Intuitive Everything: A Crossfit Coach Weighs in on ED Recovery

By Kortney Karnok

Find Kortney at Fueling Strength on Facebook or  Instagram @fuelingstrength

Today I lifted weights again for the first time in months. I snatched*. I squatted. I even took my shirt off because I was hot, sweating, and I will no longer be confined by rules that say only a six-pack is worthy of comfort in the gym.

Granted I was alone in the gym, but it’s still progress. Would I have rushed to cover up with my shirt had someone come in while I was training? My instincts would have said, “yikes! hide!” but my resolve and determination to get over my fear of exposure, my fear of being revealed as “not perfect”, my fear of judgement, my fear of being “not good enough” will only be tackled head on. And so, I would remain vulnerable and topless.

(ummm, with a sports bra!)

I realize that this is not a true example of “bravery” or “courageousness” because, relative to many, I am conventionally “fit-ish” and straight sized, or basically not noteworthy in appearance at all. But as a person in the “middle”, a medium-sizer, to me it still feels like an accomplishment to reveal, accept, and no longer try to HIDE my socially constructed “flaws”.

As a coach and athlete in the Crossfit and weightlifting world, emphasis has ALWAYS been on performance over appearance. This is what originally drew me to these sports to begin with! However, we all know how insidious and sneaky ED can be, and before long I had fallen hard back into it. Pursuit of lean, functionally fit abs, ripped and jacked musculature, and precision level control over my body weight eventually caught up with me, in addition to the never ending pursuit of “better, faster, stronger!”

But by the grace of something much greater than myself, I fought my way through and out to the other side again. (YES! After 23 years in various stages of recovery and relapse with bulimia, but mostly in relapse, this is a serious cause for celebration!)   

But the irony isn’t lost on me. As a fitness professional and Crossfit coach, I spent months merely walking for “exercise” while wading through and out of my disordered relationship to my body, food, and exercise. I openly and nonchalantly shared with members, and even other coaches, that I was taking time off from lifting – with no shame, no stress, no fucks given, hopefully modeling that life won’t come to a crashing HALT based on adherence to or deviance from an exercise regimen. In response to member’s inquiries about my workouts (or lack of), I was happy to point out that I was addressing self-care, allowing old injuries to heal, and scaling back for my overall health. No big deal.  

I love when people expect me to exemplify a certain “perfect healthy diet extremism,” and I’m able to tell them that I bought Poptarts AND carrots AND Cheez-its AND Peeps at the store, but decided I was only truly hungry for a few Peeps and carrots after all, but would have been totally cool with eating the Poptarts had I wanted to. Showing how through Intuitive Eating, I now have the freedom and ability to choose.

I love sharing my experience of finding a path away from diet and nutrition rules and “clean” eating back to “normal” eating whenever Crossfitters engage me in conversation about diet. I remember one of the first times this revelation led a woman to joke about eating M&Ms every day, fully expecting me to backpedal on my nutrition philosophy. It felt great to confidently reply, “Sure, why not? It’s certainly feels better than restricting them every day if you really want them!

I love the baffled looks I get when I tell men and women that I’ve INTENTIONALLY allowed my body to gain more fat, and that it’s been one of the best mental health decisions of my LIFE. When challenged about my weight (fat) gain and how it must negatively impact my gym performance, I’m proud of my response, “I’ve decided to prioritize my health over my performance in the gym – because they are NOT synonymous and my health is more important than my ability to do a muscle-up.”

I love when women come to me for weight loss advice, and I can tell them that their body is just fine as it is and likely “healthier” than a thinner version if they’re wanting to intentionally suppress their body weight.

These notions are NOT what are expected from a “Crossfit coach” or “fitness professional”, but indeed it’s what we need more of from inside the industry. Permission to be human. Permission to listen to and honor our bodies and appetites. And permission to live these choices SHAME free. In the fitness and Crossfit world, I’d love to see more coaches and professionals juxtaposing the traditional ideas of physical mastery, self-discipline, and self-control with mental health, self-compassion, and self-care.

*a specific technical type of lift in Crossfit and Olympic style weightlifting.

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