A while back, I stopped telling you things that were going to make me look bad. I’m a professional cyclist with sponsors on my kit, so it felt like I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, say things that didn’t sound strong, confident, thrilled. Bad race? I’d make the report short and generic. Bad training period? Radio silence.
But that makes for a boring blog. I don’t like boring. So here is something: I have an eating disorder.
I’ve always had a preoccupation with food. Is this bad thing I’m eating going to make me fatter? Slower? Less good in some way? But I never had the willpower to take it beyond the worrying phase. In fact, I’ve been famous on my team for eating more than most people. I could really do some serious damage to food. I loved eating, trying interesting or tasty things, going out for dinner or dessert or coffee. And those habits never treated me badly. I enjoyed my life, rode hard and strong, and things just worked.
At some point, the balance tipped. Frankly, I lost my f*cking mind.
It started after the Vegas/Boston trip. I had a lot of splurges on that trip and came back determined to be “well-behaved” for a bit to make up for it. I guess I thought I had a pound or two to lose, not based empirical evidence since I don’t own a scale, but strictly based on something cooked up (haa!) in my head. So I downloaded a calorie-counting iPhone app and started tracking my food intake. It didn’t seem bad at first. Just proactive.
Except that I wasn’t even eating 2,000 calories a day and was still getting on the bike and riding for 1-2 hours a day. It was rough – I would get fuzzy and cracked on the rides – but it also felt empowering. I’m riding at a deficit! I’m going to get rid of excess weight and really lean out! People who heard about this were like, um, you sound hungry and a little nuts, but I felt in control and awesome. And yeah, also hungry.
Then rest month officially started and it didn’t seem like I had reason to start eating more. So the restricting continued, occasionally punctuated by “cheat days” where I’d restrict more in preparation for a big night out. Then I’d go crazy, eat and drink everything in sight to the point of discomfort, and be filled with self-loathing and regret. That regret would translate into needing to super-restrict the next day to make up for the excess calories consumed.
After a few weeks and a vicious cycle of rules/control/perfection followed by crashing/binging/guilt, I started training again. Of course I felt like crap on the bike. I was coming back from several weeks off and being underfed and filled with bad feelings. At some point at the beginning of this mess, I assumed I’d start eating normally once training resumed, but by this point, what I used to eat felt positively elephantine in retrospect. You mean I used to eat THAT for lunch? Ha! I’ll be fine with this bowl of vegetables and small portion of lean meat.
Then things started to get more out of control. This next part is not for the faint of heart. I’d tried a few times in the past to, uh, return regrettable food but had always failed and given up. Recently I became a lot more determined. I actually managed to throw up a bunch of desserts that I had shoveled down one night in frenzy of intense craving. I felt disgusted and horrified after it was done, but also a little relieved. Like, dude, you can eat some serious crap and then get rid of it! No harm, no foul! Except yeah, it’s crazy foul and harmful, but in the moment, it just felt like escaping from the repercussions of a bad decision.
When that happened for the first time, I thought it was a one-time, super-bad-choice type of thing. And then I ate some more things that I regretted a week later, and when I knew there was a way out, it didn’t seem like such a ridiculous choice. It’s not like I was throwing up healthy, beneficial food, right? So it happened again. And then again. And then it got to the point where even a big but relatively healthy meal started to feel like a huge, miserable imposition that needed to come out. And that’s how I found myself kneeling over a toilet at the office one night trying to throw up an order of Pad Thai. When that failed, I bought sneakers and a day pass to the local gym the next day to do an hour of intense cardio since it was a rest day off the bike. I’ve gone running every scheduled rest day since then, because I can’t let go of this fear enough to just sit still.
So things have gotten out of control. I’ve told a few people close to me, alluded to it with others, and now I am telling the whole world because I don’t want to hide this. It feels mortifying and pathetic and weak, but I’m not a pathetic or weak person and I’ve realized that people in the grip of eating disorders aren’t either. It’s like your brain gets taken over by this dark, parasitic voice that starts to influence more and more of your thoughts. I’m not stupid – I know what I’m doing is insane and unhealthy. I know I need to eat and not make myself sick, but in the moment, the pull, the voice, the negative thoughts are so strong it’s like there is nothing else in the world. I’m trying to turn this hatred against myself, my body, and food into a hatred against this thing that has taken over my brain. Sometimes I get so angry or fed up at the absurdity and sickness of it all that it feels like I’m breaking free, but then it’s back and settles like a dark fog over my thoughts. And then anything except spinach feels like a reason for remorse.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking things like, “Why don’t you just eat? Do you know how bad this is for you? Do you know this could end your cycling career? Don’t you know [insert nutrition fact here]?” Yes. Yes, I know those things. I’ve read a dozen books, a hundred articles. I’ve heard advice from smart people and I’m not clueless. It’s like being possessed by the dumbest, most dangerous thing you can imagine and it lives to turn me against myself. I’m literally afraid of food, but also obsessed with it. I don’t even have a specific goal, no target weight or look I’m trying to achieve. I don’t lack confidence or feel unloved. I just feel like I need to do this thing, like any deviation from a perfect diet is going to, uh, kill me? No clue. No logic. Don’t bother looking for any here. There is none to be found.
In doing research to better understand this disorder, I read a news article about pro-ana (pro-anorexic) websites. I went to one of those sites in hopes of shocking myself into distancing from that crowd and yeah, some of the pictures of “exemplary” women were horrifying. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be that sickly and thin. And then I read the “Commandments” of pro-ana behavior:
My first instinct was to scoff at how absurd those people are to believe such unhealthy bullsh*t. I literally mocked it out loud. But then I thought about it and considered what that little voice telling me to do this crazy crap would say. What does that part of me believe? The answer was horrifying: at the core, I have fallen into believing roughly 75% of those commandments. That’s insane! I actually BELIEVE this BS! I now live my life according to the rules of people who are starving themselves to death!
The good news is that I can at least recognize this, and that’s a start. I want to be better. I want to go back to being able to eat cake and not hate myself or feel compelled to go exercise immediately. I will not let this ruin everything I’ve built in my life. It’s been less than two months, but that’s too long already. It feels silly to make a deal of this now; shouldn’t I wait until I weigh 85 pounds and pass out at a race or something? But I don’t want to get to that point. I want this fixed now.
I’m afraid of the repercussions of telling the world, of admitting this in a sport where the competitive landscape means showing weakness can be career suicide, but I’m more afraid of what will happen if I don’t admit to this and fix it. I am willing to own this. Yup, I’m Lindsay, I’m a professional cyclist, and I have an eating disorder. It happens to people you know, people you ride with, people you eat cake with, people you think love food and seem healthy and sane. There is so much noise in our world and this sport that helps people like me build a case against themselves – directors saying, “she’s a great rider but she needs to lose weight,” people scoffing when racers eat foods perceived as bad, books touting the benefit of being leaner and tighter, people online bragging about weighing their food portions or eating only organic superfoods. In just the past few weeks, a dozen people around me have excused eating behaviors as, “Oh, well it’s rest month!” So, what, eating bad things that are only okay because we’re not accountable to training at the moment? What happened to balance and enjoying life? When you hear enough noise and it joins the deafening chorus in your head, you can open the door to crazy very quickly.
So I am getting help. I will get out of this. I want to fix this before hard winter training gets underway, before the race season starts, before I do irreparable damage. I don’t want to be known as just another girl/cyclist with an eating disorder; I want to be know as somebody who stood up to it and came out the other side healthy and happy.
The secret is out. Now you know.