7 years ago our Aquinas women’s cross country team placed 7th at the NAIA national championships—our highest finish ever at that point. When our coach announced the news just beyond the finish line, the nine of us women had our arms around each other’s shoulders and tears in our eyes. We looked around in awe and triumph, proud of how far we had come that season. And I was thrilled to be a part of it.
However, the eating disorder I had been struggling with for two years leading up to that point crept in as the day went on. I couldn’t help but think, How could we have finished if I had been “lighter?” How would things have ended up if I had never binged and gained weight?
Knowing that I had placed much higher individually my freshman year–when I had been at my fastest, but also struggling with the beginning of my eating disorder–didn’t help.
An Invisible Injury
A lot had happened since that freshman year. I redshirted my second cross country season as I struggled with a knee injury, even more intense food restriction, and then the bingeing. Now, instead of seeing how far I had come and seeing the eating disorder as another “invisible” injury, I only saw what I “should’ve known” or where I could have “tried harder” with food. The eating disorder voice was always there, ready to rear its head even during what should have been a happy time.
Attending the All-American awards ceremony that afternoon was where I vowed to “do better.” I vowed to turn things around with food. Sick of the binge eating, and wanting to lose the weight I had gained, I told myself that I had to drop at least a little bit of weight to get back to the top. With the focus on the next nationals meet already, I emotionally and socially shut down.
When our team ate at a steak restaurant that evening, I calculated my calories while everyone bonded over the new Snapchat app they had on their phones. And later that night I stepped away from the celebration my teammates hosted in one of their hotel rooms. I sat holed away in front of my hotel room mini fridge, shoving peanut butter-laden vegetables into my mouth with a vengeance. The hunger I had experienced up until that point–the raging, unending hunger–had returned.
The cycle of restriction and bingeing continued, and I felt powerless to stop it.
Long Term Effects
Even with two years left to compete, I never made it back to the national meet. Just less than one year later, my kneecap broke while running.
The sacrifice I believed I needed to put in with food had never been worth it. It just destroyed my physical and mental health.
I know now that many other athletes experience or have experienced similar struggles. I know that the mental battles I had were part of an eating disorder, and that athletes at any body weight, shape, or size can struggle in silence. Many others often think that if they just did this or that with food, that everything would be “better.” The eating disorder robbed me of what could have been an even more exciting experience with my teammates, and the day is still tainted with what my mindset had been at the time.
I’m thankful for my team. I’m proud of what we accomplished. Looking back, we did everything we could. And even though I didn’t believe it then, I know now that I did everything I could at that time, too. I did more than enough. There was nothing more I was “supposed” to do with food, except to allow myself to eat it without shame, guilt, or fear.
My body and performance that day didn’t need to change. My eating disorder did.