Chrissie Wellington’s article on Body Confidence is bang on point and well worth a read if you haven’t had the chance. Chrissie is a four time Ironman World Champion and a renowned inspiration in triathlon. As an athlete we should compare ourselves to no one but ourselves, from the constant media pressures of ‘racing weight,’ to photos of six packs all over Instagram. I follow the belief that after all the training, nutrition and recovery that is required to get closer to my goals as a Triathlete, I must accept what form and shape my body will take. This will be right FOR ME to perform at my best. There is no point chasing a six pack if the training is not conducive to your sport; it is for good reason that no bodybuilder trains like a triathlete and vice versa.
When I first read Chrissie’s article it hit a nerve. It wasn’t too long ago that I was the girl comparing myself to others, wanting to be better, be leaner and telling myself how I was just not good enough. These initial thoughts, turned into an entrenched belief that possessed my last four years at senior school and shattered my sporting dreams of playing lacrosse for my country. For a while now I have being toying with the idea of speaking out about my past and the years I lost to fear, worry and tears because of anorexia. Now I feel ready as after more and more research I have realised that despite there being a common acknowledgement about the problem, there is very little being done to help and support athletes with eating disorders. In a world where performance is key, I know from my experience that an eating disorder does not generate long term excellence, but rather does quite the opposite.
In November of 2009, after two years of living with anorexia and five months in hospital, I rang my Mum. I was crying about why I couldn’t do anything I wanted and questioned why everything was so unfair?
All Mum said before hanging up was “Have a think about it then you’ll know why?” It was then that the penny dropped and a glimpse of the old Eloise came back enough to start the long two year road to recovery and freedom. By the time I started University in Autumn 2012 I felt confident again in myself. I felt as if the real me was being given a chance to put the past of my shattered lacrosse dreams and injury prone running behind me to consider a new sport with a fresh start – Triathlon.
I feel the most important part of an eating disorder is the recovery. Recovery is often misunderstood as simply just weight gain. However, this is not the case – recovery is challenging for a sufferer because to achieve freedom from an eating disorder you must address your deepest fears and beliefs, while the rituals you lived by have to be broken, changed and rebuilt…
Imagine standing on the edge of a cliff with nowhere else to go, just a black abyss below you. You see no bottom, no safety net and no rope to lower you down slowly. But your friend by your side is telling you there is a bottom, a safety net and a paradise not far below, however to get there you must jump. To jump means turning against what your mind believes, your eyes see and placing your trust in someone – to jump is recovery.
This is what recovering from anorexia was like for me. After two years of being ill I had to turn against everything my anorexic self believed in and face the fears of the unknown, whilst letting someone else be my guide. Everyday the same fears, beliefs and reality needed to be confronted; there is no short cut, no rescuer from that cliff in recovery – my choice to jump had to be made daily and until I reached that paradise I kept jumping. Some days I could not jump and would stay at the top of the cliff wishing to be free and in that place of opportunity below, but somehow I still could not jump. It was as if the paradise was too good to be true; it felt safer not to jump because of the fear that everyone else might be lying.
But how wrong I was! That freedom, my life now, was worth the jump, the tears, the hurt and the fear. Without any of them I’d still be at the top of that cliff just looking down at something I wished to have. The only regret I have is not jumping sooner – how did I think a lonely, cold and dangerous cliff top could have been better than a paradise filled with laughter, love and independence from the control of anorexia? The truth is I didn’t, but my eating disorder let me think I did. This is why recovery is so important. To rid your life of an eating disorder means gaining your actual life back, your dreams and your enjoyment, everything your eating disorder made you think you didn’t want or care about. (I have emphasised YOUR as when suffering from an eating disorder the reality of your real beliefs and anorexia’s beliefs become confused and muddled).
My ‘friend’ on the cliff top telling me about the paradise and holding my hand while I jumped was my Mum. I am truly thankful for her belief that the real me would touch the bottom and together we could enjoy that freedom once again. I know my eating disorder ripped apart my family as much as it ripped apart my dreams and my life at the time. My eating disorder was too selfish to realise the suffering I caused them, I know there is no way I will ever be able to repay my family and friends who stood by me while the anorexic me abused their love and friendship.
Looking back I often forget about the years, laughs and dreams I lost to anorexia as I am now who I want to be and doing everything I thought was a mere dream when I decided to take my first jump into the unknown world of recovery. I feel lucky to have been given a second chance at my life and being able to be the athlete I always wanted to be. But I know anyone who is caring for, suffering or recovering from an eating disorder can also have this ‘luck’ as I promise you all one thing; this ‘luck’ comes with recovery and taking the terrifying leap of faith.
This is why I have decided to share my story and help support sufferers and carers struggling with an eating disorder, as however blinded you or a loved one are by an eating disorder – I promise you there is some hope, whether you want to believe it or not. I know this because I have been there. If you had asked me before November 2009 whether I wanted to recover and be free of my anorexia, despite the grief I was living with & the hell of a five month hospital admittance, I would have still said NO – I was just begging to be 18 so I could refuse support and do what I (not me I but the anorexic I) wanted.
Stay strong and keep fighting as anything really is possible,
Lots of Love
2012 freedom vs 2015 freedom – oh how 3 years have changed #neverlookedback! Thanks to everyone that helped get ME back and whoever got me into real bikes… bring on the next 3 years of fun/swim, bike, run!