Overcoming an Eating Disorder to Run Division I
It may sound a little cliche to be a distance runner suffering from an eating disorder. There are plenty of stories out there just like it. But what I have found is that most eating disorders develop from competitive running, however, for me, it’s practically the reverse.
I started dieting at the age of 14. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it progressively got more and more out of hand. I joined cross country in high school to be a part of something, but I also had the aim of losing weight in mind. Fast forward to my sophomore year, I started running indoor track too. Having very little faith in myself, it came to my surprise that my coach put me in the varsity lineup.
I ended up even scoring a point at the first meet and getting a huge personal best. Like many runners who start to see success and enjoy the praise of teammates, coaches, and even opponents, I started to focus on getting even better.
Unfortunately, I was more focused on seeing quick results than I was focused on the future and my longevity as a runner. Slowly, I began to be consumed with the extra weight I was carrying. This is where my unhealthy correlation between weight and racing began.
Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that I was obsessed with the numbers. I loved math as a kid and I grew up loving football and memorizing statistics. And let’s face it: in the running community the numbers on the clock are all people really care about. Maybe it all shouldn’t be too shocking, but it was shocking to see how quickly I could hit the bottom even faster than I rose to the top.
I dropped down to my lowest weight that spring, and for the first time my lightness was doing the opposite of what I intended. But the excuses I made that I needed to be at a certain weight to run faster didn’t seem to apply when my small frame was actually doing much more harm than good.
I was bombarded with constant exhaustion and my whole life revolved around eating within a calorie budget and losing as much weight as possible. It wasn’t about running faster anymore, it was about testing my body’s limits and seeing how much I could get away with.
My 16 year old self felt lost and lonely, vulnerable and scared. I learned at that age that while I felt I was setting myself up to be happy and successful, I was actually the most miserable I’ve ever been.
When I finally reached my breaking point and began the recovery process, I didn’t know if I would ever be healthy enough to run again, let alone run at the level I became accustomed to. But since I loved the sport and my teammates (WUXC) so much, I refused to let it go.
Thankfully, through hard work, perseverance, and patience I became the runner I always hoped to be and accomplished more than I imagined, including a few team championships and an individual state meet appearance. Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. I had a bad season and was convinced that my poor performances were a result of the weight I gained back over the past year.
I wish I could say that I ended my senior year of high school in Cinderella story fashion, but I must confess that what people considered my best season as an athlete was tainted by the fact that once again I went to extreme measures to lose weight so I could run faster.
While people were congratulating me on my school records and times, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself. I spent so much time and effort trying to prove that your weight doesn’t determine what you run on the track, and then I contradicted myself.
Maybe that was the harsh reality, that no matter how hard we try stories don’t always have happy endings. Maybe to run well, I needed to make sure that I wasn’t too heavy.
I tested this approach when I began my collegiate career, and it quickly became clear to me that the initial success I saw was very short-lived and came with many consequences. Sure, I ran well in indoor, but I felt sick and weak, and I couldn’t keep this momentum through the whole season.
On the outside it appeared that I had everything together, but I also didn’t think I was in control of myself anymore.
It was almost like there was an angel and devil on my shoulders but I couldn’t tell who was who. I was at the point where I felt it was better to skip meals than to risk accidentally eating too much. I also became obsessed with the scale I kept in my dorm room, and weighed myself multiple times per day.
My inner demons found a way to take over again. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know how to stop. Thankfully through the support of my coaches, teammates, and friends, new and old, I finally did.
I feel extremely lucky that I was able to succumb my obstacles and move forward and that’s why I want to give back.
This season I want to raise awareness for eating disorders, especially EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified) because it is close to my heart and under the radar. I will be racing in custom shoes and donating $1 for every second I take off of one of my times.
I have also vowed that to the best of my ability, I will not intentionally lose weight, diet, or compromise my health in any way to try to give myself a competitive advantage.
I’ve already seen improvement in cross country this fall and I hope to keep that momentum through indoor and outdoor track this year. I can’t wait to see what this season holds.
About The Author: Laura Flagg
Laura Flagg has been suffering from an eating disorder for almost 6 years. Since she was 14, she dreamed of running Division 1 in college and eventually fulfilled that dream, and now runs for UMass Lowell, but not without fighting a long, tough road of recovery. Still battling the mental illness, she hopes to inspire others with similar struggles. She hopes to raise awareness for eating disorders, and shine a special light on EDNOS, one of the most common but one of the least talked about disorders.