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Episode #26

Your Body is Your Power

with Ella Eastin

26 Oct, 2020 · Swimming

Ella Eastin, Professional Swimmer, shares her journey in sport through her struggles and triumphs surrounding nutrition and body image. She reminds us that our bodies are strong and powerful, and that we must always listen to and love our bodies.

Transcript

Stef

Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. I'm your host, Steph Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women, and innovating across the sports industry. Now I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today, our guest is Ella Eastin, a professional swimmer for the U.S. National Team, a former Division 1 athlete at Stanford University and VIS League member. Ella was an individual NCAA champion four years in a row, helping the Cardinal to win three national team titles, along with being a World University Games gold medalist and FINA World Championship medalist.

Ella joins us today as a passionate athlete that wants to help other girls in sport avoid the same mistakes that she made. Today, Ella shares with us her experience with nutrition and body image through sport. She openly discusses her struggles with finding the right way to fuel her body. She's in a strong place now, but opens up about her recent journey to forming a positive relationship with food, her body, and her sport.

We will talk about the potential dangers of comparing your body to others and the repercussions of not listening to your own body. In this episode, Ella shares with us how she learned to trust herself, and she encourages us all to remember how strong we are as female athletes. We hope this incredible conversation about body informs and inspires everyone that's listening. Ella, welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. We are really excited to have you here with us today.

Ella

Thank you. It's an honor to be a part of this, and I'm really excited to share part of my story.  I hope that something I say will touch someone and help them in their sport journey.

Stef

Absolutely. We appreciate you coming on and being vulnerable and open about your own experience. Today we're gonna talk about  your journey in sport, through the lens of body image and nutrition, and how the two are so critically linked to each other and to the success of an athlete’s journey. So I wanted to start with a little bit of context today for our conversation. The topic of body image is so front and center to why girls fall out of sport. At the age of 14, the research shows they drop out of sport at two times the rate of boys. 

There's a recent stat that we found while building the Voice In Sport Foundation and setting up our research roadmap was that actually 46% of girls fall out of sport due to breast development. So, our bodies are linked to our experience in sport. 

Ella

I think it's impossible to talk about one without talking about the other, especially when we are referencing female athletics. And this has been a huge part of my journey from when I was a young teenager, and even now as an adult athlete. I think it's relevant for everyone listening and even people that have completed their sport journey that are adjusting to normal life.

Stef

You are a swimmer, so you are hyper aware of your body because you're in a swimsuit all the time. What was the first moment you noticed a voice in your head thinking about your body as it relates to athletics?

Ella

There are a couple of instances where I specifically remember thinking about how my body was either different from the girls around me or even the boys, and other times where I recognize that there were some things about my body that I didn't necessarily love, without the comparison of other athletes. When I was really young, I grew pretty quickly and I developed really quickly. I started wearing a type of bra when I was in sixth grade, and I was confused as to why my other teammates and my classmates were not doing the same thing.

I was much taller than all of the boys around me. I even told my mom, I was really upset about how much taller I was and even how much stronger I was than all my other competitors, even at the mere age of 10. It’s something that's been on my mind since I was a little kid and the details of my concerns have always changed with age. When I got my period, it was also something else that I frequently thought about. I got it younger than some of my friends at the age of 12.  Obviously that meant my body was going to change. And when your body physically changes like that, you experience changes in the way you practice and the way you compete, because your body is growing and adjusting to its new size and shape and strength.

And a ton of swimming is about coordination. When you feel different in the water because you're taller or your hips are a little bit wider or you have a little bit more on your chest, you have to adjust to that. For women, it's much different than it is for men in terms of growth. It happens a lot earlier and I think that's why we see such a dropoff at a younger age. And unfortunately, I think it's viewed as a detriment to athletes and I think that's why women are not put in an environment where they embrace the change in their body, which brings on new strengths like it does in men. I think men are waiting for puberty to happen, for their sport, and for women, I think it's often looked at as a phase that is dreaded versus embraced.

Stef

That's such an interesting comment because you're so right. Even just the monthly cycle of having your period that you dread. And it's actually getting younger and younger and younger around the world.

Globally, if you look across the stats, girls are getting their period as early as nine years old now, which is astounding to me, but at such a young age like that, age 10 and 12,  it's so important to have this positive reflection on what's happening with your body, but it's so difficult. What advice would you give to your younger self at that age, at 10? I don't know if you remember what your conversations were like with your mom when you came home that day, upset and frustrated about your body?

