Hello everyone! My name is Carley and I am currently a Master’s of Public Health student with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Florida. My desire is to change how eating disorders/ disordered eating are addressed in athletic departments and organizations. Although I am very passionate about spreading awareness about this topic now, it was a very challenging journey getting to this point because of the shame that I associated with my experience as an athlete with disordered eating. However, acknowledgment of this topic is growing, and there is power that comes from every testimony shared that can make a difference for athletes now and athletes to come.
My disordered eating journey began with an injury my sophomore year of high school. At this point, I had been running cross country and track for a couple years, but my success and the praise I received from the sport quickly became my identity. I had low self-worth in middle school, so I consumed myself with the only thing I thought I was good at: running. So, having an injury take away what gave me purpose was absolutely devastating. It would take months and missing a full season of track before my body recovered and I was able to compete, again. It was during these months that I developed a deep self-hatred and began restricting food as punishment for my body not being able to fix itself fast enough.
After returning to competition, the disordered eating habits continued from high school through my junior year of college as I competed as a collegiate cross country athlete. I wanted to do something big my senior year: qualify for Nationals. I further engaged in disordered behaviors which I mistakenly thought would lead me to competing in Nationals. I thought, “if I want to run with the best, I have to look like the best”.
I truly believed Nationals was in my reach. However, due to the disordered behaviors, my time plateaued as the season continued and by the time it was to race the qualifier for Nationals, I missed qualifying by seconds. I was completely crushed.
I was also extremely upset with God, blaming him for dangling my dream in front of my face and snatching it from me. I asked/ yelled at him, “how could you do this to me?! You saw how hard I worked!!” I took all my effort from running and put it into refueling and recovering my body. During this time I felt I no longer had an identity or a purpose to live and became depressed. The thought of pouring my heart into anything terrified me because of the possibility of failure. Finally, I met with my PCP, who prescribed me medication and referred me to a psychologist.
My relationship with food and my body slowly improved; however, it was not linear progress and sometimes I would use other activities or things to cope. I also could not get over how betrayed I felt by God. Many, many days I would cry, yell at, and question God. One day during one of these episodes, I actually googled, “does God care about what I want” and it brought me to a blog post with a verse about God promising everything I need. That moment my eyes were opened!
I thought I could earn Nationals through my faith and hard work. I had grown up being told I can do anything I put my mind to, and do not forget to pray about it. But the truth is when I did not deserve it, Jesus gave his very life for me, taking all of my wrongs upon him, so there is literally nothing I can do that would be “good enough” to earn my salvation and be in right standing with a holy God but to first believe in Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection and then turning from my old way of living. He owes me nothing and I owe him everything. I am not promised that I will get everything I want, that it will be easy, or that it is without suffering to follow Christ, but it is worth it. I could not help but love him and desire to follow him the more I understood the Gospel. He was and is all I need.
I encountered Jesus and understood the Gospel for real for the first time in my life and there was no going back. Three years later, I have the opportunity to work with athletes that have eating disorders/ disordered eating by trying to change and improve how the issue is addressed by schools, policy, athletic staff, athletes, etc. I am actually grateful that God allowed me to struggle with my disordered eating as an athlete because I can relate so much more to others going through the same thing, and more so that I have a growing relationship with him. Maybe God will send me in another direction for my career, and this is okay. I just hope my story gives others the opportunity to encounter Christ, too.