Each lightweight rower who was cutting weight had a different way of restricting themselves from eating foods that would cause their weight to increase.
Senior and former lightweight rower Stash Pomichter practiced strict techniques in order to do so.
“The hardest part for me was after the afternoon practice. I’d come home. I’d be tired. Mentally, at the end of the day, you’re most weak in terms of mental strength, so I actually put a lock on my fridge multiple times, like a padlock,” Pomichter said.
Despite using a scientific approach to dieting by counting calories, Pomichter still found himself struggling to consistently diet in a healthy way.
“Some weekends I would just eat a bunch of stuff, then I would have to deal with the next week by eating way less. It would’ve been a lot healthier if I did it steady over the long term, but that’s hard when all you can think about is food,” Pomichter said.
Although she hadn’t experienced this pattern of eating herself, Reis has heard of very unhealthy practices on the girl’s lightweight team.
“There are some terrible horror stories about people throwing up to make weight, people taking laxatives to make weight. Those are things that when the coaches hear about them, they jump on it and say, ‘That’s not okay,’ and they monitor it,” Reis said.
Despite rumors of unhealthy practices, Noble tries to integrate ideas that she emphasizes in the Body Positive Club to rowers at MRA.
“Intuitive eating is a big thing in Body Positive,” Noble said, “especially for rowing where you are burning a lot of calories, it’s important to fuel your body correctly and that’s where a lot of girls get in trouble.”
According to Armstrong, if lightweight rowers weigh too far out of the range, then there are some questions that the coaches need to ask themselves.
“If they’re not in [the 130-132 range], we as a coaching staff need to make a decision if it’s healthy for that person to lose those five pounds,” Armstrong said. “It’s really difficult to lose five pounds in a week. So, that’s why we try to take a step back where we want it to be over time. And then they maintain their natural lightweight.” Armstrong said.
Noble recalls an incident last year in which a lightweight rower lost 7 pounds in one morning in order to race.
“One time last year a girl before a race, that morning, weighed in seven pounds over, 137. And so she had to put on leggings, sweatpants, whatever, rain jacket, sweatshirts and stuff. And she had to bike for a long time. And then go drive to the course and then run like 3 miles. And she weighed in, finally made it, and then she had to race,” Noble said.
According to Armstrong, the only suggestions that she offers for losing weight are to cut back on starches and to lose the weight over a long period of months, not rapidly. In her words, all of the guidelines and suggestions given out by the MRA are in the best interest of the athletes.
As a lightweight rower, Reis began to think about food in a different light. It wasn’t an aspect of mere enjoyment for her, rather it was pure energy needed to compete.
“The transition from never thinking about my weight to weighing myself at least once a week was different. And it changed the way I thought of food. I had started to see food as my fuel and thinking, ‘Do I need this?’ and ‘What am I putting in my body?’ So, I actually ate a lot healthier when I was a lightweight than I do now, but I also ate a lot less,” Reis said.
Armstrong recognizes that with any lightweight sport, eating disorders are something to monitor. Part of her responsibility as a coach is to look for health-related red flags in each rower and to place them in a different rowing category, if need be.
“The key in all of this is that if there is an athlete, whether it be a lightweight or heavyweight, who has a tendency toward the issues that go along with eating disorders, meaning body concerns, control issues, stress, all of the stuff that goes with potentially having an eating disorder, yes, lightweight or coxswain, or even being a heavyweight can trigger those things,” Armstrong said.
Noble talks to her coaches about advice for ensuring that rowers are practicing healthy eating habits.
“It’s really important to eat consistently what you’re body is craving, and that’s a really important way to nourish yourself. That’s something that I’ve talked to my coach a lot about, because that’s important to both health and athletic performance,” Noble said. “I feel like that’s one big way that [the Body Positive Club and rowing] overlap.”
Reis feels that the coaches for the girls’ lightweight team adequately ensured that they were handling the weight loss in ethical and healthy ways.
“I feel like usually people just talk to the girls about lightweight and say, ‘Isn’t it so hard to try to be skinny?’ But our coach was very good. We had a lot of talks about nutrition. We do weigh-ins not to shame you, but just to make sure that you’re on track when it comes to race day,” Reis said. “I think that that stems from stereotypes and the reality that there are a lot more eating disorders in girls. But, unfortunately, that kind of hurt the guys that no one checked up on them and they didn’t talk about it as much.”
Both Mondassian and Norstad agreed that the coaches monitored the boys’ lightweight team less frequently and claimed that that probably hurt their ability to diet in a steady fashion.
Senior and former lightweight rower Jack Wentworth began rowing weighing about 200 pounds without much muscle, and had to cut to 150 pounds by the time he started lightweight racing his sophomore year. Wentworth found that he was not able to maintain the lightweight diet for a long period of time because it began to affect his energy and health.
“I had to give myself a very, very strict diet and it was borderline unhealthy but nothing too extreme, but toward the end of the season I wasn’t able to continue keeping that weight,” Wentworth said. “I was trying to put out about three times as many calories as I ate, and I was losing weight at about two pounds a week. And then it got to a point where my body kind of plateaued and I wasn’t able to lose any more weight.”
Wentworth said that the dieting caused him to miss several school days.
“I was run down a lot, my immune system was pretty weak so I would usually get sick pretty frequently, and I was in and out of school because I was really tired and hungry a lot,” Wentworth said.
For both Norstad and Wentworth, the constant lack of energy began to affect their school work as well, making it difficult to concentrate in and out of class.
“I’ve always been a pretty good student, haven’t really had to spend hours to get my homework done and complete it well. But, with lightweight, my attention span completely fell apart. Classes that I normally got As in easily, I was starting to drop to B,” Norstad said. “You just don’t have the mental capacity [to do schoolwork].”