Eating disorders are a touchy subject to talk about, I understand that. However, many individuals that are involved in the fitness community suffer from eating disorders that are actually caused by their sport or by simply going to the gym. Within this article, I would like to share my personal experience with having an eating disorder that came from my love for fitness.
Where It All Started
In High School, I competed competitively in baseball and basketball and fell in love with it. However, High School is also when the bullying started. Basketball practice consisted of getting picked on because of my size or how I looked, and getting the ball whipped at my head at every opportunity possible.
Baseball wasn’t any better… and eventually, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I quit the sports that I loved so dearly, and after everything the bullies had said…they just stuck with me, constantly in my head. “You’re weak,” “you’ll never be good enough,” “nobody likes you”… those voices never left me. After quitting, I took up weightlifting to stay active and hopefully get bigger and stronger. I wanted to prove them wrong.
After working out for some time, I started eating healthier. I started seeing actual results, despite not knowing what I was doing and soon it became an obsession. I exercised at every opportunity I had, going to the gym every single day, doing HIIT workouts in my room, boxing, jump rope, yoga, just anything and everything. I even remember doing pullups on the bathroom stalls in my school. All the voices pushed me harder and I couldn’t stop.
I Couldn’t Stop…
My addiction for exercise became my daily life. I remember ALWAYS standing, and never sitting down because I wouldn’t let myself rest. I felt like I didn’t deserve to rest. I’d stand in the kitchen when I wasn’t exercising just making green tea or coffee because I had read that it would “burn more fat.” I ALWAYS drank coffee because I was physically exhausted all the time, and drank more than 3 gallons of water every single day because I heard it would “boost my metabolism.” I stood as much as possible, despite my legs wanting to collapse beneath me. I couldn’t sleep at night because I didn’t have any serotonin in my brain and my hair started falling out. I was slowly killing myself. It was all very selfish.
As far as eating went, I would barely eat at all, and when I did, it HAD to be “healthy,” or else I would freak out. This would be known as Orthorexia (An obsessive compulsion with a pursuit of a healthy diet).
Food was a constant struggle, and it hurt my relationship with my family and I lost all of my friends because I was too scared to go out with them in fear that I would have to miss a workout or eat something “bad.”
After months of this going on, I had to go to the doctor for a checkup because my Mom was worried about me. When they took all of my vitals, I was immediately rushed to the hospital. I had a heart rate in the 20s, nearly dead. I weighed about 118 pounds at 6 ft tall, with about 2% body fat. My kidneys were flushed out from drinking so much fluid and I wasn’t allowed to drink any coffee: so basically, I was dying. I lost all testosterone in my body. To this day I still have no testosterone. I was diagnosed with Orthorexia and Anorexia in the hospital.
In the hospital, I lay in bed and just wanted to die. I wanted to die until three things happens:
1. I received a message on my phone from a girl who had gone through the exact same thing that I was going through. She had done everything I had done, and gave me help and support. That message made me realize I wasn’t alone. She gave me hope.
2. Now it was my turn to send messages. I sent messages to all of my old friends, but I had lost them. No one answered. No one answered except one. I won’t say who she is, but this girl has always meant a lot to me. I admire her. I just hope she knows that it meant the absolute world to me that she would respond she made me keep going.
3. I learned that dogs are way freaking better than people. When I was laying in bed breaking down, the therapy dogs were making their rounds and one came in and jumped in my bed. It just lay there for a while and looked at me, like it understood everything I was going through. It’s why I love animals so much to this day.
After a week of being in the hospital and recovering, I was allowed to go home. The recovery process was hell. I struggled every day with just eating, and I wasn’t allowed to work out at all. I spent nights looking in the mirror and hating what I saw, and spent nights crying myself to sleep. At least I could sleep again. My Mom would always have talks with me to try to get me better, and one day she put a notebook in my lap. She told me “James… I want you to write.”
After a while, I had gained enough weight to be able to exercise again. The doctors always told me it wouldn’t make a difference if I worked out because I didn’t have any testosterone. But this time around I did things differently. I learned how to get strong: something I had never been before.
I educated myself in every way possible, and learned everything there was to learn about weightlifting. After a long time of training, I had gotten strong: I could deadlift over 400 pounds, do weighted dips and chins with two 45 pound plates strapped to a belt, and squat a couple of grown men. I became proud of my body and what I could accomplish. I got strong.
Take Home Message
If you are struggling, know that you are not alone. Don’t give up, and just know that there is hope. If you are struggling or just need to talk to someone, I’m here. You can contact me at my Instagram @braunstrong. Don’t hesitate to reach for help: we all need it. This was my story, and I hope I added some value to your life today, and I think that’s pretty darn amazing. As always, stay strong.