Genevive Walker climbing outside
Finding Balance Off the Scale
TW: This story contains sensitive material in reference to eating disorders that may be harmful to some audiences.
Genevive Walker coiling a rope in the desert
Kneeling over the toilet and peering down into the bowl, I’m flooded with feelings of shame, regret, and doubt. I thought this was over and I had it under control. I thought this would be a thing of the distant past, yet 18 years later, here I am again.

Excuse after excuse runs through my head to justify what I’m about to do: I ate too much because I drank too much… I didn’t workout enough to counteract the calories… Tomorrow is a new day, so I can start over then.

After weighing the pros and cons, I go through with it anyway. I think to myself: sure, you might think there are other options, but there’s no switch that instantly makes everything better. Mental health is a lifelong course that takes time, work, and understanding…
Why choose that when I could get the results I want right now?
My eating disorder started when I was 14. I felt out of place in a small school because I was “fat” (at least that’s how I saw myself) and as one of three non-white students in my grade, I didn't have friends to relate to, which led me to assimilate as much as I could to fit in. While the rest of my friends received attention from boys I still felt ignored and rejected. I changed my appearance as much as I could, even considering bleaching my skin, but my weight stared at me constantly. My mom told me I’d lose weight with time, but the child in me didn’t think I had time. All I wanted was to feel pretty and love what I saw in the mirror, and purging was the fast track to that. I never expected it to get out of hand, but who does?
“Unrealistic optimism” is the belief that we are less likely than others to experience a negative event or outcome—that bad things happen to other people, not us. I won’t get sick. I won’t get hurt. I won’t get caught.
profile of Genevive Walker in the Ghost Whisperer jacket
Genevive climbing
I thought I was mentally stable enough to keep my purging under control. Other people have eating disorders, not me...
Well, I was wrong. A gap between my thighs began to form, my ribs started to show and my hip bones obtruded out. My body was in an unhealthy state, but I liked what I saw, and that’s what mattered most. It’s repulsive to ignore the damage and stress your body undergoes to achieve some unrealistic form of beauty, but when you’re blinded by the validation of your appearance, it’s easy to disregard.
Through college, I didn’t have any passions outside of school and work until I discovered climbing. I was caught up in drugs, alcohol, and my eating disorder was out of hand—however, I was a straight-A student who worked full-time and felt like I had everything under control.

As I started to climb more, my body began to break down: dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, headaches, and tooth decay to name a few. I wasn’t fueling my body appropriately given the amount of work I was putting it through. When the fainting spells started and became more frequent, I realized my eating disorder could actually kill me, and it was time for a change.
The less often I purged, the more I felt awake, clear-minded, and alert each day. Muscles started to form, and I was feeling strong which showed in my climbing progression. I felt accomplished for beating the eating disorder on my own, but then, just like many climbers, I hit a plateau and started to compare myself to others to see what I did wrong.
close up of Genevive smiling while at the top of a climb at the anchor
Genevive climbing
All I saw were lean climbers crushing it, which made me think my strength-to-weight ratio was off. This led to extreme dieting and restrictive eating. As long as I wasn’t purging, I didn’t see anything wrong with it.
As much as we’d like to believe that pop culture doesn’t play a role in our perception of self, it does. As I scrolled the gym, crags, and media for inspiration and guidance, all I found were skinny, white cisgender women who looked nothing like me. I started to question my place in the sport and wondered if this was something I could even do.
Stepping into an unfamiliar space and trying something new, no matter what it is, can be a vulnerable thing. Having mentors or support of some kind is the best way through that, and in a lot of ways, climbing is and has always been centered around mentorship. Sure, you can learn from books and videos, but nothing beats hands-on guidance to really solidify those skills. Whether it’s a friend or someone in the media you look up to, people that help cultivate a space where you can feel comfortable being yourself without the pressure to conform is the difference between participating and not. Without this connection, self-doubt and isolation can occur. In my mind, I didn’t look like a climber, didn’t feel like one, and from that, didn’t see myself as a member of this community.

When I first learned to climb, all of my mentors were white men who I learned a lot from but didn’t feel comfortable enough to fully be myself. Jokes were made about the clothes I wore, the music I listened to, and other things about myself that had nothing to do with climbing. As much as I loved the sport I didn’t feel like I belonged. Then, the self-doubt fueled a fire in me to train hard and become strong. That was my way of showing everyone that I did have a place in the community. But I can only imagine what it would have done for me to have someone support my climbing that I could really relate to…
Genevive hiking in the AirShell Hoody
Genevive smiling looking up, in front of an alpine lake, wearing the AirShell Hoody
Maybe I wouldn’t have punished my body so much. Or at all. Maybe climbing would’ve been what climbing is to me now a lot sooner: joy.
Climbing is only getting bigger. And with more people enjoying the sport, it’s more important than ever to talk about the things we thought we weren’t supposed to talk about. Being able to share my story with y’all is not only progress within my own psyche because it means I’m not letting my shame rule me, but it’s my way of making it mean something. My hope is that it can help others know that they’re not alone.
Over the years I’ve learned that climbing doesn’t fix anything. It’s a tool we can use to cope with life stressors and emotions tied to them. It can help us be more present and feel a sense of peace for a moment, but once we untie, how we use what we gain from climbing is up to us. The more tools we have in our mental health toolbox, the better chance we have of finding balance within our lives.
Genevive climbing in the Utah desert
Cruxing in Community