Ella

I think that I would tell myself that a lot of competitors would have liked to be at the point that I was at that age. I think it gave me a little bit of a physical advantage. But I don't want to necessarily dwell on people that are exactly in my position that developed early, because I think there are a lot of late bloomers that also struggle with feeling like they're behind.

You have to just be patient. And that's the hardest thing to tell someone whenever they're in a situation that's not ideal to them because everybody wants things to be fixed right away, and they want to be happy with their circumstances. The one thing that I would advise my past self and those that are listening, is to be willing to be open about how you're feeling. Because I think that people often assume that they're the only ones. When I was going through puberty and when I was a young teenager, or even a preteen, I  assume that I was the only one feeling that way until I had conversations with my peers about the way that I was viewing myself. That was super helpful in recognizing that there were others that were feeling the same as I was. And I just needed it to talk to someone to recognize that. 

That was a good learning experience because ever since then, I've kind of overshared, which has helped me process a lot of difficulty in my life, especially around this area of body image and my nutritional journey. Being open about how you're feeling is important, because most likely the women in your life have also experienced something similar and they can be there to support you and give you words of wisdom, far past your years.

Stef

Why is it that we don't talk about this with our closest girlfriends?  Because I can remember back to my journey too. I had a lot of amazing friends yet I never talked about it with them. HowI was feeling, I felt alone just like you. What do you think is going on there?

Ella

I think that we are extremely self critical. We may view others who we assume that they have it altogether and that they're not worried about it, no matter what their size and shape is. And we don't almost give others enough credit to believe that they are also complex and struggling just as much as we are. I also think that it's not welcomed in society. Particularly in sport, a lot of our role models and mentors are men and they haven't personally experienced female growth and female change. I had amazing experiences with male coaches in the swimming world, and I wouldn't change that, but I think that I have particularly strong bonds with the women that I've worked with because they have personal stories that are more of a direct reflection of mine than those of my male coaches. 

That's one of the reasons that we need to put pressure to have women in really high positions to be able to be a role model for even younger athletes, to have as an example of what they can achieve, but also be able to share their stories about when they were a young athlete all the way into when they decided to retire.

Stef

I completely agree.  That's why we built this platform, actually, the Voice In Sport community is so that we can all get on there and actually have a safe place to discuss these things. And I really hope that girls feel comfortable and confident to discuss some of the things that we're all going through, yet we don't talk about.  

When you reflect back on your journey, at what point did you become a bit more confident to speak up about the issues you were going through?   

Ella

I think there were different periods of my life where I struggled a little bit more, or maybe it was on the forefront of my mind more frequently. I have always been an open book. So if it was something that I was struggling with, I generally didn't have a problem telling the people that were super close to me, or even just making comments that people could pick up on. That eventually would trigger them to ask me how I was doing in that area.

There were a few times where I was struggling in my sport journey with something else and then body image became something that I struggled with as a byproduct. And that often had to do with the times where I was injured. In high school, particularly, I tore my labrum in my right shoulder my junior year of high school, and I was forced to not use my upper body for quite a few months, and that meant that I couldn’t be swimming like normal. And that meant that my activity level went down and that meant that my body saw changes  because I wasn't working out as intensely. I was extremely sensitive to a change that most people probably wouldn't notice, but because athletes are so in tune with how they feel and how they look, it was something that I definitely dealt with.

That also kind of bled into the beginning of college where it was my goal to be really successful as an NCAA athlete. And my training changed and I was working out harder than I ever had, and I required to eat a lot more. And I went into my freshman year, trying to go in with a clear head, listened to my hunger hormones when they told me that I needed to fuel and I ate and I ate and I ate, which I needed to do because I had never trained like this in my life, but I also saw changes in my body. And that meant I put on more muscle from high school. That meant developing more into a woman's body. And that also meant keeping a couple of extra pounds on me in order to be able to handle the training that was put in front of me.

That was definitely an adjustment. And I struggled at the end my freshman year, which happened to be the Olympic year in 2016. There were comments made to me about how I had put on some weight since the NCAA season. And that I probably should get back down to that weight before Olympic trials if I wanted to be in peak condition for vying for my spot on the Olympic team.  And that ate away at me. I was told that in March and Olympic trials were at the end of June, and it was something that I stressed out about every time I sat down to eat, no matter if it was like a small snack or a really large meal that I needed to eat.

