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Balancing Nutrition and Athletic Dreams: My Journey with Food and Rowing

A few weeks ago, I posted about my struggle with food and the rollercoaster ride I experienced during my freshman year at Stanford University. Captions have a word count limit, and I felt restricted in what I could share. The caption provided a very brief overview of my journey, making it seem like I overcame my struggles quickly. In reality, this was not the case.

When I arrived at Stanford, I realized I liked being in control. I had always known this about myself through my bossy personality and my desire to always be right, but I didn’t realize the extent to which my need for control had consumed most of my life. It was my way of "winning" against my body.

I found myself in a new place with a new team, and the one thing I knew well—the goals set with the Swiss rowing team—felt so far out of reach.

The support we had regarding nutrition and the variety of options available was a new experience for me. Everything was organized around nutrition, and that scared me.

Everyone in the dorms talked about the so-called "freshman 15." I watched as people snacked on chips and candy while studying and being inactive while I was training twice a day. The food choices at breakfast were intimidating. I knew very little about the ingredients and the choices I would have each day. I was overwhelmed.

I found myself constantly thinking about how much I would eat each day, whether I needed to eat more or less, and if I had time to grab a meal before training or between classes. When it came time to eat, I could never convince myself that my body deserved the food.

I started skipping meals, then telling myself I needed to eat more in the evening to recover from training, leading to overeating. And don’t get me started on the dessert buffet.

I hated that my body was changing and that I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I couldn’t think about anything else. I used to feel like I could find a solution for any obstacle, but this time I was stuck. Thanks to the obstacles in my childhood, I had found a real sense of confidence that suddenly had vanished.

I reached out to a professional nutritionist, but my first experience was a bad one. I was told to eat more, essentially as much as a male football player, which didn’t help my mindset. I did gain some understanding of what foods were needed and how certain foods affected my performance, but my mental state was still unhealthy.

Walking into the dining halls became something I dreaded. I remember trying to take my food to-go to avoid the temptation of the dessert table, but I lost the important aspect of being with my team.

My character began to change. I had always been an active, outgoing person, and suddenly, I was quiet, more awkward than usual, and very confused about my self-image. I questioned every choice in my day, from what to wear to whether I should go out at all. I wouldn’t listen in class anymore, because I would be searching for more ways to control each aspect of my day, planning each minute to try and escape the food thoughts. Planning my day became an obsession.

At NCAA's, almost exactly one year ago today, just before heading back to Switzerland, I had an assignment about sleep, recovery, nutrition, and how our bodies handle stress. It was then that I realized how much my body was doing for me. If there was any time in my life that I needed to look after my body, it was now. Proper nutrition and sleep were crucial, and when those were stable, my mind became clearer. It was all interconnected—a vicious cycle. I had tried to fix the mental aspect, but without proper care for my body, I could never find balance. Realizing this allowed me to progress mentally, and my body followed.

When I arrived back in Switzerland, many things changed, but I held on to the idea of maintaining my body’s health in all aspects. I did this by ensuring I had around 8+ hours of sleep, eating balanced meals (which also meant allowing myself to have dessert if I wanted), and appreciating the amazing things my body allowed me to do. Soon enough, I felt like myself again.

A whole lot of other problems arose, like comments from coaches and fat testing, but those were easier to handle after overcoming such an obsession in the USA.

I am writing this now because I hope these reflections will remind me that being comfortable in my body feels like this. So, when I head back to the USA, I will know I am capable of loving who I am.

I find it important to reflect on things when we are in both good and bad mental spaces to recognize differences and address instabilities.

This is to say that I know many people who struggle out there, even at this level of sports, where nutrition is important but should never become an obsession because our bodies need our help more than ever. Anyone can go through this, and more importantly, anyone can get through it.

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