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As a teenager, every day was a struggle, every meal was a struggle, and every bite was a struggle. After every meal she would rush to the bathroom to quickly push her fingers down her throat and relieve herself of the food she had just eaten. “I’ll never do it again” she would always say to herself.
I never realized how much an eating disorder could control your life, until I found out that my best friend, Josie, had one. For the most part, it was all laughs with her; telling stories about weird encounters at school, talking about what we were going to do at softball practice that afternoon, or relaxing while watching a chick flick. I’ve known her for five years and for two of them she has been battling for her life against bulimia.
Josie’s addiction started out innocent. Her motivation to eat healthy and her dedication to the gym was something we were all envious of. It wasn’t until the simple things like going out to eat or inviting her over became nearly impossible that I realized my friend needed help. In high school it was obvious to me that she started losing tons of weight and would spend more time in the bathroom after meals than anyone I had ever met. Yes, she was lean, but as an athlete in our society, that was a standard.
Athletes are especially prone to eating disorders, and because of the stress already imposed on their bodies, the consequences can be disastrous not only for one’s athletic career, but also for long-term physical and mental wellbeing. Female athletes, more so than male athletes, are at risk for eating disorders because they experience societal pressures and other stressors due to their participation in competitive sports. Societal expectations women already face can cause female athletes to be highly self-conscious when competing.
Josie was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa when she was fifteen years old although she had been suffering from this disease for much longer. By age seventeen, her eating disorder had begun to worsen. I watched her become obsessed with eating and purging. I watched her go for days on just liquids, often followed by a purge. I even watched her secretly make herself sick if she thought she had eaten too much.
By her freshman year of college, skipping meals or spending hours at the gym every day was nothing new. She had lost over twenty-five pounds since graduating highschool and was barely getting enough nutrients for her body. It wasn’t until she realized that she wasn’t healthy enough and couldn’t participate in her first college softball season that she decided to reach out and get help.
After completing her freshman year of college, she was admitted to the hospital where she began a treatment program. She began as a twenty-four hour resident and was bedridden for three days. After seeing improvement, she was able to join the other patients in daily sessions. This included individual and group therapies, in addition to meetings with the staff psychiatrist, psychologist, dietitian, medical team, and clinical director. After hard work and dedication, she was able to get through the program within three months.
Eating disorders have become a huge problem among athletes because of the pressures of the sports they are involved in. Similar to Josie, many people suffer in silence because they are ashamed of their symptoms or think their symptoms will get better on their own. It was difficult for Josie to realize the degree to which bulimia consumed her life and it wasn’t until her friends, like me, encouraged her to go to treatment that she was able to get the help that she needed. As someone who has seen what an eating disorder can do to someone, I can say that it is far better for someone to seek help than to try to continue to compete with distorted thoughts and behaviors controlling your life. There are so many people who care about you and can help you get better. All athletes deserve to have a healthy relationship with body image, food, and exercise.
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