When an Athlete Develops an Eating Disorder

142
142
0

One of my fondest memories from college is of early morning rowing practice. In darkness and silence we ran three miles from campus to the boathouse. Besides the occasional car that drove by, the only sound was the steady strike of feet on the pavement. Teams of eight marched their boats to the dock and set off on a moonlit river for a warm up. We powered through drills as the sun came up, pushing and pulling to our max potential. It was a magical rhythm, this harmonious momentum we created with our bodies, the oar and the water.

Crew was by far the most physically and mentally demanding sport I had ever participated in. I was the stroke for my boat and intensely driven to be a powerhouse rower. In grade school and high school I played soccer, softball and basketball. I excelled at all three sports and was named MVP most years. My ambition was perfection, to score the most, win the most and please my coaches and teammates. I practiced hard and played even harder. I prided myself on having a reputation for being aggressive. I craved the sweat, physical exertion and glory of athleticism.

In my sophomore year of college, my drive for athletic success was challenged in a new and fierce way. The bar was raised, and me being me, I was determined to surpass it. During an afternoon rowing practice, as we rowed by the dock my coach shouted, “I can tell how hard you work by how much your body changes.” I remember upon hearing his words I slammed my legs and pulled the oar as hard as I possibly could. I had a new mission to master: I had to literally alter my body’s shape and size to prove myself.

Before college I did not have a hyperawareness of my body. I was an average size and comfortable in my skin. I was successful on the playing field with the body I had; I could box out with the best of them. The thought or fantasy of changing my body never occurred to me until the day I heard those very damaging words.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If my body was now the marker of how hard I worked and the depth of my dedication to my team, that could only mean one thing — I had to shrink. And that’s exactly what I did. That single statement unleashed a vicious, relentless and life-threatening eating disorder.

One year later I resigned from my position as president of the crew team and gave up my seat in the boat. I was too weak from 12 months of systematically restricting my caloric intake to continue rowing. I blamed my resignation on needing to devote more time to my studies. Still unaware I had an eating disorder, I continued to eat less and less and overexercise. I went to the gym several times a day to undo the little bit of food I allowed myself to eat. My workouts were militant, driven by a deathly fear of gaining weight.

By the time I was diagnosed with and hospitalized for anorexia nervosa my diet consisted of chicken broth and instant oatmeal. My vision was blurry, I could not concentrate, my chest hurt with every heartbeat and I could barely walk across campus due to dehydration and malnourishment. My hospitalization in 1996 was the beginning of a lifelong recovery journey from a disease that just doesn’t let up.

Many athletes have similar stories about how training and dieting regimes triggered their eating disorder. This scenario is especially common in the wrestling, boxing, football, gymnastics and dancing communities, where body shape and size are directly correlated with performance and success. For those of us genetically predisposed to an eating disorder, such body-centric messages can influence and encourage dangerous behaviors that snowball into full-blown and fatal eating disorders.

Twenty years and a few hospitalizations later, I continue to use my therapeutic team for support. Above all other tools, however, yoga has been a source of steadiness and empowerment in my recovery process, leading me to become a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders.

Although not a cure, yoga is a powerful healing tool for managing the daily challenges of recovery. In my personal experience, yoga has improved my relationship with my body and offered a safe outlet for physical activity, reconnecting me with my natural love of being athletic and active. The rhythmic movement and deep breathing calms my mind and allows me to listen attentively to my healthy voice, which for so long was muted and overpowered by my eating disorder.

The practice by its nature builds physical strength, which boosts my self-esteem, leading me to feel strong and steady emotionally and mentally as well. Unlike competitive sports, yoga is not goal and performance oriented. There is no finish line, scoreboard, or championship. The only pressure we experience is that which we place on ourselves. Yoga holds the space for us to study our habits, reactions and behaviors without having to be perfect or make the cut.

After years of being numbed out, yoga has also brought sensation and feeling back into my life. My hunger cues have returned, and yoga has taught me how to hear them again. The practice has also taught me how to connect from the inside out, to know myself deeply and to value myself for my innate personal traits and values versus the size of my body. I connect with my resilience in warrior poses, courage in crow pose, grace in dancer’s pose, openness in triangle pose, peace in camel pose and support in child’s pose.

In truth, healing from an eating disorder is hard and ongoing. My yoga practice is my anchor, my safe space, and my direct line to my personal power and truth.

142
142
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How Anorexia Affected My Sex Life

1
1
0

For years I only had one lover: anorexia. Then I stared dating the man who is now my husband, and anorexia got in the way of our lives together. No matter how my husband pushed and prodded, anorexia fought harder. I knew all of the horrible statistics, all of the detrimental effects of this disease, and so did my husband.

