Jonathan Green shares his experience with an eating disorder as a high school and college runner. His story exemplifies how the stigma and lack of education and awareness made it difficult for him to receive professional help sooner. We are grateful that he agreed to share his story, knowing that other men who are struggling could likely relate, and that it might inspire others to see that their struggles are valid and worth getting professional help for. Note: Eating disorder behaviors mentioned.
I didn’t find running until I was a sophomore in high school. And as soon as I started, I loved it.
I grew up as the tall and skinny kid in class. But running made me look at my body differently than I ever have. I saw how fit, lean, muscular, and thin the professional runners appeared, and I thought I had to look exactly like them to be able to run as fast as they did. I figured that dieting would help me to get there.
Plagued By Injuries
Going into my junior year I made a weight goal that I thought would make my life complete. Unfortunately, the runner I wanted to be was quickly stopped by injuries. I had to get countless x-rays, doctor appointments, and took Advil like it was candy.
I was told to take six weeks off running. That’s when I really started struggling with food and my body. In my head, if I wasn’t running or training as much, so I believed I couldn’t eat as much. Even looking at food and thinking it looked appetizing made me feel guilty. I punished myself for looking at food but not even eating it…that’s crazy to think about now.
My body eventually healed and I was cleared to run again, but my mind was forever changed. I was still trying to restrict how much I was eating, convinced that this was making me better and this was how every runner felt. Growing up in Texas, we didn’t talk about mental health, body image, or anything like that so I had no idea who I could talk to about this. It was also drilled in my head that men are supposed to be rock solid and show no emotions. I didn’t even feel comfortable talking to my parents about this, let alone a school counselor or anyone like that. I was so scared and needed help but had no one to talk to.
Going into my senior year I had been dealing with anorexia and was also battling binge eating. This was the lowest I’ve ever felt and was trying to be as fast as I could so I could run in college.
The Next Chapter
I finally graduated high school and was on my way to a new place, with new people and new adventures so I was hoping things would change. After a few months and trusting my new teammates, I told a few of them about what was going on with my mental health and food. They were instantly willing to help and find me the resources I needed. I started getting better but I was by no means recovered. My teammates listened to me on my bad days and celebrated my good days with me.
In college I had a scale in my bathroom that I obsessed over. That stupid little blinking red number was the thing that told me if I was good enough or not. I hated that scale but I couldn’t get rid of it.
My collegiate running years were plagued with sickness and injury. So after my sophomore year, I quit. I stayed on the team as an assistant coach and started drinking heavily because I was so upset that my running career hadn’t gone the way I planned. I “let myself go” and started gaining weight because I wasn’t running and didn’t care about anything. I was the heaviest I’d ever been. I still hated my body and still had a troubled relationship with food.
I had a therapist during my senior year of college due to depression, this eating disorder, and a recent breakup I’d been grieving over. The therapist helped me fall back in love with running and helped me feel better about myself. I never told her the full extent of my ED, but she helped me tremendously.
A Journey of Healing
I now coach high school cross country and track. I’m not sure what about coaching has helped me, but it has. I haven’t told anyone here that I struggle with this, but something about running with the kids and other coaches seemed to be a part of my healing process. I still struggle, but I’d say now that I’m in active recovery.
Life is full of ups and downs but all I can say is get the help you need and DESERVE. Life is too hard to battle all alone.