How to Help Your Gymnast Maintain a Healthy Body Image
As an NYC gymnastics coach, I work hard to ensure my competitive gymnasts maintain a healthy body image. Equipping my gymnasts with good eating habits now sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. When talking to my athletes about good foods to eat, I frame the conversation so that it relates to the best foods available for gymnasts that will work to optimize their practices and workouts. Instead of trying to control what my gymnasts eat each day, I reinforce eating good snacks after school and before practice. Eating snacks throughout the day provides energy and will help maintain energy levels throughout practice. Try snacks including proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
I insist my coaches never use words with the gymnasts relating to body shape such as “thin” or “fat.” We only encourage staying in shape with healthy foods, good conditioning and strong physical activity. It is important to also lead by example and not make comments about our own bodies as adults. Children look up to their coaches in all sports, and we take it very seriously that we have an impact on their positive body images and work to reflect that in our own actions.
The pressure for a certain body type or shape is not as strong in recreational gymnastics, and so there is more variety in gymnasts’ body types. The emphasis in these classes should always focus on positive reinforcement about the child’s effort and improvement. I work to reward them for putting in the effort for accomplishing a physical activity and also point out how it has improved their skills and strength, which helps to reinforce the activity. The recreational gymnasts are the ones that really need to hear how important physical activity is in their life and should be encouraged to participate in a range of sports.
I hope that I instill in my gymnasts a ‘lead by example’ attitude. I set the bar high for my athletes, but never at the sacrifice of their health or general well-being. Reinforcing a healthy body image for child athletes is vital for a lifetime of healthy living.