Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete

Athlete to anorexia to athlete. My unexpected journey through life. I grew up as an athlete. That was what I did. That was who I was. When I was eight years old, I lined up on the start line for the sprint race. And my love for running began. When I was a teenager I joined my local athletics club and soon started to take my running more seriously. I was a sprinter and I would compete for my club, along with racing in county, regional and national races. I wanted to be an athlete and run for Great Britain. That was my dream. My story should have ended there. Athlete. Unfortunately, the dream turned into a living nightmare of anorexia.

I spent the entirety of my teenage years believing that losing weight was the key to making me run faster. For me to achieve my dream, I had to run faster. Therefore, logic would have it that I needed to lose weight. I did manage to lose a bit of weight when I was 14. My periods stopped. To me, this was a good thing. But I needed to lose more weight. It was difficult to lose weight because of living at home where we would always eat as a family. I would try to restrict when I could, but I needed to do more if I was to achieve my dream of becoming an athlete. I was certain that university would be my opportunity to do this.

Fast forward to 19 year old me living away from home at university. My plans to lose weight start immediately, all with the aim of trying to run faster. Eight months later, I am admitted to intensive care. Anorexia had completely taken over my life. It had destroyed my dream to become an athlete – I couldn’t even walk, let alone run. But by this point, I didn’t even care. All that mattered to me now was losing weight. Being an athlete was sacrificed for that.

The next three years were spent as a revolving door going in and out of hospital. In those three years, I only spent eight months out of hospital. What had started as an innocent attempt to run faster and achieve my dream of becoming an athlete, ended up becoming a devastating, life destroying existence, consumed totally by anorexia. My story had become Athlete to Anorexia. I thought it was going to end there. Or, even worse, would read Athlete to Anorexia to Death.

Anorexia had sent me into a dark, black hole. But somewhere deep inside, there was a tiny flicker of light still burning. That dying dream had not yet completely burnt out. And I wasn’t going to let it. I was not going to let anorexia completely rule my life any more. I had been out of hospital for five years when I re-joined my local athletics club. You can read about this moment in my blog that I wrote at the time Back on track. But it was in 2019 when that small flicker of a dream started to grow. I entered onto the Anorexia to Athlete part of my journey.

In the Summer of 2019 I began strength training. I had been very reluctant to do strength training because I didn’t want to put on weight. But I was so fed up of feeling weak and unable to do things that I wanted to, I decided it was time to bite the bullet. It was amazing to feel my body getting stronger. I will never forget my first experience of being able to go up two steps at a time! For over a decade my body had been to weak to go up the stairs taking more than one step at a time. So it was a real ‘wow’ moment when I was rushing through the underground and I was able to take two steps at a time.

Then, in 2020, I really committed to training. My desire to be a better runner had initially led me down the path to anorexia. But now, my desire to be a better runner was leading me away from anorexia. Being an athlete again was helping me to fight anorexia and helping me to progress in recovery. I raced again for the first time in 13 years in the summer of 2020. It felt incredible. To stand on that start line again and run was beyond anything I ever thought possible.

My athletic identity grew stronger in 2021. The more of my Athlete identity I was regaining, the more of Anorexia I was able to leave behind. To me now, being an athlete and running well was more important than Anorexia. I raced again during the 2021 season, made further improvements on my personal best, and even won a couple of medals at my county championships. I was very much on the Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete journey, and being an athlete again was stopping me go back to Anorexia.

Here I am now in 2022. The competition season has recently started after a long, tough winter training. I have done a couple of races and am amazed to have improved my performance even more (and won a couple more medals!) Not only have I got quicker, but I have also got SO much stronger. In 2019 when I started strength training, I couldn’t even squat myself up and down. But I have continued with weight training and can now squat 50kg! And those fears I had back then of strength training making me get bigger? Doesn’t matter to me any more. Yes, I may be bigger, but I am also stronger, both physically and mentally. It is so empowering to feel stronger again and I certainly would not sacrifice it for being smaller or losing weight.

Recently, someone on social media told me that I shouldn’t talk about the training that I do. They told me that I shouldn’t be training, and talking about it is triggering for others. Firstly, I apologise if any of my content is triggering – that is not my intention. But training, and being an athlete, is so important to me. It helps to keep me well, so I’m not going to stop talking about it. It is part of my life. People often think that because being an athlete requires a lot of physical activity I shouldn’t be doing it as someone with anorexia. But for me, there is a clear distinction between what I do as an athlete, and what I do as someone with anorexia.

When people question my athletics and motive for doing it, I explain to them this. I would not be doing the athletics training that I do if it was driven by anorexic reasons. The type of training that I do is designed to improve performance, not to burn calories or lose weight. For me, there is a key difference between my athletics and my anorexia. Being an athlete, I am training to improve my performance. With anorexia, I am exercising to burn calories. There is no overlap between the two.

Growing up, I was an athlete. That was who I was. Anorexia took that from me. Now I have the Athlete in me back and Anorexia has been pushed to the corner. Striving to be the best athlete that I can is key to my recovery. It gives me the motivation and incentive to keep fighting anorexia. Being a good athlete and being a good anorexic are incompatible. My desire to be a good athlete far outweighs my desire to be a good anorexic. What once drove me to illness is now keeping me well.

I identify more as an athlete now than I do anorexia. I never thought I would reach the point in my life where my identity was not solely based on anorexia. Or, when something else might be more important than it. But here we are. Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete. I don’t know what the next part of this journey will be. Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete to …?  But one thing I do know is that I will keep fighting to never let it go back to Anorexia. And being an Athlete is helping me do that.

My book is being released in August 2022 – Running Free: My Battle with Anorexia. It is available to pre-order here: https://srlpublishing.co.uk/product/running-free

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LittlebexQ

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bex.quinlan.319/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/Bexsanorexiarecovery

athlete to anorexia to athlete
Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete – Bex Quinlan

2 thoughts on “Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete”

  1. Wow, this post really resonated! I was an athlete (gymnastics) growing up as well and my eating disorder took away the one sport I loved so much. I’ve also started strength training recently, which has given me a newfound appreciation for my body. Thank you for sharing your story, Bex! It’s truly inspirational to see that it’s possible to regain that athletic identity after anorexia.

    1. Thanks for your comment Chloe. Sorry to hear that you also went through a similar experience but I am also so happy to hear that you have started strength training and you are getting the benefits that I have also enjoyed with it. It is so totally possible to regain that athletic identity, or any identity you want, after anorexia. It’s not easy, but it is possible. xxx

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