Overcoming an Eating Disorder and Healing My Relationship With Climbing

Written by Jacquie Des Rosiers

We recently started hearing about Jacquie Des Rosiers, a young crusher putting down hard climbs in the Ontario Climbing community. We were intrigued to learn more about her story and realized her story was a powerful one. With climbing and any other sports that become our passion, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the goal to perform and the pressure to excel. Through seeking help and doing the inner work, Jacquie has been able to not only heal herself and cultivate a sense of appreciation for her body, she’s also been able to heal her relationship with climbing, seeing it as a tool for feeling good and not a passion that propelled her eating disorder. We hope her story inspires you as it inspired us! 


September 2014, Rock Oasis
I walked into the Rock Oasis for the first time in September 2014 to join the development team. At the time, I thought climbing was easy. All I knew was the climbing walls from summer camps and carnivals. I remember my instructor handing me a rental harness and I insisted I didn’t need help getting it on. What I didn’t realize was this harness wasn’t one you simply slip on, rather, it was a mess of strands you’re meant to assemble on your body. So, my instructor frustratingly watched me try to make sense of these twists and tangles, and I quickly let him take over. Once we started climbing, I hopped on a 5.5 and cruised. “See, climbing is easy!”, I secretly thought to myself, yet I’m sure everyone could see the sense of pride on my face. My instructor was fed up with my know-it-all attitude, so he put me on a 5.8, and half-way up the wall, in a sweaty and pumped state, I came to realize climbing was more than a random arrangement of plastic holds on a face.
 
Jacquie Des Rosiers
Photo by Stephen Salvador


I’ve always yearned for a sense of belonging, I think we all do. I never had a place where I felt comfortable laughing out loud, speaking my mind, and simply being myself. That was until I found the climbing gym. Every week, I looked forward to seeing my instructors and peers, and goofing off for a couple hours. My friend Olivia and I would go back year after year, until we were both about to start university. Olivia was moving to Waterloo, while I decided to stay in Toronto. I had no real plans of returning to the climbing gym. But then, in late summer 2017, I came across an ad posted by Rock Oasis that said they were hiring. I applied without hesitation. I loved the environment of the gym and knew I would love working there. 

I was offered the job, and from that point on, climbing gradually began to consume my life. As I got more exposed to the climbing culture, and realized that although climbing is great for socializing and having fun, it is indeed a sport. Which means people are pushing themselves, training, and testing themselves outdoors on rock. I had never taken sports seriously before, so I didn’t really know how to push myself, and didn’t have any climbing friends to show me how. I preferred top-rope climbing because bouldering felt hard. Yet now that my only climbing partner was gone, I had to make do with solo bouldering sessions. I struggled my way up V1’s and 2’s, aweing at the climbers that could power their way up V5s.

Jacquie Des Rosiers, climbing at the niagara glen

Photo by Stephen Salvador

"As many young girls, I had poor body image and a low self-esteem" 

During this time, I was learning about living a healthy lifestyle. I started going to the gym (the lifting one), paying attention to what I ate, counting calories, and weighing myself. I never questioned why I did all of these things, it just seemed like everyone else was doing it so I should too. As many young girls, I had poor body image and a low self-esteem. Being on social media at such a young age meant I wasn’t quite aware of the way it enabled me to relentlessly compare myself to others. I wanted to follow all the trends, but the thing with trends is that they are constantly changing, and trying to keep up with them is basically like running on a hamster wheel. 

Climbing remained on the sideline of my life for quite some time whilst I was consumed by the gym. I recognized the gym as the place to get fit, while climbing was just for fun (apparently I believed you couldn’t have both). I developed this obsession with getting fit and a fear of gaining weight. I carried food rules with me at all times: no oil, no sugar, no gluten, no processed foods… But every time I caved (and with my rules, it was extremely hard not to) and ate some candy, it was over. Guilt consumed me. Why didn’t I have any self-control? So I would finish all the candy and in that way they were out of sight, out of mind. Binging on food became a habit of mine, and looking back it was only natural that this binge-restrict cycle developed. When we restrict ourselves, our bodies think we are in a state of starvation or food scarcity, and eventually we overeat to make up for that energy deficit. 

