Minnesotans have loved pro cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, who grew up in Afton, since long before her dramatic Olympic gold-winning finish (“Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!”) brought her international fame in 2018. But for Diggins, who got treatment for bulimia as a teen at the Emily Program, loving herself hasn’t always been so easy.
Now a spokeswoman for the Emily Program, which has locations in Minnesota and three other states, Diggins reveals how her struggles with an eating disorder have allowed her to help coaches and parents connect with young people.
Diggins will be in Minneapolis Saturday to race through downtown on rollerskis in the inaugural Fastenal Parallel 45 Cup Rollerski Loppet. Afterward, she and KARE 11’s Jana Shortal will tape a live session of the Emily Program’s podcast, called “Peace Meal.”
Diggins talked to us about self-acceptance, being her own best cheerleader and getting her portrait in seeds at the Minnesota State Fair.
Q: What will the podcast be about?
A: It will explore how to find a way to be at peace with who we are, and not feel like we need to be doing something different with our food or our bodies or our appearance.
It’s the first live “Peace Meal” podcast. It’s a cool way to try to reach more people. We’re having it directly after the rollerski event, and hopefully there will be a lot of young athletes who are able to come. It’s not that they’re the only ones, but young athletes really fit that mold of being more at risk for eating disorders.
Q: Can you talk about your own journey to self-acceptance? Have you reached the point where you can say, “I’ve got this?”
A: Honestly, I don’t know a single person in the world who every single day is like, “Yep, I love myself! I’m great the way I am!” We all have insecurities. And so we all have moments where we need to figure out how to be at peace with ourselves, how to be our own best cheerleader.
We often talk about how in eating disorder recovery, it’s not like you walk out the door from one session with a therapist and are like, “I’m healed!” There’s definitely a progression and it’s a lifelong journey of learning how to really always have your own back and to look out for yourself because it can be really tricky in today’s world. There’s all these messages, always sort of hinting that you should be more, you should do more.
Q: How do you combat those messages?
A: No. 1, gratitude journaling. Just literally writing down — it doesn’t have to be in a fancy journal, you could write down on the back of a receipt or a napkin — like 10 things that you’re really thankful for in that moment, or in that day. It’s very grounding. It just sort of brings you back to the bigger picture of all the good things that are happening already.
And the other thing is finding some way to do something nice for someone else, even if it’s a really little gesture, like just like giving someone a compliment. You always have the power to make someone else feel better, and make their day. And then it kind of reminds you “Oh, like, maybe I could also be that nice to myself.”
Q: Are there moments from your time in eating disorder recovery that still stand out?
A: I was in a group and it was amazing for me, because I’ve always been involved in sports. And suddenly, I was like, “Oh, I’m on a team.” It really clicked. I’m here to help these girls, and they’re here to help me, too. And we’re all in this together and you know, showing up every day, it’s like showing up to practice.
I also remember a really big light bulb moment learning in my therapy sessions that this wasn’t my fault and that I wasn’t just some bad kid. Because we were never taught in health class that an eating disorder isn’t a choice. It’s actually a mental disorder and you do need professional help for it. And I didn’t realize that. I had felt so much guilt and so much shame. I realized “OK, this is similar to having anxiety or depression or something. I didn’t choose this, I’m not a bad person. I need to get help and I can get better.”
Q: You helped bring the Coop FIS Cross Country World Cup Sprint Finals, an international ski race that draws some of the fastest skiers in the world, to Minneapolis for the first time this March. What can we expect?
A: I think this is going to be a really amazing opportunity for people all around Minnesota to come and see the highest level of racing firsthand, because our course is 1.2 kilometers long [and spectators can line the course]. I mean, people can reach out and like high five you while you’re warming up, which is one of the coolest things. There’s not that many World Cup-level sporting events where thousands of people get a front-row seat and have the opportunity to do that. So I really hope that everyone in the community can take advantage of this super-cool opportunity to just get inspired and get their cowbells out and just enjoy the atmosphere.
Q: You were honored with a crop art portrait at the State Fair. How did it feel to reach this most Minnesotan of achievements?
A: Oh, man, I know. I feel like I can retire now. It can’t get better than that! In all honesty, I was super-honored and blown away by their skill, and amazing mosaic work. It was really humbling.