US Olympic Figure Skater Adam Rippon Talks Recovery From Disordered Eating

By Victoria Kim 02/15/18

A foot injury led the bronze medalist to revisit his relationship with food and how it affected his health.

Adam Rippon

Adam Rippon, the Olympic bronze medalist for Team USA, came a long way in his competitive figure skating journey to reach a balance in body image and nutrition. He opened up about his journey with the New York Times in a recent interview.

At age 10, Rippon’s first coach said that his “heavy bottom” would ensure failure as a figure skater, suggesting he try speedskating instead. His mother, a former dancer, intervened and taught him about nutrition and healthy body image.

“My mom understands because my mom went through the same thing,” said Rippon.

But later in life, a new coach had Rippon adopt a meager diet of three slices of whole grain bread with margarine, with intermittent cups of coffee to fill in the gaps. “I’d do a few days having my three pieces of bread and then finish the whole loaf of bread and have 3,000 calories,” he told the New York Times in January. This was as recent as 2016.

“It makes me dizzy now to think about it,” said Rippon.

But since then, his coach opened to the possibility that this kind of dieting can be “kind of abusive or maybe they can get sick.”

Rippon recalled the pressure he felt when comparing himself to others on the ice. “I looked around and saw my competitors, they’re all doing these quads, and at the same time they’re a head shorter than me, they’re 10 years younger than me and they’re the size of one of my legs.”

He revisited his relationship with food after a foot injury made him realize that his diet was affecting his health in more ways than he realized. He consulted with Olympic sports dietician Susie Parker-Simmons and explored healthier diets. “I didn’t realize I was so tired all the time,” he said.

“These athletes are so disciplined, and food is one of the things they can actually control when they can’t control other parts of their lives,” said Parker-Simmons.

The 28-year-old, more balanced now, won a bronze medal for his team in his Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Brian Boitano, who won a gold medal in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, said problems with disordered eating is nothing new in the world of competitive figure skating. “It’s the same now as it was in my day, and I think it’s all figure skaters,” he told the New York Times.

The pressures of competing make it inevitable for many figure skaters to develop “an interesting relationship to food,” he added.

Boitano recalled feeling empowered, in a way, when he was depriving himself. “When I was hungry, it made me feel strong,” he said.

Like Rippon, he subsisted on a limited diet that often did not exceed 1,800 calories per day.

He’s eating better these days, and even has his own cookbook, but can’t help but wonder if he could still have won gold on the same diet. “Could I have had superconsistent quads, could I have been stronger, if I had eaten then the way I do now? It’s something that I wonder about,” he said.

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