It came up multiple times during my college career because there would be times where we'd be training really, really hard. And then there would be other times where we were tapering and we're doing a little bit less volume. And so we were encouraged to cut back on some of the volume of what we were eating, and the content of what we were eating to focus on performance based food, which was definitely the correct message, I think it was sometimes presented in the wrong way. 

I say that because everybody receives different information about nutrition differently, and there's not one good way  to instruct someone on how to ideally fuel for performance.  I can remember multiple times having conversations openly with my coaches about it.

And that was something that I wanted to have because I consider myself a great student in that when I'm given instructions to do something, I follow through, but this could also come to my detriment if you receive the wrong advice. And that ended happening to me once I finished my college career.

So the end of my college career was really successful, but I was dealing with some personal family issues. My parents had just gotten divorced. I was having problems in my romantic relationship. I was managing a ton of anxiety and lost a lot of weight because I was so stressed and anxious that I wasn't hungry and it wasn't sustainable.

But I say unfortunately I had my best performances in college during that time. And I use the word unfortunate because it's associated with one of the darker periods of my life, but one of the best performances in NCAA swimming history. And I never want to encourage someone to get to that place in order to have success in their sport, but it was automatically associated with my best performances.

And so I was encouraged to try to get back to the weight that I was at, but it was physically impossible for me to get there unless I was unhealthy. Once I turned professional and swimming became my career, it was something that I was unfortunately striving for, and this was not too long ago and I'm still kind of recovering from it now, but I was given very specific nutritional advice from somebody that I trusted and was supposed to be, you know, the expert in this field.

And I was really led down a wrong path, and started what they call disordered eating. I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder and it was always for the intention of improving my performance. I went with the plan and I stuck to it because it was the Olympic year and I wanted to do everything in my power to succeed.

But, eventually, I hit a wall and my body couldn't take it anymore. And it was a huge wake up call when  I got out of bed one morning and walked to the bathroom and basically fell to the floor, because I had nothing left in me in terms of energy. And I share this because I never want to hear another story about a female athlete experiencing something like this.

I know that the people around me had great intention, but I think that I received the information and having a lot of past difficulty with this, I went overboard in terms of trying to make it happen quickly and was very open with people in my life about it. And they wanted to support me in my decisions and it wasn't like I was appearing malnourished.

My body was holding onto body fat because it felt like it was starving. And so the goal of becoming leaner and stronger actually didn't happen when I went with this plan because my body was essentially in survival mode. And so after this, I had to take a really good look at it, my nutrition, and basically come up with a plan for myself because I had to refocus on what I was doing and figure out what made me feel good.

What made me excited to have a meal? What made me excited to cook? What made me feel good when I woke up in the morning? And it turned very personal very quickly. And I figured out that I am my best nutritional guide when it comes to my athletics, because, you know, when you feel good based off of how you feel after you eat a meal.

That's been my goal is to recenter and to use that as my guide moving forward.

Stef

Listening to your story is just so incredibly important. Thank you for sharing it because listening to your body is one of the most important things that we can do as humans, but also as athletes. I think when you're younger and you're in that mode,  trying to be the best and you've made it to Division 1 and you're having success, of course you're going to listen to the people around you and the people that have come before you. 

So I want to go back to that moment in time for you, and I'd love for you to share what was the coaching that you received?

Ella

The coaching that I received in every area but this I think was spot on. I was encouraged. I was never questioned in my efforts. I was never, you know, pushed beyond what I could handle, but when it came to this, it was more subtle. It was more of a casual conversation that ended up: How was your nutrition going?

To some people, it may not affect them. For me, it was immediately, well, why would they bring it up? They must think something's wrong. I must not be looking as fit. There were times where I was directly told: We're not looking as lean as before.

Stef

And by we, they're saying you?

Ella

Yes.  

Stef

I think sharing the exact coaching you receive will help a lot of girls, because you may not know it in the moment, and they can be subtle things, and maybe people think, Oh,  I'm fine. Nobody's sat me down and literally had a conversation about what I should eat and not eat and the weight I need to be at. And sometimes that does happen. It also can come in the more subtle forms like you're talking about. 

Ella

I want to preface all of this with I am completely trusting of those that I decide to trust. When I'm working with somebody, I want to have 110% full belief that they're going to partner with me to get me to where I need to be. And with this, I think I let some of my intuition go.

