After starting college in 2010, the first group I interacted with was the cross country team. While the camaraderie was positive at first, there was a lot of toxic culture around food and body image. In fact, I remember the upperclassmen really emphasized the necessity of losing your period, and running so hard that it was inevitable. Having no other role models in the sport, I took to that goal, and made it one of my own moving forward. When I lost my period, I relished in that fact, rather than flagging it as a cause for concern.
All of us had a drive to be thin—to reach performance goals, feel lighter during a race, or even slim down our bodies to look more like a competitor runner. What began as ambition very quickly became a disease.
Everyone on the team was extremely anxious about food, myself included. I vividly remember the tension when meeting up with teammates at the dining hall. We would anxiously look at each other’s plates, which never had much on them—usually a light salad, even after running 10-plus miles that day. Everyone was so nervous about eating too much. No one wanted to be the odd one out, and that feeling was so visceral.
There was also so much stigma around breakfast and eating before or during runs. We would never eat beforehand, and after a very long run, we would treat ourselves to a latte. Ultimately we ended up fasting most of the day, despite rigorous training.
I internalized all of these ideas, and they grew tenfold in my own mind. The voice in my head would remind me: “you don’t need to eat that” or “you’ve been crushing it lately, but maybe if you lost a couple more pounds, you’d run even faster.” I truly believed that running extremely high mileage while eating very little was what it took to be a runner.
I was left with an extremely unhealthy body with no menstrual cycle, energy deficiency, and a lot of mental fog. I was fueled by my negative body image, and continued to move through unhealthy training.
The problem was, I did start to see some early success in trail running, so I had no tangible reason to change my ways. After undergraduate, I decided to pursue running as a career, rather than go to medical school. While I continued to have success at the beginning, it quickly became a rollercoaster. I would have a stellar race, then crash and burn for a while. I was so in the weeds of being under fueled, undernourished, and overtrained—until my body finally started to break down.
For a couple of years, I stayed broken. My body wasn’t functioning, my mind wasn’t functioning—and in 2016, I finally got to a point where I knew something had to change. Luckily for me, I also studied hormones and performance, so when I started to honestly look at the bigger picture of my health, I couldn’t deny how horribly I’d been treating my body. I needed to pivot if I wanted to stay in the sport and reach my potential, rather than continuing to underperform and just feel like a miserable human.