Warning – this post may contain triggering material related to eating disorders and a disordered relationship with food. An eating disorder is a horrible disease, and it’s never too late to seek help.
Click here to learn more about getting help, or call this number: (800) 931-2237.
This is my story.
Any time I’ve seen “Athena division” in a race registration form, I’ve shuddered.
“No. I won’t be that weight (150) when I get to race day. I’ll be well under. I know I’ll lose weight as I train. I have to lose weight.”
And time and time again, I’ve usually fallen around 140-145 on race day; therefore slightly disqualifying me from the Athena division in most races. In the past, missing the Athena benchmark has been an accomplishment to me. Admitting to Athena meant admitting to fatness.
Studies have shown that lighter runners finish races faster than those runners who are heavier. So do I want to be faster? Of course. But the more I run, the more I also want to be healthy. And being healthy means being strong, improving balance, and fixing movement deficits through strength training. It means optimizing performance for the 5’9” frame I was given. Being faster also means fueling for a high level of training, and eating a balanced diet.
I dealt with several bone injuries between 2014-2015. The aftermath of my femoral stress reaction meant I needed to start from scratch and get stronger. Throughout 2016, I worked harder than ever with my workouts and through strength training…and it paid off in big ways: I PRed in every single distance I ran in 2016.
I started caring less about the number on the scale, and more about my performance on the road. Without even trying, my body became leaner and more muscular, while my workout and race times dropped. My weight increased from being in the low to mid-140s to being to the high-140s, even sometimes hovering around 150.
That weight used to haunt me. It was the number that I feared the most. And now? Now I’ve screamed from the rooftops that I’m 150 lbs. Because this year, when I went to sign up for Hartford, instead of shuddering at the Athena division and being ashamed…I signed up as one.
I am an Athena runner. And, for the first time in my life, I’m really fucking proud of that.
Growing up, I was always the tallest person in class. My second grade teacher assigned me and 2 boys to the role of “camel” in our nativity play. Yes. I know. Horrible.
I also went through phases in my life where I was bullied for being heavier. Looking back on it, I think it had less to do with me being heavy, and more to do with being so tall and bigger than everyone else. But when you’re 11 years old, you don’t understand why people are making fun of you. You only feel sad and hurt.
One day in 7th grade, I wore an Abercrombie and Fitch shirt to school. One of the boys in my class said to me in homeroom, “wow, I didn’t realize A&F made clothes big enough to fit you.” It wasn’t the first time I had heard a comment like this. But I would pretend that the comments wouldn’t bother me, lashing out in other ways, like pushing people on the playground, and crying once I got home. My weekends were sad and lonely; I lived in a town apart from my school and friends and I wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities. My parents were getting a divorce. I spent a lot of time by myself, reading books.
High school was a little better…until junior year, where I found myself struggling to fit in with my friends, all who seemed to be smarter, prettier, and more athletic than me. I thought losing weight would be the solution to fitting in with them. And so it began.
I stopped eating lunch. It was easy—I would go the cafeteria with my friends and take small nibbles of yogurt or take the entire lunch period to eat an apple. At home, I told my mother I was on a diet, and she didn’t think twice about it, because I would “eat” a majority of my dinner. What she didn’t know was that I was also hiding food in my napkin, and throwing it out immediately after the meal.
People started to notice the weight loss. I thrived off the attention. It was working! I was losing weight. The nurse called me into her office, asking if I realized how thin I was getting. I pretended to act stupid. She weighed me and asked if I knew what I weighed. Of course I knew…but I lied and said I didn’t.
My goal was to weight 120 lbs. I was ready to do whatever it took to get to that number.
For the entire month of January, 2004, I’d walk the mile home from school (a good way of burning calories) and let myself into my house. I’d immediately drop my backpack in the front hallway and run upstairs, stripping every ounce of my clothing along the way up the stairs. (I had to weigh myself completely naked, of course.)
