In Episode 90 we continue to shed light on the topic of body image concerns in female athletes. This week's guest is Neha Uberoi who is a former professional tennis player, social entrepreneur and health & wellness advocate.
She entered her freshman year at Princeton University at 16 years of age, winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year before taking a 6-year leave of absence from school to play on the professional tennis tour alongside her sister, Shikha Uberoi. She achieved a top 200 WTA tour ranking, reached two WTA tour doubles finals and competed in the US Open before retiring and then completing her undergraduate degree. Neha is the Co-founder of South Asians in Sports, a network of South Asian professionals who work in the sports industry. As an Indian-American role model, Neha advocates for sports, health and wellness through coaching, public speaking and digital media. Across the US and in India, she frequently appears on various media platforms to provide commentary on sports, women’s empowerment as well as health & wellness. Furthermore, Neha battled an eating disorder throughout her professional tennis career and that is the focus of our conversation in this interview.
This episode is brought to you by Necessary Thickness. Necessary Thickness is an idea, an approach, a movement, where the brand’s founder preaches healthy bodies & strong minds, recognizing that these elements individually vary. "Thick" is a metaphor that encompasses a better and stronger you at work, at play and at life. It's about embracing your flaws, loving yourself, and making the choices that best yield your own happiness. NT is choosing the things in life that move you closer towards achieving your own visions and goals - that make you the best version of you. To find out how you can express your thickness, go to necessarythickness.com.
Last week in Episode 89 when we heard from Dr. Megan Cannon, Sports Psychologist and Erin Sparrold, Sports Nutritionist from Mind of the Athlete we discussed the danger that exists in developing fearful relationships with food. Early on in my conversation with Neha she described the fearful relationship that she had with food which partially led to her battle with bulimia. Growing up Neha specifically recalls associating her mother's love with that of Ghee, but when she was competing as a professional tennis player she deprived herself of foods like Ghee because they wouldn't provide her with the fuel she needed on the court. Looking back however, by doing so she felt the she was partially denying herself of love. In the video above, Neha talks about her evolving relationship with food.
Below are some of the other main talking points of our conversation:
- How people in the Indian Culture view having muscle as being fat.
- The trigger of Neha's Bulimia actually had nothing to do with her body and more to do with her coaches expectations and the pressure she put on herself to succeed.
- Why athletes should prioritize themselves ahead of their sports.
- How eating disorders are a form of depression.
- Neha believes her depression came out in the form of bulimia.
- What goes into a bulimic episode.
- In that moment you are doing things on impulse.
- Usually in a state of extreme anxiety and mental pain.
- Vomiting actually turned into catharsis, because it caused her to pass out, that feeling is what she was hooked on to.
- Food was just a mechanism to get that feeling.
- Quote discussion from Neha's Sports Illustrated article: My painful journey from a pro tennis career to self-discovery.
- "What followed were five years of depression, anger, intense anxiety and crippling confusion. My thoughts—which used to be on future wins—were mired in the past. "
- "My body was begging my mind to start listening to my heart."
- Neha's decision to step away from tennis.
- The therapeutic effects of journaling.
- What is was like going to Princeton at 16 years old.
- Neha's thoughts on males coaching female athletes.
- The individualistic nature of tennis and how it leads to constant comparisons.
- The struggles of finding an identity after tennis.
- The importance of forgiving yourself as an athlete.
- Sexualization of women's tennis.
- The unsolicited comments she would recieve from men.
- This YouTube video:
- Why Neha wishes the Necessary Thickness movement was around when she was going through her struggles.
- How to stay healthy and prevent injuries.
- Progression to training.
- She built a strong base with swimming and body weight exercises before advancing to more advanced exercises.
- Prehab band exercises.
- Why having more balance throuhout her career would have made her a better player.