "epidemic of eating disorders" in figure skating strikes me as not a athletic problem but a cultural problem, and I believe it's possible to draw a line between proper body management and obsessive control. Hope to see more normalization of different body types and better scientific understanding of how to harnessing the power of each body type in this sport.

ETA: Ah I didn't realize you separated out the women...Should I move my 1, 2, and 4 to the other thread?
 
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el henry

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@LutzDance yes I changed it up after I first posted.:biggrin:

The ladies might make more sense in the Jessica Dubé thread, but of course I don't want to tell you what to do. :)

I wish the Pression documentary were not subscription. But the articles are very detailed and interesting.
 

el henry

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This is the article in the series devoted solely to Shawn, instead of the "overall article" in the OP

Figure skater Shawn Sawyer was obsessed with his weight during his Olympic career

Excerpts:

Some days I couldn't eat anything at all. I trained completely fasting. I never asked other skaters what they were doing, but everybody has their own method. People didn't want to reveal their secrets because they thought they had found a good way to lose weight.

Shawn blames his coach, who he says "broke" him. "To take someone who had as much passion as I did, and make them no longer love the sport, I didn't think that could happen".

(article in French, informal translation mine)
 

mrrice

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This is the article in the series devoted solely to Shawn, instead of the "overall article" in the OP

Figure skater Shawn Sawyer was obsessed with his weight during his Olympic career

Excerpts:

Some days I couldn't eat anything at all. I trained completely fasting. I never asked other skaters what they were doing, but everybody has their own method. People didn't want to reveal their secrets because they thought they had found a good way to lose weight.

Shawn blames his coach, who he says "broke" him. "To take someone who had as much passion as I did, and make them no longer love the sport, I didn't think that could happen".

(article in French, informal translation mine)
This is a sad quote to read. We ALL starved ourselves as there were certain pieces where we wore to tights, shoes, and body paint. No matter how thin I got, I was never comfortable performing without something over my stomach.
 
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ladyjane

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This is the article in the series devoted solely to Shawn, instead of the "overall article" in the OP

Figure skater Shawn Sawyer was obsessed with his weight during his Olympic career

Excerpts:

Some days I couldn't eat anything at all. I trained completely fasting. I never asked other skaters what they were doing, but everybody has their own method. People didn't want to reveal their secrets because they thought they had found a good way to lose weight.

Shawn blames his coach, who he says "broke" him. "To take someone who had as much passion as I did, and make them no longer love the sport, I didn't think that could happen".

(article in French, informal translation mine)
How awful.
 

mrrice

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What truly bugs me about these "Coaches" is that they "Know" from their time in the spotlight, that these comments hurt their skaters self esteem. Why would anyone subject their students to comments like these. Yes, skaters need to maintain a certain weight but, why don't these coaches tell them in the locker room or in their office. These comments made in public (Even if there is only 1 person in the rink) will stay with these skaters forever.
 

4everchan

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What truly bugs me about these "Coaches" is that they "Know" from their time in the spotlight, that these comments hurt their skaters self esteem. Why would anyone subject their students to comments like these. Yes, skaters need to maintain a certain weight but, why don't these coaches tell them in the locker room or in their office. These comments made in public (Even if there is only 1 person in the rink) will stay with these skaters forever.
the same reason why children who were raised by aggressive and violent parents often oblige their own children to the same suffering. It takes a whole community to break such a vicious circle.
 

Weathergal

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I noticed in Joe's IG post that Piper Gilles made the comment "Thank you for being so brave and honest!!! You aren’t defined by your ED and aren’t the only one dealing with years of this..." NOT implying for one moment that I think Piper is referring to herself (if she is, it her business unless she chooses to discuss), but I mention this because it sounds like she knows people in that situation - and also that she obviously appreciates him speaking out. I think that's something that has struck me about many of these skaters' disclosures is that they were suffering in secret yet the idea that so many skaters have disordered eating of one kind or another was not a well-kept secret.

It is sad at how widespread it is, but I'm grateful that so many skaters like Joe are speaking out - and that they have the support of their fellow skaters like Piper. Getting it out in the open will hopefully help current and future skaters.
 

gliese

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What truly bugs me about these "Coaches" is that they "Know" from their time in the spotlight, that these comments hurt their skaters self esteem. Why would anyone subject their students to comments like these. Yes, skaters need to maintain a certain weight but, why don't these coaches tell them in the locker room or in their office. These comments made in public (Even if there is only 1 person in the rink) will stay with these skaters forever.
Not to mention most of the weight comments are 100% unnecessary. When I was still skating with my old coach she never hesitated to mention if I looked even slightly bigger/smaller to her subjective eyes. Did my weight ever affect my skating at that point in time? No, it didn't, but she still said it anyway. Frankly, it's what's normal to them.

