Maddy Austin on eat­ing dis­or­ders

MADDY AUSTIN ON FAC­ING UP TO ANOREXIA AND WHY IT’S CRU­CIAL TO STOP MIS­CON­CEP­TIONS WHEN IT COMES TO IM­PROV­ING MEN­TAL HEALTH

Athletics Weekly - - News - Maddy Austin’s re­cent doc­u­men­tary Wast­ing Away: The Truth About Anorexia is still avail­able to watch on Chan­nel 4 catch-up

“IN ATHLETICS THIS DRIVE TO DO BET­TER, THE WILL TO WIN, IS WHAT

OF­TEN LEADS ATH­LETES TO BE GREAT. FOR ME, IT WAS TOO MUCH”

DID athletics cause your anorexia?” It’s a ques­tion

I’ve heard asked all too of­ten. The an­swer, of course, is no. Anorexia, as well as any other eat­ing dis­or­der, is a men­tal ill­ness. It takes ev­ery­thing that you’ve built for yourself and ren­ders it use­less.

It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that eat­ing dis­or­ders are some­times brought on by young fe­male ath­letes try­ing to run faster.

This is wrong. They are life threat­en­ing, all-con­sum­ing ill­nesses that can af­fect any­one of any gen­der, any race and any age.

I think what led me into com­pet­i­tive 800m run­ning also played a big role in me de­vel­op­ing anorexia. I had a per­fec­tion­ist at­ti­tude to ev­ery­thing. No race, no run and no track ses­sion was ever good enough. I al­ways wanted bet­ter.

In athletics, this drive to do bet­ter, to keep im­prov­ing, the will to win, is what of­ten leads ath­letes to be great. How­ever, for me, it was too much. I pushed my­self too hard.

My “easy” runs weren’t easy while in ses­sions I’d push my­self to my limit but never be sat­is­fied. My 45-minute runs turned into an hour and in­juries were not hur­dles I had to over­come but things that would leave me dev­as­tated, mis­er­able and in­con­solable.

Los­ing weight was a symp­tom of an un­der­ly­ing de­pres­sion. Anorexia was my es­cape from life, a life I just did not want to live any more.

Once los­ing weight took over my life, athletics be­came an ex­cuse. I was eat­ing more healthily “for my run­ning”, I wasn’t ob­ses­sively exercising to burn calo­ries, I was “train­ing”. Fi­nally, what I thought I had con­trol over com­pletely took con­trol over me.

I was lost. I was con­sumed with dark­ness, and run­ning, some­thing that had al­ways been my pas­sion and my dream, was taken away. I was a shell of the girl I was be­fore.

Since be­ing open about hav­ing anorexia, I have re­ceived a num­ber of mes­sages from ath­letes, some say­ing their coaches had told them to lose weight in or­der to get faster, prais­ing their spi­ralling weight loss. I have heard com­men­ta­tors de­scrib­ing an ath­lete as hav­ing an ideal power to weight ra­tio, when they are clearly not an achiev­able or sus­tain­able body shape for most peo­ple.

It’s com­ments like this that can make some­one who, like me, just wanted to be per­fect, be­come se­verely men­tally ill.

I was lucky, my coaches Alli and Tim Cross­man no­ticed that I’d “lost my sparkle”.

They were so sup­port­ive and told me straight how things would end if I con­tin­ued down my path­way of self-de­struc­tion.

No pres­sure ever came from them or my fam­ily, I piled the pres­sure on my­self.

Athletics may be im­por­tant, it may be what fills all your dreams, what you con­stantly think about. How­ever, your men­tal health, and we all have men­tal health, is so much more im­por­tant.

Now, I still love run­ning. I run when I want, how fast I want and how far I want. Run­ning will al­ways be my es­cape. When I was phys­i­cally healthy, run­ning helped me sort out the night­mare in my mind.

I don’t re­ally com­pete any more, un­less you count Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity Beer Mile (1st), the Lon­don Marathon (7048th) and the South­ern League 5000m (DNF).

The sim­ple truth is, many ath­letes are vul­ner­a­ble and in­se­cure. I des­per­ately urge coaches to ed­u­cate them­selves on the signs of eat­ing dis­or­ders and to un­der­stand that they are se­ri­ous men­tal ill­nesses. Say­ing that “los­ing weight is a sure way of get­ting faster” is sim­ply un­true and, more im­por­tantly, un­ac­cept­able and dan­ger­ous.

Still run­ning: Maddy Austin com­pleted this year’s

Lon­don Marathon

Maddy Austin: 2012 English Schools 800m cham­pion ad­mits she be­gan to push her­self too hard as an ath­lete

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