And whenever these topics would be brought up, I would be more than willing to talk about them. And I think that that maybe gave the impression that I was totally comfortable with this area of my life. I'm not sure if that helped me, because I think that welcomed more commentary than maybe I was ready to receive.

It came in the form of, How's your nutrition looking? Or every once in a while we'd have a check-in, we'd sit down and we'd evaluate how I did at a previous meet, and what we want to change in training moving forward. That was always kind of a piece of it, if it seemed to be a concern. 

On my end, it was never discussed when I was unhealthily skinny. It was only discussed when I was a couple pounds heavier than I was before. So in my mind, it made it negative to only be a couple pounds heavier than it was to be on the skinnier side, which is definitely not true.

I've learned that you can give a lot more effort, give a lot more emotional energy, give a lot more intensity when you have a little bit of extra reserves versus on the other end, when you're hanging on. Coaches need to be willing to talk about it on the athlete's terms, because at that level, when you're talking about this, the women are already hypersensitive, whether they appear that way or not. 

They know that their body is going to affect their athletic performance and they're concerned about it. Every single person is in a different phase with their body image and their nutrition, depending on the time of the year, depending on what they're going through personally.

 I think that my coaches did a really good job of trying to make it a positive conversation. And I don't necessarily fault them, but I don't think that I received it well when it was just  asking me after practice 30 seconds before I walk into the locker room, How are you feeling? How's your nutrition? When the conversation is that short and they don't have an opportunity to elaborate, or I don't have an opportunity to elaborate, all it does is allow me to walk away and think about it in my own head and make assumptions about what they're thinking, and not have greater discourse about it.

 It's so hard because I don't have even great advice about how coaches should manage this because it is a person to person preference, and even experience. I think that this is one of the things where there should be resources offered to those who desire it, who want to make that change. But the coaches should trust that the athletes are aware of how they feel and what they maybe want to change. And to be willing to have the conversations on the athletes terms.

Stef

Absolutely. Transitions can be so hard when you're going from high school to college and there's already a lot going on. Then you come into an environment where it's totally new- you have new teammates, new coaches, new access to food.  Being aware of that is so important when you're heading into college. You also end up getting a lot stronger and growing because you're going to be training more intensely once you get there.

To girls that are heading into college now, or that are still in it, how do they stay positive on their own body image? And  if they're dealing with some of these same challenges that you had, how do they recognize that they might not be in a good place?

Ella

One of the ways that I always recognize when I'm not in a good head space with body image is my constant awareness of what others are eating, of what others look like, of the decisions that other people are making. The focus when you are enjoying a meal is to be enjoying the food that you have, and also being aware of how it's making you feel in terms of how full you are, and enjoying the company and trying not to focus on what someone else is putting into their body because every person really is different and there can be two people that look the exact same and require different things. You should never assume that somebody that looks different than you needs the same thing as you do.

One of the best resources for me was the older teammates that I had because they had been through the freshmen experience and they had been through multiple levels in their athletic career and their college career. Most of the time the older girls on the team are more than willing to share those experiences because they want people to learn from them. So using your older teammates as a resource, I think is huge because they know pretty much most of what you're going through because they've been at the same university, in the same program, and hopefully under the same coaching staff that they can, you know, impart some wisdom about how to manage that specific experience.

Stef

Having a support system around you in college or wherever you're at is one of the most critical things to be a successful athlete. So, as you reflect back on your journey in college and dealing with body image and nutrition, what would you recommend to other girls to build that support system?

Who does it include and how would you set it up, if you could do it all over again?

Ella

Fortunately, I would say that I would do it very similarly.  The one thing that I would focus on is encouraging positive commentary, or little commentary, about the size of someone else's plate, even the size of someone else's body. That needs to be limited.  I think if you surround yourself with people that are more concerned about recovering through their food and fueling to get ready for a practice through their food, versus it being a way to change their body type for some way other than for their athletic performance.

It is hard because in this time in our life, it's one of the things that's most idealized by society. Unfortunately, female athletes often have different body types than what is viewed as ideal. But the women that we see in magazines and swimsuits, or with little clothing at all, are not capable of what female athletes are capable of. And I think that reminding yourself that you are strong  and you are fast and you are powerful. Remember that your body is being built for a specific purpose and  for the pleasure of playing the game that you love.

That's a huge perspective that I wish that I was able to carry with me more often, and being around people like your family members, who are going to love you no matter what and want to watch you succeed. I think that everybody would be surprised with how many people are also struggling with this topic.

