Athletes with Bulimia: How Bulimia Stole My Olympic Dreams!
It's very common to find athletes with bulimia - and I used to be one of them...
My bulimia started when I was just a kid. I was 8 years old and involved with gymnastics...
I'm not sure exactly what triggered me to diet and throw up for the first time - but I think it may have been the desire to stay small for gymnastics (A similar cause to many other athletes with bulimia) I knew that the smaller you were -both in height and weight - the easier it was to tumble...
I wanted to win a gold medal at the Olympics and so I started trying to control the size, shape and height of my body.
Despite this early experience with eating disorders, they stayed in the background of my life until I hit puberty.
By this stage I had moved on from gymnastics to springboard diving - and as you can imagine, I didn't welcome boobs, hips and a bum.
So I started to say "No thanks" to any junk food that came my way - while giving in to the occasional 'free days' where I would overeat and then throw up.
I had heard that athletes with bulimia and anorexia were risking their careers... But I always thought "I'll never get that bad".
In my early teens, I thought I was in control of my eating disorder...
As I got older, it became increasingly clear that bulimia was becoming a dangerous companion in my life.
The more I tried to diet and lose weight, the more out of control my binge eating became.
When I turned 15, I started training under a Chinese coach who was very strict and placed a lot of emphasis on our physical shape. In my first training session he told me that I needed to lose 10 kg's! I almost fell over with shock... Even though I had a poor body image, I'd always considered myself slim.
My coach was used to tiny Chinese divers bodies and so us Westerners looked out of shape to him.
With coaches like this, it's no wonder that bulimia and sports often come hand in hand!
Anyway, I lost those 10 kg's through crazy fasts and diets. I painfully refused food as often as I could...
Occasionally, I'd slip into a massive binge, eating all the things that were 'off limits'. This would be followed by hours of painful vomiting, making sure that every last bit of it was out of me...
I'd throw up until all that was coming out was burning yellow bile.
Soon after this quick weight loss came the binge eating.
I felt completely out of control... I felt like a crazy animal that was programmed to eat it's way through anything I could find. I felt absolute terror at the thought of not having food...
Even going for a quick walk at the beach with my family filled me with panic... I'd have no access to food and throwing up.
The binge eating years of my bulimia were the worst... Food was on my mind from the moment I woke up in the morning until the second my tired eyes fell asleep at night...
Even my dreams were filled with binge eating, purging, rotten teeth and people discovering my secret!
As my teenage years went by, this cycle grew more and more extreme.
Somehow I managed to keep up with my springboard diving career, becoming the New Zealand Open Champion...
I got to travel all over the world for my sport. Unfortunately, those travels were very stressful for me. Bulimia in athletes was pretty common and I knew any signs of bingeing or purging would be noticed. Hiding my bulimia on these trips was exhausting.
At the age of 17, I made it into the Olympic Squad and was training for the games. There were just 2 months to go until the opening ceremony...
It should have been an incredibly exciting part of my life...
I had always imagined going to the Olympics would be such a party! I had dreamed about that opening ceremony since I was a little kid.
But I was dreading it.
I knew that the stress of the event would send my binge eating through the roof. I wondered how other athletes with bulimia coped. I knew that I couldn't handle it. In fact, at this stage I was bingeing and purging about 15 times a day and I felt like I was close to dying.
Just 2 months before the Olympic Games, I threw in the towel. I gave up springboard diving - I had nothing left to give. My life was filled with anxiety attacks and bulimia - this is not what I had dreamt it would be like!
I decided that I needed to stop diving so that I could focus on getting my life back on track. Athletes with bulimia have a hard time recovering as there is still that pressure on them to have a body that looks and performs a specific way. I didn't want that added pressure and so after dedicating my life to this sport for over 6 years, I gave it up.
Needless to say, everybody was shocked...
Remember - my bulimia was a secret and nobody knew I was suffering. They thought I was a switched on, level headed girl who had it 'all together'. They thought I was crazy for giving up this close to the Olympics.
I faced a lot of anger and a lot of criticism - but I knew it was the right decision for me... To this day I have no regrets about it. I know I would not have enjoyed the Olympics in the frame of mind that I was in.
It was actually quite a few years after I gave up diving before I started working on recovery...
I put it off for years on end. All up, once I started, my recovery journey took about one year... I was 21 when I felt happy and confident to say that I had completely recovered. That was 6 years ago :)
My Advice To Athletes with bulimia
I wish I'd managed to get good advice from other athletes with bulimia - or athletes who had recovered from bulimia. Maybe I could have got to those Olympics in a good frame of mind and enjoyed them after all!
My message to to other athletes with bulimia is to listen deeply to your inner voice. What is it saying? Do you love the sport you're doing? Does it fulfill you and make you happy?
I know that I wanted to become an Olympic Champion to make other people proud of me... So that I could be proud of myself...
I can see now that no Olympic medal can win self love... That's something you need to work on and practice each and every day.
If your sport doesn't make you feel happy, then maybe you should take the route I took - follow your heart and discover other true passions in your life.
If your sport really does make you happy, then you have two great options...
1) You could take a break from the sport to focus on your recovery. I know it can seem scary to take time off - but you will come back stronger (mentally and physically) and you'll be healthy and happy! I swear, this small sacrifice is worth it.
2) You could work on recovery while you are still training as normal...
If you decide to go with this option, I promise you, it's worth getting people on your 'recovery team'. People you love and trust to help you along in this journey.
I also hope you decide to get involved with an effective recovery program that will give you guidance to make this journey as straight forward as possible. There may be an in-person program close by or alternatively, you could look into my effective online recovery program and community.
Whatever you decide to do - never forget...
You are a wonderful person defined by your character and who you are!!
I used to think of myself as "Shaye, the diver"... I thought I was a nobody without my sporting career.
Now I can see that I am a beautiful person no matter what interests and hobbies I decide to pursue... You are no different :)
Article by Shaye Boddington
Author of your-bulimia-recovery.com
and creator of The Bulimia Recovery Program and Community