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What athletic looks like

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier/Design: Rachel Breton

Editor’s Note: This essay is part of our Players’ Week series, in which pro players write their stories directly to you in the first person. Each player’s story is unfiltered and written by them. Subscribers to The Equalizer Extra get first access to these before the general public. Give the digital gift of a one-year subscription by clicking here

In the end, I am far from fitting this mold of what a professional athlete should look like and these barriers have been holding me back forever.

When you picture a professional athlete, what do you picture? Typically, someone’s answer would include words like “fit,” “six pack,” “lean,” “strong,” “low BMI,” “cut,” or “muscular.” I am a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League, and personally I wouldn’t be able to use many of these words to describe myself.

One thing that affects athletes a lot is diet. No one had really taught us what was right from wrong, so we just ate whatever we were given. Whether it be Olive Garden or Panera Bread, your sports teams have most likely spent a lot of time there on your road trips. “You have to carb load,” is a saying every athlete has been told at least once, if not a hundred times in their life.

In high school club soccer days, when we stopped at these Italian chains, we didn’t hold back on the intake of bread, chips, and cookies. Coaches and trainers always insisted we eat more, when some of us (me) really needed to eat less. Overall, we had no concern for the quality of nutrients we were loading in our bodies, which tended to be full of gluten, sugar and dairy.

This eating style caught up with me. Freshman year, they joked about the freshman 15, but I ended up with the freshman 20. With the eating style that all athletes should eat the same ingrained into me in high school, I carried that with me to college, eating all the pizza, pasta, and bread in sight because athletes are supposed to eat carbs right? I ended every meal with ice cream, cake, or cereal because “we burned so many calories today, we can eat anything we want.” About 10% of athletes can live this way and not notice a physical difference. I wasn’t part of that 10%.

My sophomore year of college is when I began to think more about what I ate. I started counting calories when my coaches told me that if I wanted to be great, I needed to be leaner, along with the fact that I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. As a goalkeeper, a lot of my team’s success rides on my shoulders, and when we lost in the first round of the tournament, I blamed myself. The day after the loss, I turned to weight loss as an obsession; counting macros and calories became a constant thought on my mind.

For the next few weeks after the loss of that game, I had been cutting calories, and counting macros. White bread, spray-on butter, and anything low-calorie was my best friend. My goals were to eat as minimal calories and low fat as possible.

But this wasn’t enough. I decided I wanted more of a challenge, so I joined a six-week plan with a friend of mine. I cut calories to 1,500 per day and fat to 20 grams per day (the latter of which is approximately the equivalent to one serving of peanut butter). On top of that, I ran three times a day, for 20 minutes each time, keeping my heart rate between 120-155, which is your fat-burning zone. This was extremely difficult for me mentally and physically. My body burns around 1,900 calories in a resting state and adding three workouts a day, I ended up burning about 2,300 calories daily. At a 800-calorie deficit, you can imagine that I was very weak, irritable, and HUNGRY. To top it all off, the last 36 hours we did a fast, with 1 liter of coke as the only caloric intake of the day.

Here is me, starved but feeling on top of the world because I finally lost weight.

You may think I’m absolutely crazy for doing all of this, but it worked. Six weeks later, I had lost 12 pounds, I was at the lowest BMI I had ever been, and I finally felt like I fit this mold of being a “lean athlete.”

The next week, I went on vacation and wasn’t able to be as methodical and strict about my eating and three-workouts-per-day routine. When I got home from vacation, I stepped back on the scale and said hello to those 12 pounds that I had just lost. Six weeks of torture to fit this stereotypical mold, gone, in the matter of just a seven-day vacation.

This calorie counting, and obsessiveness to food, slowed down a lot after this trip. I learned about this new way of eating called Whole30, which shifted my mindset on food a whole lot. It taught me the importance of whole foods, instead of counting fewer nutrient foods just for the sake of numbers. This is when I began to find balance between food and having a normal life. I wasn’t constantly thinking about numbers. Instead, it was about quality in whole, real food.

Once I graduated college I had more free time to work on myself, and my relationship to food and my body. I finally realized that I wasn’t going to fit this stereotypical mold of what an athlete “should” look like and started on working on the best version of MYSELF. I began to love to share my journey, and I did so on my Instagram page @eboydsfood. I began sharing my workouts, the food I love to make and my progress, more and more. I found that more athletes live in the state of mind that I always had, feeling like we have to fit in this perfect box. But you know what? NO ONE BODY TYPE IS “ATHLETIC.”

We don’t live in a world where every person looks alike, and I wouldn’t want to. We don’t live in a world where only tall people can play basketball, or only fast people can play soccer. WHICH IS AWESOME. Every single body is different. No one’s body will look like mine, and my body will never look like yours, so we need to cut the comparison game.

I’ve learned that this body struggle is something I am going to live with for the rest of my life. We are going to have good days and bad days where we would rather look like him, or her, but we need to love and accept ourselves more. I used my Instagram feed to share my struggles and successes so that we all remember we are not alone in this battle. We have each other!

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This is really tough….. Counting calories, listening to your body, Whole30, vegan, paleo, keto, vegetarian, pescatarian, are you tired of this yet?? I am. I am here to share with you my successes and my struggles, I struggle with my diet. I always have. When something is working for me it’s easy to stay on track, progress fuels me. When I plateau, or go backwards I lose sight of my end goal quickly. If this happens to you too you’re not alone. I counted calories for 4 weeks and saw great success for 3, and back tracked on my last week. That really set me in a downward spiral. ‼️ I want to learn how to eat without counting calories, tracking macros, eating cheese, enjoying ice cream occasionally. This is my 2020 goal. I really want to feel more, normal. Do you struggle with food too? I want to help, and I want your help 🙃 Thanks for listening Xo em

A post shared by Emily Boyds Food & Fitness (@eboydsfood) on

The last thing — and probably the most important thing — I have learned on my journey is how to live an 80/20 lifestyle: 80% of the time, I’m eating clean, lots of vegetables and fruit, nourishing grain bowls, meals filled with protein. Eighty percent of the time, I exercise five to seven times a week, drink lots of water, and stretch for an hour each morning.

BUT don’t forget that 20%. Twenty percent of the time, I’m baking scones filled with sugar, or enjoying a large bag of buttery popcorn at the movie theater. Twenty percent of the time, I take a day off in the middle of the week, or don’t leave the house all day. This is how we live a healthy life, while enjoying the little things. I want to eat salads, but I also love cookies, and an 80/20 lifestyle is the way I am going to be able to do these things, while staying fit, healthy and — most importantly — happy.

There are a few things I want you to take away after reading this article.

1. There is NOT a mold of what an athlete should look like.

2. We have all struggled with our body image. Whether you feel too fat or too skinny, it’s about finding love for yourself.

3. Comparing yourself to others does no good.

4. We can eat cookies and still live an extremely healthy life.

I am living proof that professional athletes come in different shapes and sizes. I am here to start this conversation while trying to inspire the next generation to just be the best YOU.

*OH AND: Professional athletes have rolls too*


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