Stef

It's great advice to pay attention to everyone around you and the words they use and recognize that the power of those words can have a pretty big impact on your life. The support systems can include coaches, nutritionists, your friends, your family, but the constant dialogue with the people you are around can sometimes have an even bigger impact.

That is so important to recognize if you're around somebody who's constantly making comments about their own food, their own body or yours or others are doing that comparison, recognize that that's not going to be healthy for you.

Ella

From what I've experienced, personally, and with some of my closest teammates, they have admitted, and I've admitted that sometimes when that commentary is coming out, it's based in insecurity and there are certain people that would be willing to talk about it.

And others that may be very closed off. But I think that if you just give a slight nudge I think it might go a long way because I have experienced that, that commentary is sometimes an ask for help when someone isn't willing to directly ask.

The awareness of that  is something that I wish I knew about going into that environment freshman year.

Stef

Absolutely.  Also recognizing your teammates might be in that space. And if you're listening to this podcast and you know of girls that are in that space or are using sort of the dialogue, then reach out to them and have a conversation too, because they're probably asking for help.

I want to  talk  about the societal influences that unfortunately comes into play here for us as female athletes. You mentioned this earlier on. There's the all common situation where you're out for dinner or you go into the grocery store and you get stopped and say, Oh wow,  look at your shoulders, you must be a swimmer.

I think it happened to all female athletes in one capacity or another, whether it's your shoulders or your legs, just somebody that you don't even know stopping you and saying, Oh my goodness. Look at this part of your body. You must be that.  I always took it sort of as a negative moment actually, and made me very self conscious about my body.   I think as female athletes, we all have this happen to us. How do you take those comments, those moments, and turn them into a positive experience for yourself? What do you say to yourself in those moments to make sure that you walk away,  proud of your body?

Ella

This does happen more than people recognize. I think when one person makes that comment, they don't really think about the weight that each one carries and adds up. And there is often positive commentary. I've got commentary in a mall before when I was trying on high heels in my athletic outfit and this older woman commented on how nice my legs were. Well, you can walk away from that thinking positively, but it's a little bit harder when somebody in a coffee shop is saying, wow, you've got such large shoulders. You must play water polo or swim or something. 

 I've learned over time to just accept the commentary and not overly welcome it and let it bother me, but recognize that I have physical attributes that are recognizable.  My teammates and I, when we're together, it's something that I don't really think about because I'm surrounded by girls that look like me. When I'm in other environments, it's maybe feeling like I stick out more like a sore thumb, around non female athletes.

Remembering that my shoulders or any other part of my body looks a certain way is for a reason- it’s for my swimming capabilities and for my ability to produce power in the water and swim really fast- is always a good reminder to myself. It's something that I often think of as  kind of a connection because I'm in public sometimes, and I recognize someone and they're  older and maybe not an athlete anymore, but I can look at them and see, Oh, they must've been a swimmer, water polo player, an athlete at one point. That's really, really cool that I can kind of recognize them out of the crowd and kind of turn it into a positive.

Stef

I think one of the easiest things that we can do in those scenarios is to say, thank you. That makes it a positive situation for yourself. I think there's so much power in our words and  self-talk.   

Ella

Sometimes the conversation will continue, you know, like where do you swim? And then I get to share some of the things that I have accomplished, like being able to swim at Stanford and graduating. And that really also does help put it into a positive perspective because the shoulders brought me a long way. They're a symbol of a lot of things that I'm proud of.

Stef

Absolutely. I  think it's an important topic to cover and it all comes back to that societal pressure and the ideal body type. And we want to make sure that within Voice In Sport that we're constantly talking about there is no one ideal body type, and as female athletes, we're going to have attributes that are going to be very powerful for us on and off the field. And we just have to remember, that's an amazing thing to have.

Ella

Yes. I absolutely agree.  I think the beauty is that every athlete in every sport looks different. Even athletes within the same sport can look different and are capable of very similar and very amazing things.

Stef

So, going back to that moment where you got up out of your bed and barely made it to the bathroom. I'm assuming that was a really big moment for you in recognizing that you needed to change course. So can you talk to us a little bit about that road to recovery? What does it look like and what have you done that has helped you push through?

Ella

Absolutely. I think that that moment was kind of the end of a string of moments where I recognized that something felt off, but kept pushing forward because I felt like I was doing the right thing.  That forced me to obviously go see a doctor who did a bunch of blood work and basically told me that I was not fueling myself properly and reaffirmed everything that I was thinking all along, but was blindly following, in the pursuit of these goals that I had for myself.

