Basic 3

Respect Natural Body Size and Shape

Treat each athlete as an individual with a unique body size, shape, and weight.

"The woman wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her."
- Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Alan, a top performer on his volleyball team, had a natural body size that was larger than that of most of his teammates’. His coach had never told him that he needed to lose weight, but Alan had noticed that only the thinner players were praised for being in shape and working hard. Wanting to do well for the season, he decided to lose some weight.

Within six weeks of eating only low-fat foods, Alan had lost nearly ten pounds.

"We compliment weight loss, monitor our appetites, and shrink ourselves to fit some kind of standard. I wish we would all be the size we actually are. One size doesn’t fit all."
- Sark

Everyone was telling him how great he looked. However, by the end of the season, he had regained more weight than he had lost. Alan didn’t know what was wrong and felt helpless. It seemed that the very foods he had restricted himself to in order to lose weight were now causing him to gain. He felt like a failure.

BodySense Connection: Natural Body Size

We all have a natural body size and shape, that is, a weight range that our bodies are genetically programmed to remain within. Just like your height, eye colour or shoe size, you have no control over what your natural body size will be.

What happens if we try to change our natural body size and weight? Our bodies fight back! If we change our eating habits to try and go above or below our natural weight range, our bodies respond by either burning more calories to keep up or burning fewer calories to conserve energy. We may gain or lose weight temporarily, but eventually our bodies find a way to return to a size that is natural for us. Research says that as many as 95% of people who diet and temporarily lose weight gain all of the weight back (and sometimes more) within two to five years.

6 Ways to Love Your Body

  1. We are born in love with our bodies. Watch an infant sucking their fingers and toes, not worrying about their "body fat". Imagine being so "in love" with your body.
  2. Make a list of all the things you can do with your body. Your body is the instrument of your life, not an ornament for the enjoyment of others. Walk with your head high, with pride and confidence in yourself as a person.
  3. Create a list of people you admire who have contributed to your life, your community or the world. Was their appearance important to their success and accomplishments?
  4. Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly, not to lose weight, but to feel good.
  5. Did you know that your skin replaces itself once a month, your stomach lining every five days, liver every six weeks, your skeleton every three months! Your body is extraordinary - respect and appreciate it.
  6. Beauty is not just skin-deep. It is a reflection of your whole self. Love and enjoy the person inside.

Adapted from Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies ( M. Maine, Gurze Books, 2000)

What Coaches and Parents can do

Accept natural body size and shape. Learn the facts about natural body size (see box above) and work with the athletic potential of all shapes and weights. See the natural body shapes and sizes of each athlete as wonderful, special, and normal by treating each athlete as an individual and praising the qualities that make them unique.

Treat your athletes individually. Recognize that different athletes have different goals. Each athlete will need something different from you depending on their size, shape, personal life circumstances, and limitations.

Allow some flexibility in each athlete’s training schedule. Help each athlete understand that what they put in is what they will get out of their sport experience. Assist in setting goals that are healthy and challenging (yet realistic) and match the level of commitment (time, effort) the athlete is willing to dedicate to the sport.

Taking Action

  • Instead of commenting on an athlete’s weight or shape, address the real issue- the (their) health and fitness level. Improving fitness, strength, endurance, balance, flexibility or mental training skills are great ways to enhance an athlete’s performance without focusing on weight.
  • Give athletes the freedom to choose what clothing they wear for training. If your club prefers to have athletes wear a club uniform during training, you can offer a selection of shirts, shorts, tights, sweaters, pants, etc. so that athletes can choose something that makes them feel good.
  • Encourage athletes to let their individuality shine. Gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s tips for expressing individuality include having an athlete pick their own music and involving them in choreographing routines.