I thought marriage would save me. I can admit that now. And for a short time, it almost seemed to be true. My dreams all seemed to be falling into place. Then we got back from the honeymoon and returned to work, and everything started falling apart.

My husband and I joke that we share the same brain. We often finish each other’s sentences, or say something and one or the other of us exclaims, “I was just going to say that!” We like a lot of the same foods, and enjoy the same odd and quirky sense of humor. All of these things are not enough to hold a marriage together, obviously. We did our best to keep things fun during the early days, and we still do. Two years ago, I was happy. We were happy. Until we weren’t.

It’s taken a long time for me to see through the fog and storms, to finally admit that love simply wasn’t enough. We could have the best day together, my husband and I; and yet going to bed after a mere chaste kiss was obviously affecting both of us deeply.

My husband often tried to talk to me about intimacy, and I shrugged him off. Not only was it a sore subject for me because of never talking about it with anyone else, but also because in the midst of restriction and body image issues, I never wanted to be intimate. Emotionally, I feared attachment. Physically, I flinched at his lightest touch. We were at a loss.

I felt horrible about avoiding my husband. Many nights I would pretend to be asleep when he came to bed, to avoid feeling like even more of a failure. This went on for over a year, living with an elephant in the room.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Sex. It’s everywhere. In movies, books, the media. I hated seeing those scenes in movies, they only seemed to reiterate my own problems. It was hard to sit there next to my husband and watch an image of a couple doing the things we never even attempted anymore.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me when I went to the doctor and she told me to abstain from sex. Now I had an excuse, a doctors order! I was at the doctor for my first appointment of many, in an attempt to get help and recover from anorexia. The doctor told me to avoid sex because of the slight chance I might get pregnant, and not be able to carry the baby to term.

I told my husband the doctors “orders” and for months, we barely kissed. In fact, I moved out of our house and into a cottage a few blocks away. I didn’t talk about it, but my sex drive was dead and I was stressed to the max.

Over time, I gained weight and became less depressed. Finally one night, I was ready. Neither of us had to say a word, we just knew. This is only my side of the story, with few details, but I hope someday it will help another woman who is in a simile predicament. Things can, and do, change.

1
1
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Kindergarten Lesson That Later Helped in My Eating Disorder Recovery

22
22
0

I can recall the days I walked to kindergarten with my father, arriving to school early as “the early bird always catches the worm.” I wore my oversized polo shirt, white tennis shoes which would soon turn gray with wear, and navy shorts bearing the name of the school I was attending. The alphabet lessons, simple addition, and minimal strings of foreign language were my classroom lessons, yet, I fondly recollect the more important and seemingly more abstract ideas I carry with me to date.

Robert Fulghum discusses the prospect of true life lessons, including how to live, what to do, and how to be, as lessons with a root in kindergarten. Thirteen years later, at 18 years old, I can honestly say I agree with Fulghum. A lesson I find myself consistently returning to from my childhood is the overall idea of appearance being the least important aspect of what truly makes a person. In some senses, yes, appearance is important, however, my mind wanders to the more abstract and mature idea of our bodies being beautiful when they house a beautiful soul.

Personally, my childhood lesson of focusing less on appearance and more on what each and every one of us have inside, is one that shapes how I live, what I do, and how I want to and choose to be.

Growing up, change is truly inevitable, and when society changes or life throws a curve ball, the way we live may face unexpected alterations. From a young age, I have had a skewed view of who I am, in terms of body image and being able to genuinely like who I am. This view of myself, constructed from as young as kindergarten age, resulted in a battle with an eating disorder beginning intensely my junior year of high school. As someone who wasn’t necessarily content with my body, I still chose to nourish it, never entertaining the idea of starving myself and denying myself the right to eat. However, when life became unbearable with school, family, and friends, I turned to anorexia, which ultimately changed the way I was living. I lost the core of my childhood lesson, living in a disorder that left
me focused on my weight and appearance 99.9 percent of the time.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

After struggling with anorexia nervosa for two years, I was finally able to admit myself to treatment to battle my internal and intrusive thoughts that left me struggling on a daily basis. As I became healthier, my childhood lesson began to shine through cracks. I was becoming happier, as my mood was stimulated by the nutrition and medicinal assistance I was providing myself. Gaining weight was not easy, yet, I began to feel at home in my body again, trying to accept it for whatever size it would be at my goal weight.