Jacquie Des Rosiers bouldering at niagara glen
Photo by Ilya Sarossy
"Canmore, Alberta 2018 I realized, the sport brought so much value to my life...it gave me purpose, and something to look forward to everyday."

I went on my first outdoor climbing trip in 2018, to Canmore, Alberta. That trip made me realize I had a real passion for climbing. The sport brought so much value to my life, it helped me appreciate the functionality of my mind and body, it connected me with others, it gave me purpose, and something to look forward to everyday. Shortly after that trip, I decided to quit lifting and focus on climbing. This was a big thing for me, it felt like I was going against the grain of what everyone on social media was telling me to do. A beautiful aspect about climbing is that neither your body type nor your level of strength can determine how hard you can climb, because it’s primarily about your mindset. Do you believe you can stick this move? How willing are you to commit? How much time and energy will you devote to figuring out a certain sequence?

I started making more friends, and they were all strong climbers focused on progression, so naturally, I became focused on progression as well. I was training hard and focused on getting stronger, but always felt uncomfortable resting. There’s a lot of people that seem to demonize rest. They say it’s lazy, unproductive, and makes us weak. In reality, resting makes us stronger and fills our energy reserve for when we do feel like pushing ourselves. 

Jacquie Des Rosier and Ethan Salvo Climbing at the Niagara GlenPhoto by Ilya Sarossy

In 2020, this global pandemic forced all of us to stay inside, and I had to put my busy life aside indefinitely. I took this time off as an opportunity to better my relationship with my family, food, and myself. I managed to get a handle on my binge-eating, but mistakenly took the path of restricting instead. I always believed I had no control over food and that my only problem was overindulging. In reality, binging is usually a sign that one isn’t eating enough to begin with. So I started eating smaller and smaller portions, and was beginning to look lean and feel good about my body (for the wrong reasons). Losing weight also led me to see progress in my training performance, so I really believed I was doing something good for myself. I started to make a strong correlation between being light and performing. Once restrictions eased up and I started climbing outdoors again, this belief stayed strong. I let my weight dictate my climbing performance. If one day I was a pound heavier and climbing felt off, I’d point my finger to that extra pound and restrict my eating a little more.

As time went on, my body began sending me signs that it was unhappy. My period disappeared, I had awful digestion, persistent insomnia, and was just exhausted all the time. I knew in the back of my head that this was due to undereating and overtraining. Yet I felt like I couldn’t sacrifice my leanness and the progress I had made. I was getting recognition, external validation, and thought I would be letting people down if I just “gave up”. 

Jacquie Des Rosier climbing at the niagara glenPhoto by Stephen Salvador

Run towards the fear 

I stumbled upon the quote “run towards the fear”, and now see how relevant that was to me. Most of the time the only way out is the scariest. I had to let myself rest, eat food that I had banned myself from eating, and gain weight in order to heal. I had to let go of the false beliefs my eating disorder had instilled in my head and re-evaluate my relationship and purpose with climbing. Was I truly climbing for myself? Because if I was, why was I harming myself in the process? 

I am choosing not to see this period as a setback or failure. It was a part of my journey and all I can do is keep moving forward. I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned is that confidence is not acquired from anything physical. Sure, being a skilled rock climber can boost your confidence. But it’s not something you should place all your self-worth into because you could lose it in an instant. And all things are conditional. 

If you believe you have an eating disorder or you are dealing with disordered eating, the best thing you can do is reach out for help. Eating disorders make us think irrationally, and it can be incredibly difficult to heal on your own and trust your own judgement. For a long time, I hesitated opening up and reaching out because I thought if I ignored my problem, it would eventually go away. Only when I was underweight and my health was on a rapid decline did I realize I needed some external support. If I could go back, I would’ve asked for help years ago. I know now that it is possible to live a happy, healthy life with no restrictions.

Resources: 

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)- https://nedic.ca/

Ontario Community Outreach Program for Eating Disorders (OCOPED) http://www.ocoped.ca/

Eating disorder information- http://www.ementalhealth.ca/index.php?m=headingInfoSheets&ID=36

Kids Help Phone- eating disorder information https://kidshelpphone.ca/topic/eating-disorders/

LIGHT - the documentary film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thtDQJGrO5s&t=11s


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