Antrim IAAF International Cross-Country 2013

03 Feb The Eating Battle

When I decided to write a blog I wanted to share my life and athletic experiences with the Eightlane users. I hope I have kept you all entertained.

This week I want to discuss a subject that is often brushed under the carpet and looked beyond it’s seriousness. It’s a very sensitive subject for most athletes and it’s eating disorders.

This is how my story goes…….. In 2007 I went to university, I went there as an absolute geek…. Imagine a girl with long socks, high wasted skirt, ponytail, glasses and a book in one hand. This description describes the ‘old Tasha’.
One could say that I lived like a princess at home, my mum would make sandwiches for me to take to school (age 18), drive be-side me in the car twice a week when I did my 6am morning run, she cooked all my meals and never once asked me to do chores around the house! Coming to university was the biggest culture shock of my life!!! I had to cook, clean and look after myself. The first two-week’s of university was pure hell; I was so home sick and felt out of place. Once I got over the home sickness I integrated really well and I started to enjoy the independence.

My cooking skills were absolutely horrific because I was in halls of residents I luckily got meals prepared for me. There are rumors that the canteen puts starch in the meals to bulk ups the Rugby students, I’m not sure if this is true or false but I did notice a weight gain by my second semester.

As mentioned in my first blog I developed a stress response in my tibia by February and by April I had a stress fracture in my femur. Most athletes at St Mary’s go warm weather training in the middle of March; I followed the crowd and went along to Portugal. I spent the whole trip hobbling along the paths trying to run. This was one of the most stupidest and painful experiences to date.

Once I came back from Portugal I immediately seen the UKA doctor (at that point St Mary’s was supported by UKA) and I got some scans. During this period I remember a photo being uploaded on facebook of the Portugal trip. Straight away I noticed a bit of body change. The next morning I decided to weigh myself; I jumped on the scales and literally jumped back off. I weighed 53kg; I came to university in the September weighing around 44/45kg. I immediately linked the stress fractures to my weight gain. From that day I got rid of all of my treats; all the chocolate biscuits, chocolate bars and crisps were put in the Clive U kitchen. I got a diary and put down my weight goals and I decided that I would monitor what I ate.

At first I monitored my weight weekly I openly told people that I was cutting out the crap and I had an aim to lose a few kilograms. The target at first was 49kg, I got a few compliments saying how I looked good and I got a big hit from this. This was the downhill spiral for me. I’m extremely competitive; once I set myself a target there is no going back, determination and motivation was the two keywords I use to drive my weight loss goals.

Within a few months I was a shadow of my old self, I would not let anyone cook my meals, I would get extremely stressed if someone questioned my eating patterns, Andy would have to ask if it was ok to eat at a certain restaurant and my exercise obsession was at it’s worse. I had food scales, which I used numerous times a day; each item of food would have to be weighed. I would cross training for about 90 minutes a day and at one low point I would only allow myself to eat 1200 calories. For me anymore was a failure and any less was a bonus. By the summer I was down to 43kg, within a few months I had destroyed my body. I would weigh myself numerous times a day to make sure I wasn’t gaining weight!
There was no surprise that my femur stress fracture took 14 weeks to heal!

My obsession with food was horrific; all I did was talk about food, I was constantly moody because I was hungry and worse of all I felt like I couldn’t fight the battle. Each week my parents would try and set me a task of buying something bad but each week I would fail. There were numerous times when I picked a chocolate bar up and put it in my basket but before I got to the till I would put it back. I would know every food label in Tesco, shopping alone was a nightmare I would have to look at the calories and fat content of everything I purchased.

During this period I was coached by Craig Winrow, I have a lot of respect for Craig because he had so many patients throughout this period; it wasn’t just my own battle. I was very fortunate that Steph Bloor was looking out for my best interests and she constantly tried to help and encourage me. She often spoke to Craig and my mum to reassure them and give them updates. At one point my mum was so concerned she was going to pull me out of university and send me to an institution to help me. Craig tried his best to link me up with an EIS nutritionist.

I remember my when I did my first run I felt amazing I was nearly 10kg lighter then the last time I had ran and I felt so strong. My aim was to run the best I had ever ran, to try and get a GB vest and compete with the top girls in my age group. I thought by weighing less I would have advantage over the girls who weighed a bit more. That winter I had my best cross country season; I got an England vest, got a top 10 time at the Mansfield relays, I had a solid run at Liverpool and I finished 9th at the Nationals. During this period I was at my lowest 42.8kg!