Think of all the parents who got hit by belts when they were children. Many of them don't hit their children now but fail to recognize the emotional abuse they put onto their children because it wasn't the biggest problem in their life. When my old coach was younger she got weighed publically in front of all her fellow skaters. She never did that to me, but did not acknowledge the comments, likely because it slipped her mind. I am in no way justifying her behavior and those comments have done terrible damage to my body image, however an explanation helps us fix the problem.

I do find that a lot of coaches who are objectively bad at teaching technique fall back on the weight argument. They look for an excuse to why their skaters aren't getting their jumps. This is another thing that my old coach did. If me not getting my double loop was my weights fault, then nothing about my slow progress could be blamed on her. I switched coaches, gained weight, and landed three more doubles within three months. Nothing was the fault of my weight and everything had to do with her coaching.
 

el henry

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I have now listened to the Sean Rabbitt podcast with Polina. It is excellent, on many subjects, and Sean actually does most of the talking!:biggrin:

The body image discussion starts at about 45 minutes of the podcast. Sean talks about how body image issues definitely affect male skaters as well. He said that in 2015 he lost weight, put on muscle, skated well at a comp and a judge (? Polina later says judge, I didn't hear Sean say that) said after the skate "Great skate, but you look too fat".:( He talked about what a big blow to his confidence that was, and that he began obsessing about food and measuring food to the ounce. (which he came to realize was unhealthy and not helping and stopped).

He also said that at one point, someone pointed out a male skater with a 28 inch waist and said you should try to look like that. Sean said, (on the podcast, not to the person), I have a 31 inch waist, what do they expect me to do? I'm hitting my elements, I'm doing my jumps, I am not going to look like that.

He also talked about "height shaming", and the comments he received that he should go into pairs or dance due to his height.

Sean is now coaching and said he makes a concerted effort to tell his kids, yes, you need to eat healthy, but it's OK to splurge, and that the change in attitudes needs to come with this new coaching generation.:clap:

Now I love me some Sean Rabbitt anyway, but independently of that, he is well spoken and thoughtful and I recommend the podcast. :)
 

Supernovaimplosion

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I think it can be really hard for skaters/athletes to speak out about dangerous coaching conditions, too, because athletes are kind of expected to "sacrifice" themselves for their sport, and if they can't handle it, they're "weak"
It's really a culture that needs to change in general
 

el henry

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I think it can be really hard for skaters/athletes to speak out about dangerous coaching conditions, too, because athletes are kind of expected to "sacrifice" themselves for their sport, and if they can't handle it, they're "weak"
It's really a culture that needs to change in general

And all the more so for men, because of societal expectation that they appear even stronger. And because of the societal expectation that body image and weight issues are a "female" issue.

:(
 

Flying Feijoa

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I do find that a lot of coaches who are objectively bad at teaching technique fall back on the weight argument. They look for an excuse to why their skaters aren't getting their jumps. This is another thing that my old coach did. If me not getting my double loop was my weights fault, then nothing about my slow progress could be blamed on her. I switched coaches, gained weight, and landed three more doubles within three months. Nothing was the fault of my weight and everything had to do with her coaching.
So true. I didn't experience it firsthand, but have seen it happen to another skater at my rink. Just goes to show how little her (former) coach knew about coaching.

Back when I was an impressionable teenager in a different sport, a coach said I was too heavy to do aerial cartwheels. So I ate less, exercised a lot and ended up amenorrhic for a year... Not sure if it could be considered an ED (I wasn't clinically underweight) but the thought patterns these skaters have described sound familiar to me in hindsight. Oh, and I never could do an aerial before I quit the sport after high school. I might actually have a higher chance if I tried training it now, given the increased muscle strength acquired from skating.
 

gliese

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So true. I didn't experience it firsthand, but have seen it happen to another skater at my rink. Just goes to show how little her (former) coach knew about coaching.

Back when I was an impressionable teenager in a different sport, a coach said I was too heavy to do aerial cartwheels. So I ate less, exercised a lot and ended up amenorrhic for a year... Not sure if it could be considered an ED (I wasn't clinically underweight) but the thought patterns these skaters have described sound familiar to me in hindsight. Oh, and I never could do an aerial before I quit the sport after high school. I might actually have a higher chance if I tried training it now, given the increased muscle strength acquired from skating.
I am so sorry that happened to you. Eating disorders don't have a weight range, so it is possible you did have one.

It's sad how common this is even in recreational levels. Many people think it only happens in the upper levels due to competitiveness, but it is truly everywhere.
 
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