Simultaneously, I was completing treatment each day and working in my campaign to create awareness of eating disorders and the impact of negative body image on society as a whole. This is how my childhood lesson had an impact on the things I do. For the last four years, I have been a co-presider of a campaign that has reached thousands of individuals, consisting of those who are and are not affected by eating
disorders. My involvement in the campaign has allowed me to be an advocate for
the men and women who are in my old shoes, without an advocate or anyone to
speak up for the help they need. My recovery is shaping each and every day and giving me the opportunity to share my more-than-appearance based childhood lesson.

Fulghum addresses the idea of “how to be,” and I find this to be a difficult one to speak on. Societally, we are seemingly always told to be and act a certain way. This is
the very conception that helped fuel my eating disorder, leaving me with the impression that I had to be thin to be beautiful. However, returning to my lesson from kindergarten, there is no wrong way to look or to have a body. Logically this is a concept I know very well, yet, in the mind of an eating disorder, my body is wrong unless I am a skeleton dying in a hospital bed. In my recovery, I am not only relearning how to eat, but also relearning how to accept myself upon more than my outward appearance.

Through the lesson from my childhood, I am able to recall that I should live according to what my body needs, rather than giving into the standards of society. I am remembering that for me to help other people, I need to be the best me I can, which means maintaining my recovery, speaking the truth, and creating the peaceful acceptance of my body originally learned in my kindergarten past.

Image via Thinkstock.

22
22
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Reality of Meeting My Goal Weight in Eating Disorder Recovery

135
135
0

Yesterday, I woke up and put on jeans that finally fit me. Yesterday, I ate breakfast and splurged on a coffee because I was so content with the way my clothes were fitting me. Yesterday, my doctor looked at me with a smile on her face. Yesterday, she told me she was impressed with my progress. Yesterday, I looked back at her and jokingly remarked that she was about ready to throw my ass back into the inpatient program about a month ago. Yesterday, I weighed in at my goal weight.

No, it is not the unrealistic number I calculated perfectly to keep me at the body mass index that would validate to me and everyone else that I have an eating disorder. No, it is not something I plastered in the bio section of a “recovery” Instagram account. No, it is not unhealthy for my height.

My goal weight, defined by my treatment team, is the minimum weight considered to be safe for my height. Anything below my minimum safe weight is considered to be underweight, and thus, in my mind, still qualifies me as sick.

It’s a paradoxical phenomenon to be in the brain of someone with an eating disorder. Allow me to paint a picture of words for you:

As someone with an eating disorder, I have attempted to disconnect myself from my body. At the same time, my body is my mode of communication for how I am feeling – when I am happy, I am goofy and smile a lot; however, when I am stressed, I am eating less, looking more glum, and genuinely struggling with minimal life tasks. In the height of my eating disorder, it was evident I was sick in some way, shape or form. That lower weight solidified my feelings; it validated I was indeed “sick enough” to have anorexia-nervosa. Where the paradox comes in is here: as an advocate for those affected by eating disorders, I like to make it very known that there is no look, shape, or size to an eating disorder. There is no defining mark of being “sick enough,” and in fact, many who experience eating disorders never reach the point of being “underweight for their height.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Now that I have reached my goal weight, I must say, it is a bit off-putting. It’s almost as if I worked so hard at losing the weight just to gain it all and back and be miserable… but I’m not miserable. Someone asked me how I felt about weighing in xxx pounds – I’m not sad about reaching my goal weight. I am the complete opposite.

I am thrilled about reaching a goal that seemed almost impossible a month ago. I am proud of myself for agreeing to renter treatment even though I had to make several sacrifices. I am content with having made weight in treatment and continuing to be successful at a means of saving my own life.

Meeting my goal weight doesn’t mean xxx pounds. It doesn’t make me a failure, which for someone with an eating disorder, is a valid and real feeling after weight gain. It doesn’t always feel good, but when change is inevitable and recovery is worth it, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

It doesn’t mean I no longer have an eating disorder. It just means that I am beating it.

Image via Thinkstock.

135
135
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The People Behind the Doors of the ‘Mental Hospital'

3k
3k
1

The stereotypes of the psychiatric hospital rushed through my head when I heard the words, “You are detained under section two of the Mental Health Act.” I thought the psychiatric hospital was full of “crazy” people who were all abusive. I thought they were aliens who were scary, etc., etc. There was no way I was going to a psychiatric hospital when I only had a fear of food and had to recover from anorexia. I was not actually one of those “scary people in the mental hospital.

I arrived shaking and worrying I might get something chucked at me. I entered and there were 17 girls, aged between 12 through 17. They were all welcoming. We sat down in community group, and I was introduced to them all. I start worrying that maybe all this was an act and there weren’t actually people calmly painting canvases to decorate the walls and playing “Mario Cart” on the Wii.