Each daily weigh-in was so exciting because my weight was dropping…FAST.
I lost my period. I was constantly cold. My fingers and feet were constantly numb. None of my clothes fit. My hair fell out. I got used to being hungry all the time.
“I’ll stop dieting when I reach 120. I don’t need to lose any more weight from there,” I constantly reminded myself.
But then February 20th, 2004, I weighed 119 lbs. It had only taken me a few months to get to that weight. (I’m uncertain what my “starting weight” was, but I suspect it was somewhere around 150-155 lbs.)
This is when things started to unravel even more.
Being obsessed with numbers, I wasn’t prepared to see any reading on the scale below 120. I saw 119 and I freaked out.
“Fuck. I control this process. How am I under 120? I don’t want to be under 120.”
So I began to eat. And I ate and ate.
I was in a panicked haze for the next few months: eating too much, and then “getting rid of it” in the bathroom…being mad at myself for not being able to empty out the entire contents of my stomach… “starting over” the day after a binge/purge session with a new diet…not being able to keep to my new diet because my body desperately craved nutrients and food…being mad at myself for not being able to adhere to the diet like I used to…chewing food and spitting it back out into the sink, but wondering how many calories I was actually ingesting…going to the store and buying entire cartons of ice cream to eat in one sitting and then forcing it back up, still cold as it came up.
It was the beginning of a 6-year cycle.
One day, after a huge binge/purge session, I set out to only eat 100 calories in a day. I ate a chicken breast (George Forman-grilled, 90 calories) and a sugar-free jello (cherry, 10 calories). Success!
…but the next evening, I ate the entire contents of my kitchen pantry while my mother was watching TV, then went upstairs and got rid of it. I remember lying on the floor of the bathroom feeling cold, numb, and helpless, and wondering if it would ever end. I wanted so badly for it to end. I peeled myself off the floor, went downstairs in a zombie-like stupor, ate another round of food, and closed myself back in the bathroom for the next hour.
I was gaining weight, so I appeared to be okay. My period returned, meaning I was a failure at being thin. As winter turned into spring, I desperately wanted help because I was completely consumed by food, calories, eating, purging, and chewing/spitting. I felt trapped inside my own head, wondering if there would ever be a day when I could eat and not be obsessed with hating myself for it. But I didn’t know how to get help. I didn’t “qualify” as being anorexic or bulimic because of the (then) eating disorder standards that were in place.
“Besides, you’re not even underweight, so you don’t deserve help,” I’d tell myself.
I stopped going to the cafeteria for lunch, hiding out in the bathroom until the lunch period was over. This was before cell phones, so I spent hours just sitting on toilet seats, mindlessly staring at the back of the stall door. If I ate anything for lunch, I’d bring it in with me and eat it there. I was too humiliated to show anyone that I was barely eating but still gaining weight because of the binging and purging.
Spring sports came around. I knew I needed to eat if I wanted to perform well as an athlete, so I did the best I could, and the binge/purge cycle lessened from two times a day to a few times a week. But it wasn’t enough, and I ended up being cut from the varsity lacrosse team. I was the only one who was cut, and it was humiliating. The coach had a private meeting with me and informed me that having me on the team would only bring everyone else down. She was planning on producing a state championship team, and including me wasn’t part of the plan. I was allowed to play on the JV team (as a junior, which rarely happened at my school) and I don’t think she thought I would actually do it. But I swallowed my pride and played JV anyway, even though some of my teammates were in middle school.
Joining an organized sport may have saved my life. My relationship with food began to slowly improve, and the benefits of exercise helped with my self-hatred and anxiety. I started obsessing less and started to actually enjoy lacrosse. By the end of the season, I started every game and ended up being one of the best players on the team; it was clear to anyone who watched me play that I shouldn’t have been kept on JV.