Personal recognition is definitely the first step because no one is really going to change these behaviors for you. You have to be able to recognize when something's off in yourself and recognize why. And after that, I was able to seek health care and be told very specifically about what I was lacking in and making sure that I was adding vitamins to every meal when I was eating to make sure that I was getting all of my essential fats, and some of the vitamins that I wasn't getting to because of the sheer volume of food that I was eating, and being willing to sit and be a little bit uncomfortable with the change and being aware of what you feel comfortable with, in terms of  going out to eat with friends and sitting and thinking through some of the things that you know you're going to struggle with when you do decide to make a change and realize that the change isn't going to be perfect and linear, that there are going to be days where you're going to struggle more than others.

As long as you continue to be committed to yourself and recognize that it's all for your health,  then you can't really go wrong, and you have people that are going to be positive influences on you and have people to confide in that know that you're trying to make this change and have a little bit of positive pressure in order to continue to do so.

Stef

What are some of the signals that you now look to to make sure that you're properly fueling your body?

Ella

I think a big one is how I feel after I work out. If I feel completely drained and starving, I know that I probably didn't get enough fuel before that practice. When I know that I fueled properly,  I feel obviously tired and fatigued at the end of a workout, but not completely drained where I have to stuff myself right after I get out of the pool because I've gone so long without getting enough food.

I think another thing is waking up in the morning and still feeling satisfied and not completely drained. And also walking away from a meal and not feeling the desire to continue to eat, which for that period of time where I was put on that diet, which I don't love admitting that I willingly adhered to, but it is what it is, and I would walk away from every meal and just be counting down the minutes till the next one, because I wasn't eating enough at each meal.  After breakfast I'd take a nap until lunch, so I could just sleep between the time that I was eating, and that's obviously something that you don't want to be doing. 

You want to feel focused. You want to feel like you can concentrate. You want to be easily distracted by other things, because you're not feeling hungry anymore.  Those are some of my personal signs. And also not feeling too full. So even if you didn't eat too much volume of food, if you're feeling bloated and lethargic after you had a meal, then maybe there's something that you're eating that your body just doesn't agree with, and that's something to evaluate as well.   

Stef

So now you're a pro athlete. You've had four amazing years at Stanford, four titles- four NCAA titles, which is incredible. How do you approach body image and nutrition now as a pro athlete? And as you look to the Olympics, what's sort of your routine and your approach that you can pass on and share with other girls?

Ella

Absolutely. So I have a little bit more time now to focus on this. And I think that my experience and the amount of time that I've been in this sport has really helped me reach the point where I feel a little bit more comfortable with knowing when I need what I need and what I need.  I often look at it over the course of the week, what is my training going to look like? What do I think that I'm going to need in terms of like overall volume? Which days do I want to make sure that I'm really focusing on getting plenty of carbs at night, if I know I have a really hard training session the next morning? And really sticking to my hunger cues and knowing that when I wake up in the morning and if I’m totally hungry, but I'm going to have a little bit  more for breakfast or I'm going to eat earlier, or I'm going to make sure that I get a little bit more food before I train.

And also, always carrying snacks with me.  Every bag that I have has either some sort of PowerBar or trail mix or something, because you always want to be prepared, and always have something, cause you never know when you're going to get a bout of hunger after a really hard training session or just away from the house for a little bit longer and not have food.

So that's one of my biggest pieces of advice. And I think that comes from my mom because she always has everything with her. And so she always had a snack available for me when I, you know, recognize that I'm starting to get hungry and preventing the hangry from coming on. But I think that, having times during the week where you set, where you know you're gonna really enjoy a meal, and try not to think about what you  shouldn't be doing because if your body is telling you something that you're extra hungry today, or you could use, you know, a little bit, more sustenance then you most likely need it because a lot of the women on here are going to be, you know, pushing their bodies really, really hard. And our body is really good at telling us when we're lacking in something. And so I think just tuning in and being willing  to listen to that is really, really helpful.

Stef

And you said something earlier, but it's just always important to overfuel a little bit versus under fuel. If you have to make a choice there, go to the choice of overfilling a little bit.

Ella

Yes. I think that whenever you are wondering, your body will tell you, you know,  you over fuel and you may feel like you ate too much. And that's a really good indication. So next time you have a little bit less, like if you're questioning, Oh, should I have this extra piece of fruit before I work out?