During my first evening in the psychiatric hospital, I sat crying on the phone to my parents, and a patient came and hugged me. I never thought a patient in a “mental hospital” would be kind enough to hug me. From that moment, I thought maybe the psychiatric hospital was not filled with“crazy people,” an idea that had been derived from all the stereotypes.

I spent four months at the psychiatric hospital and every day I received immense kindness and support from all the people there. I was placed on the eating disorders unit to recover from anorexia. However, I did often have social interaction with the generalized mental health unit in the hospital, too.

I never thought I would be able to make friends with people in the hospital. Yet, to this day, they are some of my closest friends. We all have a group chat where we talk about how well we are doing and about how there is life outside the hospital. I also never thought I would be arranging sleepovers and meeting up with the “crazy people,” but that’s happening, too.

I have received handwritten letters under my hospital bedroom doorstep from the patients who have self-harm scars all up their arms and across their legs. I have received so much love and positivity quotes from people who cannot feed themselves. I have laughed and had dance parties with people who, like me, are sectioned under the Mental Health Act because they cannot take care of themselves. I have gone on outings with people who have to take medication for their mental health conditions. I’ve had people write messages on the mirror, including the words, “You’re beautiful,” and “You have the most amazing body.” These are the same people who cannot even think to associate those words with themselves. I have had the most beautiful, happiest conversations with people who saw people who were invisible to others.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I learned a lot from the psychiatric hospital. I learned more than how to recover from anorexia. I learned people with mental illness care so much for others. I had people stay up with me to help me stop crying about how much I missed my family. I had other patients tutor me in my studies when I was too sad to even open a textbook. I had patients crochet me a blanket and hold my hand and wipe my tears through meal times.

I met the most amazing people in the psychiatric hospital. People with mental health conditions are not scary. They are in fact the kindest people I know. And that is the one thing I wish I knew about people who live with mental health disorders.

Image via Thinkstock.

 

3k
3k
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What It's Like Having an Eating Disorder the First Week of College

355
355
1

For my family and friends on Facebook, it comes as no surprise when I tell them I started college this week. They’ve liked and commented on my photos, wishing me well and sending good vibes. But for my new college peers, they may be surprised to find out I have an eating disorder.

I chose my college for the way I felt when I stepped onto campus. The cliché that we always hear from student recruiters is my truth. I feel at home there. Not to mention my scholarship package made it an offer I couldn’t turn down, and I was on my way to committing myself to the university before someone had a chance to ask me if I was sure about my decision. I didn’t have to question whether or not I chose the right university, and I still don’t.

As a freshman, I found myself pondering the typical dilemmas of a college student. What if I gain the “freshman 15”? How am I going to keep all of my classes straight? Can I have a social life and an extra-curricular filled schedule all while maintaining my GPA?

But, I also found myself pondering the typical dilemmas of an individual with anorexia. What if I relapse again? How am I going to keep myself ‘sane’? Can I maintain recovery? These are the “intrusive thoughts” they talked about in treatment.

My university put together a four day program known as “Orientation Adventures,” something I have found to be a huge blessing in terms of starting college. It has allowed me to begin on the first day already having a sweet group of friends. I realized on the first day at the ballpark how much of college is focused on eating as a social event, mac n’ cheese cups because that’s all we can afford and Walter’s cookies from the Marketplace, which are just too hard to say no to. As someone in recovery, I found myself excited for a future of eating intuitively, but wondering, with just a small ounce of fear, how I would ever get there.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Having an eating disorder during the first week of college isn’t a glamorized story told online about a beautiful girl who got so stressed with her workload, peer expectations and college life that she starves herself to feel something. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is comparing myself to every girl I saw each day. It’s the sick jealousy of wanting to change the body that people keep trying to convince me is beautiful. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is eating significantly more than I am used to. All the while, I am trying to brush it off as “eating like a football player” or “loving these cookies so much I can’t stop,” but really I am just trying to keep my cool through each and every meal with peers.

Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is wearing a bathing suit at the amusement park and jumping around in the wave pool with my friends. Yet, I am feeling as if I have to keep myself covered and contained as I have such awful thoughts about my body. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is not all bad, but don’t get the idea that having an eating disorder during college is any kind of good.

Let me explain. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is being willing to explain why I’m eating so much, as my weight rehabilitation plan requires a higher intake. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is being honest about my struggle and telling stories of the stipulations and restraints I was up against during my hospitalizations. Having an eating disorder during the first week of college is asking how I can bring my eating disorder awareness campaign to campus to teach both guys and girls about the severity of these disorders and how negative body image can impact each and every one of us.

I have an eating disorder, and I just completed my first week of college orientation. I have an eating disorder, and I am growing. I am healing. I am pushing forward.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

355
355
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.