I wasn’t in the clear just yet. While my body and mind were both certainly much better than they were at 119 lbs., I spent the better half of 6 years relapsing back and forth between restrictive tendencies and binging/purging. But my grades in college never suffered and I was at the top of my rowing team, so no one would’ve guessed that anything was wrong. I didn’t tell anyone that I didn’t have my period for most of my college career. Through the ebbs and flows of my collegiate disordered eating, some teammates and friends did realize I had a problem…but they didn’t know what to do about it.
As a senior, I decided enough was enough. I was sick of studying the back of so many toilet bowls. I told a few close friends that I was seeking help through an outpatient program at Renfrew. They supported me, and were happy that I was FINALLY seeking help, after watching me suffer for four years.
But the facility was over 40 minutes away from school, and no one was MAKING me go. I went to a few counseling sessions but eventually stopped going because it was too much to juggle among school, rowing, and babysitting (my part-time gig). I also hated how they weighed me every time I came to a therapy session…I would completely dread it. So I quit, and continued to struggle with eating and self-deprecating habits on and off for 18 more months.
I can’t tell you when I considered myself “free” from my eating disorder. The truth is that my ED tendencies lessened more and more throughout the past 7 years when I had other things to focus on: Gabe certainly had something to do with my recovery, as did running. During my podcast on I’ll Have Another, Lindsey and I discussed the relationship between disordered eating and running. She openly asked if I thought my running had replaced my eating disorder (as it does for so many people), and I honestly believe the answer is no. In fact: I think running helped me overcome many elements of my disordered eating.
Running gave me a goal to aim for, and it was directly correlated with food, because I realized very early on that food is fuel (why I didn’t understand this correlation with lacrosse and rowing, I’m not sure). When I started running, I started obsessing less about what I was putting in my mouth, and more about how I felt in my workouts. I started to relearn hunger queues, and I began to teach myself to eat when I was hungry, and stop when I was not. Striving for a performance goal with running was nothing like striving for a number on the scale-it was even more wonderful and fulfilling. Why would I care about what my body looked like, so long as I could run marathons and feel like a BAMF while running fast workouts?
It wasn’t until I spoke with Lindsey regarding my Athena photo at Hartford that I realized just how important that post truly meant to me. Not only did I have no shame about being in the Athena division…but I also, for the first time, was very open about it.
I had the realization that my eating disorder is now just a part of my history, and it’s something I can be honest and open about, because I’m so much happier and healthier in my own skin today.
I knew I had to share my story when Lindsey told me that I was one of the most confident and strongest women she’s spoken to, because for so many years, I was the complete opposite of confident and strong; I was incredibly humbled by Lindsey’s kind words. I’ve come so far from those miserable nights where I spent hours sprawled on the bathroom floor, or those moments when I told my college roommates I needed to take a shower to get clean, when instead I actually wanted to get rid of my dinner without anyone bothering me.
So I’ve shared my story to not only expose my vulnerabilities, but also to instill hope in those of you wondering if there will be ever be an end to the obsession…to the self-hatred…to the sadness…to the secrets…to the hunger…to the raw throat…to the bloody knuckles…to the constant heartburn…to the isolation. I can’t say for certain that your story will end exactly like mine; but I will say there is hope, which is something I was unsure about for a very long time.
And last but not least: if you are suffering, please seek support if you think you need help. Know that you deserve it. You are enough. If you are friends with someone whom you suspect has a problem, please ask what you can do, and don’t take “I’m fine” as an answer. For years, I told everyone that I was fine. And because my symptoms didn’t completely meet all of the “requirements” as an anorectic/bulimic, I delayed getting help, feeling ashamed that I wasn’t good enough at having an eating disorder to deserve support from a professional. This antiquated way of diagnosing an eating disorder has since been updated, thank god, but the process is still far from perfect.
Click here to learn more about getting help, or call this number: (800) 931-2237.
Recovery is truly a beautiful thing, and I hope those of you suffering are able to one day find solace and peace. I’m thankful I have my best years ahead of me, and that I can look back on those 6 years of hell and finally….FINALLY…lay them to rest.