I don’t know what it’s like not to be active. I was a gymnast, I played volleyball, and now I work out 4-5 times a week. Well, that was until three months ago. Before studying abroad, I was going to the gym, going to yoga classes, and always on my feet. I’m still active now, but it’s not the same. In Italy you walk everywhere and you’re barely home. I walk at least 4 miles a day and I only go to the gym once a week. I’ve seen this become a topic of discussion, but I really only want to talk from personal experience. I don’t know the science behind it or any facts or if this is even common among athletes who quit their sport.
I don’t understand. Is my body changing, is it the food I’m eating, am I not active enough? Within the first few weeks of arriving in Italy I started thinking about all these things. But it only really hit me this past weekend, the first time I saw myself in a bathing suit in 6 months. I know I eat healthy. I eat fresh fruit and vegetables, I don’t eat meat or dairy, I enjoy my glass of wine at dinner, I walk so many miles a day, and I go on hikes. Why is my stomach bigger? Why is this the only thing I can think about now? I shouldn’t be thinking about this when I’m living my life and enjoying myself.
How did putting on my bathing suit change my mood in 2 seconds? I’m in this beautiful place and all I can think about is how big I feel. I know I’m healthy and eat well but why do I feel so gross? In gymnastics I always wanted to have stronger legs and have more defined abs but when I quit, I was self-conscious about how big my upper body was. And then in volleyball, bigger glutes and defined quads but when I quit, I was self-conscious about having bigger legs. It’s always something but I learned to stop comparing myself to other people. Now I just compare myself to the body I was before.
Is it normal for athletes to get bigger after quitting? Going from 30-hour practices a week to 10 to then 5 is a big change. But how does one accept it all? I can’t just change my eating habits overnight, or even in a week, my body is used to the amount of food I put into it. I’m still not used to the concept of food being more than fuel. My entire life I’ve been told “food is fuel” but now it doesn’t feel okay to eat since I’m not working out. I don’t need as much “fuel.” I’ve had my fair share of problems with food but we’re past that. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not used to fueling my body for reasons other than working out.
Food is a way to connect, it’s enjoyment and traditions. But how do I accept that being an athlete doesn’t have a look? My body will continue to change because it has to in order to survive, it would be impossible for it to stay the same. I guess at this point it’s important to remember that performance is more important than appearance. Of course, I can’t do back handsprings on a beam anymore or run around a volleyball court as fast as I used to, but I still accomplished many things as an athlete. The way my body looks doesn’t take away those accomplishments. They still count.
It makes it even harder when people know I’ve played sports my entire life and have always had abs, but my body doesn’t need to be proof that I was an athlete… There isn’t just one mold that all athletes fit into.
I don’t need to, and I will not justify my accomplishments with a 6 pack.