By Jill McVey (aka Alex DeLarge )
Anyone who struggles with body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, like myself, can attest that the condition never really is resolved.
I spent my entire adult life in a prison of numbers: pants sizes, miles run, minutes between meals. I knew the exact calories of all common foods by heart. By the age of 30 I managed to strike a delicate balance between working out (but not too much) and eating (but not too much). I was sick of the sight of the gym and took no pleasure in food. I was tired of the lifestyle I had built for myself but saw no way out.
Roller derby gave me a way out, but not without facing significant challenges. Learning the sport of roller derby is the most difficult endeavor I have ever undertaken. It requires unbelievable physical strength, endurance, power and mental focus. The nature of the game allows any body shape or size to be successful … unless you have a body that has been abused for years.
My first 6 months of derby were exhausting and demoralizing as I came to terms with how low my muscle mass actually was. I was strong and fit for a “civilian” (non derby person), but utterly insufficient to be successful at roller derby. Every practice I cursed myself for avoiding the squat rack for a decade and chronically undershooting my calorie intake. Despite the learning curve, I kept going to practice because it helped me recover my inner athlete; as a former softball player I thrived on the team dynamic and exercise intensity that roller derby offered.
Roller derby afforded me other unintended benefits as well. The first week I laced up my skates, the gym transformed into a training ground and I approached it with a fresh perspective. I stopped mindlessly logging hours on the treadmill and hired a personal trainer to help build my muscle mass.
For the first time in my life, I understood the concept of food as fuel. The intensity of the roller derby forced me to eat more and better foods – I only had to hit the wall once during a practice to never want to under eat again. Calories became a precious resource – not an adversary – and I engrossed myself in the timing and nutrient ratios of my meals.
Previously, any change of the scale was reason to panic and restrict. Now I deliberately worked to build muscle. The more muscle I gained, the better I could take a hit, the faster I could skate, and the easier practice became. I found strength and endurance I never knew I was capable of producing. I found my inner-athlete again, previously buried under years of self-criticism and loathing.
I’ve gained about 15 pounds, mostly muscle, in the past two years. It’s still difficult to remember how strong and confident derby has made me when the seams of pants purchased barely two months ago tear. But every time I step on the track, that nagging insecurity evaporates as I skate with and against my Rat City league mates. Once I start skating, I don’t obsess over over how I look in spandex pants or the muffin top from my compression shorts. I focus on agility, power, strategy, and teamwork.
I’m not “cured” of my body dysmorphia. I accept that I may never be. But thanks to roller derby I can focus on other numbers and take great pride in them: my lean mass ratio, my squat max and my performance statistics.
I started skating so I could play a sport again, but the greater benefit is the reframing of numbers as goals. They no longer are my prison.
Rat City Rollergirls play Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at KeyArena. See a preview of the game here . Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com or in-person at Fast Girl Skates and Rudy’s Barbershop.
Jill McVey skates for Rat City Rollergirls and works as a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist at Movement Systems Physical Therapy in Seattle. She was nominated “Rollergirl of the Month” for her work as the Training Director for Rat City
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