My ongoing struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with the bike and food

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One of the first things I do in the morning is weigh myself. It’s also the last thing I do in the evenings. Every day. The number that I see will affect what type of mood I either start or end my day in. Was it a “good” number? A “bad” number? Do I need to be “better” tomorrow? Can I excuse it because of water weight gain/a hard workout/time of day/etc? Or do I need to buckle down?

These actions and questions are continuous, regardless of whatever else is happening in my life. I have learned to live with them, and I have also learned to not place too much faith in them, though I oftentimes fail. I am someone who is a recovering eating disorder survivor. I say “recovering” because like alcoholism, it never truly goes away entirely. I say “survivor” because even at my lowest weight (105 pounds at 5’5”) I was never hospitalized or on the brink.

I am now merely another almost middle aged woman with some tendencies of disordered eating. I say “merely” because the percentage of women (and men) who have characteristics of disordered eating is probably higher than you realize.

I am also a passionate, devoted cyclist, and attribute much of the progress I’ve made in my journey to be healthy and “normal” to the sport. Before cycling, I was an avid runner, and while I loved it, running allowed me to indulge my obsession with thinness more-so than cycling. I was never a strong runner – it was something I did because I liked it more than the gym and it kept me skinny. Cycling gave me something I love intrinsically, and it is also a sport intrinsically tied to food. Plus, I was good at it – I felt strong – I was strong. In every way, cycling has given me the amazing life I have today.

But the little voice in my head never went away. You know the voice. The one that tells you you’re eating too much. Don’t have that doughnut with your espresso. How can Diane (or Jake, or Maria) be so fit and fast and eat so much? Why can’t I do that? What am I doing wrong? Don’t eat until the top of the next climb, you can make it. You are slow. You are fat. You will never be as fast as Diane/Jake/Maria because you aren’t as good as they are.

Now, maybe your voice is a little less extreme, and that certainly isn’t my constant inner monologue. But the latter half of 2016 was unkind. It slapped me around mentally and physically and zapped the tremendous fitness and healthy eating routine I had spent the first part of the year establishing. The weather turned cold (Ok… cold for Northern CA) and wet (again…wet for Northern CA), and I became ill, and gained 6 pounds seemingly out of nowhere, and kept posting slow time after slow time on Strava. The judgey voice in my head got louder, my willpower became lower, and thus: spiral.

Some of you may have read my resolutions for 2017, which came out of my Rock Bottom New Years. In them, I expressed that in 2017, I would, “get into the best shape I’ve ever been in cycling wise.” And I’m off to a good start. I’ve started taking Spin Classes to get the intensity I need, but can’t get because of the weather and my work hours. I am cooking more at home. I am taking the necessary steps and I’m feeling good.

But I also know the flip side, the one where I get sick and backtrack or indulge a bit too much, is just around the corner, and I have accepted the fact that some part of my self esteem will forever be tied to the Strava time I post and the number I see on the scale. I know I shouldn’t it, but it’s the truth.

I’m sharing all this with you because I know many of you can relate even though, as women, we tend to struggle in silence. And so I want you to know that you are certainly not alone in this.

Know that we have a choice over how long we choose to let that number influence our mood. Don’t give the bad ones too much lingering thought before you tell yourself that ebbs and flows of fitness and weight are common, even good, for all athletes. Don’t give the good ones too much ego stoke, or you will crash when the numbers inevitably plateau and dip.

Eat the doughnut or don’t eat the doughnut. But don’t make the choice because one is “good” and one is “bad”. Sometimes, a pastry is just a pastry, a QOM is just a QOM, and a wonderful day on the bike is impossible to quantify.

Sophie Ballo is a Bay Area cycling enthusiast who has seen the industry from both the inside and the outside. When not on her bike as an Ella Ambassador, she is a Marketing Manager in San Francisco, Co-Owner of VYNL Race Bikes, and the mother of three cats. Follow her on Instagram @sophiebike.

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