Performing well was leading me into a false sense of consciousness. In my head I was thinking great I’m looking skinny, lean and I’m running the best I ever had but deep down I was depressed, upset and I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Food controlled my running, my relationship and my life.

For a long time I battled with ‘Annie’ I would try and try but I constantly felt guilty. I would never deny to anyone that I had a problem because it was clear I had a big issue. I eventually took control of my eating in late 2009, I had a horrific summer of injuries and I realised that being 42.8kg wasn’t sustainable. I was screwing up my body and I had enough of being unhappy.

It has nearly been 4 years since I first developed a problem; I now weigh a healthy 47kg and last track season was by far the best season I have ever had. There have been times when I have wanted to go back down the slippery road and this normally happens during injury. Control is a big factor in my life when I’m not running I feel like I lose control, so normally the first thing, which I try and control, is my eating. I have got better at this but I do struggle at times.

How can we help female distance runners who suffer from eating disorder?
I think it would be awesome if an institution could set up a foundation, which would help female distance runners suffering from eating disorders. It should be recognised and runners shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.
A few years ago a European federation stopped one of their athletes competing for their country because they didn’t want to promote disordered eating. I’m not saying this is fair but it might stop girls from trying to achieve their international goals but destroying their bodies! If I was told in 2008 that I wouldn’t be able to represent the country because I promoted unhealthiness I’m sure it would had kicked me up the backside.

Sorry for such a long in-depth life story but if this help’s/ makes one athlete feel better then I will be very satisfied.

  • lucy

    Great blog, I struggled with anorexia in my early years of running, in fact my coach then doctors stopped me from exercising completely for a couple of years which meant that when I got back had to basically start from scratch. now I am training properly again it is still difficult with the ‘unwritten’ emphasis on low weight and often when In do badly in a race it is tempting to think that it’s because I’m bigger than some of the other girls, rather than how much I may have trained! So it was reassuring to hear that top athletes have had this struggle too and thankyou for raising this issue. I’m so happy to hear you’re doing well now, stay healthy!

    • Natasha Doel

      Thanks Lucy.
      I completely understand how you have felt. I think it’s important to share information, if one person learns from the story then I will be extremely happy.

  • Xenia Jacques

    Great honest blog. I’ve suffered with exactly the same problem this past year, and now attend therapy which has made me realise that food = energy. I was training on nothing all year! Keep up the hard work! X

    • Natasha Doel

      Thank you Xenia. Really appreciate your comments.

  • Michael Roy Hobson

    Tash I remember this well. I think back to those Clive U days and one of the worst scenarios was being surrounded by other athletes, me and you were both crocked and managed to depress each other more. There needs to be a greater understanding of the intensity of such environments. Many people overlook this aspect within such setups. I stand by what I’ve always beleived more females who have previous experiences need to go in to coaching. I also think coach education is key. There’s too much pressure on performance from a young age, and not enough focus on developing individual’s personally.

    • Natasha Doel

      I completely agree Mike. If think there needs to be workshops for coaches to attend. It needs to be drummed into the younger age groups.

  • Bec

    Excellent honest, though heartbreaking article.
    I’m not sure how other readers feel, but having read similar blogs over recent years, there’s a need to ensure young athletes are more aware of the real dangers of neglecting bone-health and focusing on weight issues. Thin doesn’t make an athlete as fast as lean and strong, there is such a thing as being underpowered but disordered eating can be a vicious foe and lead to real unhappiness. The breakdowns undernutrition causes can be very serious medical issues, from recurrent stress fractures to longer term health risks for bone health & fertility.

    A real sense of recognition of the problem is needed from the NGB to ensure athletes start healthy and stay healthy. For athletes, coaches & sports medics/ physios treating those going through these issues, there’s some help out there:

    • Natasha Doel

      Thanks Bec.
      I was aware of the Lboro set up but 1 in the country is pretty poor. The female triad is a very important subject and I think athletes are not educated enough on the long term effects. If we could tackle this from the younger ranks then hopefully there wouldn’t be so many athletes struggling.

  • Sara

    Brave blog & well written piece on an important issue many of us in elite sport have come across. You’re right there shud b support of some sort but not just for females, iv seen some men affected badly too. Micheal raised a good point, more women should go into coaching and coaching setups with both can work well too. Best of luck with it all x

    • Natasha Doel

      Thanks Sara. I appreciate your comments.