Figure skating's culture encourages skaters to eat poorly to keep off weight, and it remains a big problem
- Poor diets and eating disorders have afflicted figure skating over the years.
- Many skaters feel pressure from coaches, judges, and themselves to be thinner, leading to some poor and unhealthy diets.
- U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon is one of several figure skaters trying to promote healthier diets that could still help figure skaters achieve their goals.
The world's best figure skaters face pressure from every angle to be light enough and trim enough to nail difficult tricks and look good doing it.
Eating disorders and poor nutrition have afflicted figure skating for years, and as The New York Times' Karen Crouse reported, U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon is trying to help shed light on the continuing problem.
Rippon, according to Crouse, faced pressure to shed weight throughout his life. Growing up, he was told his muscular lower half made him too big to figure skate. Rippon, as recently as 2016, consistently ate only three slices of whole grain bread with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spread per day and subsisted on coffee.
"It makes me dizzy now to think about it," Rippon told Crouse.
Already women's figure skating is missing two young stars, Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya and Gracie Gold of the U.S., who both stepped away from figure skating to treat eating disorders.
Figure skaters face pressure from their coaches, judges, and themselves to be thinner and look thinner.
"If judges tell you to lose weight, you don't have time to figure out how [to] do it healthily," Former Olympian Brian Boitano told Crouse.
Coaches can be just as cruel. Rafael Arutyunyan, a former Soviet Union coach and a trainer who worked with Rippon, used to call skaters "fat" to motivate them to lose weight, according to Crouse. He has since learned that such criticism can be unhealthy for the skaters.
Still, that change hasn't been sport-wide. Reuters reported in January that Japanese figure skater Akiko Suzuki was struggling to make a jump when her coach told her to lose weight, sending Suzuki into a spiral. She lost a third of her body weight over two months before seeking medical help.
"Sport itself is discipline," Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva told Reuters of dieting. "You have to control yourself every day, and when you give in to weakness you hate yourself. I think everyone knows that feeling."
The culture persists even for former figure skaters. According to Crouse, NBC analyst and former Olympian Johnny Weir still only eats one meal today, before 5pm, and subsists on coffee. His treat is a piece of dark chocolate or spoonful of caviar.
"That's how I'm happiest," Weir told Crouse.
Rippon's diet changed after breaking his foot in 2017. According to Crouse, he began working with a sports dietitian than promoted more natural, nutrient-rich diet.
"I didn't realize I was so tired all the time," Rippon told Crouse of the new diet, which taught him to view food as fuel.
The Times reported, citing the National Eating Disorders Association, that 20 million American women and 10 million men will at some point struggle with eating disorders. The problem persists in figure skating, but slowly, skaters seem to be realizing that staying light and thin and eating poorly don't have to be congruent.