And then your stomach's bothering you a little bit when you're practicing. Okay. Next time maybe I won't, and kind of see. And, it takes a little bit of trial and error with every person because everybody's able to handle different volumes and different types of food before they practice. Being willing to test the boundaries on that a little bit, I think, is beneficial, because I usually try to start my practice feeling full because I know that, when I finished the practice, I'm still going to have some nutrients available to use after the long 45 or two hour practice. I want to make sure that even at the end, I'm feeling strong.

Stef

Ella are you using a professional nutritionist or a sports psychologist as part of your support system?

Ella

I have a regular psychologist, and a sports psychologist that I talk to a couple of times a year. And I also have a female health specialist that has actually helped work with me on my menstrual cycle, and how different parts of the month required different fueling. And that's been super beneficial for me as I try to get back to total health after I lost my period for over a year actually, when I was under fueling.

Using them as a team to help me manage the changes and my fueling and my psyche has been really beneficial, and I'm really, really grateful for their help.

Stef

Absolutely. That's one of the things that we're going to be doing some more research on at the Voice In Sport foundation is that connection to food and your body and your menstruation. And I think that is something that is just under-researched and is so important for us as female athletes, to know how to actually feel our bodies at different points in the month.

Ella

Yes, I absolutely agree. And I am going to recommend an app. It's called FitrWoman, and that's what helps me track my periods. And it gives small tips on when you need  a little bit of extra carbohydrates when you're training or when you require some more antioxidants, and what times of the month you're going to be more prone to not recovering as well, and when you are going to benefit from strength training. So it's helpful to kind of plan out some of your workouts if you're able to do that, or how much fueling you're going to be doing during certain times of the month. So I definitely recommend that app, which has helped me a bunch in my recovery.

Stef

Amazing. Well, thank you so much for sharing first of all, your story, and you know, some of these amazing perspectives you have now after going through that journey. So I know it'll help a lot of girls. I feel like I already know the answer to this question, after listening to you, but what do you think is your superpower that you gained from sport and how are you going to use that to drive something positive, outside of sport?

Ella

I think it's my intuition and something that I wasn't channeling enough until I recognized that it was the only thing that was going to help me move forward. And I think that it is my goal to challenge others to tap into that more than we often allow ourselves, and to help the young girls to trust themselves and always know that they're going to be their best coach and their best teacher when it comes to these issues.

Stef

And we're super excited to have you as a VIS League mentor on the platform. So a lot of girls who are going to have the opportunity to meet with you I know will have a lot  to take away. So thank you.

Ella

Yeah, absolutely. I'm very excited.

Stef

Looking back at your journey so far: an amazing, incredible career at university level and now an Olympic hopeful. What is one single piece of advice that you have to all the girls in sport out there when it comes to body image and nutrition and how the two of them are so interconnected?

Ella

The most important thing is feeling good. When you physically feel good, it helps you to be more healthy mentally too. Food plays a huge part in that. What makes you feel good after you leave a meal? I think that that helps you move on to the next thing in your day, with a clear mind that's ready to go, and ready to take on anything that you have to do.

Stef

Thank you so much, Ella, for joining us. We really appreciate you sharing your experiences with nutrition and body image, and for encouraging us all to have a positive relationship with our minds and our bodies. It's a great reminder how important it is to listen to our bodies, and ultimately trust ourselves.

Ella reminds us that there's no ideal body weight. Every body is beautiful, and what matters the most is that we love our bodies and fuel our bodies to maintain the strength and power that we possess as female athletes. We greatly appreciate all the wisdom that you bravely shared today, Ella, and you can follow Ella on Instagram at @ellaeastin.

And of course, you can sign up for a VIS LIVE session with Ella on voiceinsport.com. Please subscribe to the Voice In Sport podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok at @voiceinsport. We'd love to have you join the community of female athletes.

As a VIS member, you will have access to our exclusive female athlete specific content on mind, body, nutrition, mentorship from female athletes, like Ella, and digital tools to keep you inspired and motivated. Check out voiceinsport.com and join us.

Host: Stef Strack 

Producer: VIS Creators™ Liz Boyer & Anya Miller

Ella Eastin, Professional Swimmer, shares her journey in sport through her struggles and triumphs surrounding nutrition and body image. She reminds us that our bodies are strong and powerful, and that we must always listen to and love our bodies.