“Ashley, we found vomit.”
These are the words that made my heart sink for 20+ years.
Caught. Exposed. Horrified.
But, very painstakingly, I recovered from a severe eating disorder, improved as an athlete, and embraced nutrition. And this is why I now coach: To help others reach their own potential, when they are stuck.
Bulimia is sneaky and a liar. It forces you to do things rational you would never do. You live a double life. By day I’m rowing, promoting fitness, or training for an Ironman. But later, I have this dirty secret that numbs some even deeper secrets. It actually hurt a lot, to extract things from your intestines, and my face looked like Mike Tyson punched me. Every day I did this. When I was 27, one associated experience left me unconscious in the ICU. That’s another tale.
In total, there were a few hospital/inpatients. One place took my shoes and laces. Again, another tale. Physically, emotionally -- not a walk through the park. If there is someone good at torturing themselves, it’s me.
What I really wanted was to be good - great - at all my “things”. Isn’t that what we all want? To be good at the things we invest ourselves in? But sometimes, and maybe you agree, the goalpost seems to move? So, here we are, working really hard but not having much to show for it.
For me, those “things” were athletics, life, and feeling comfortable in my body. Ironically, I never got ANY of those while sick.
Mostly, I felt shameful, and judged. Recovery, in medical terminology, seemed illogical and counterproductive to my goals. So I didn’t trust it, buy in, or even believe anything was really all that wrong. Eventually, I was so far in the hole, I thought I would never recover and just needed to live with the burden. NOT TRUE. What did I do?
I leveraged my PASSIONS to help myself, and accept help from others. This took years, and happened progressively. One thing I’ve learned working in fitness my whole life - speaking the same language that motivates your subject is POWERFUL. I knew what motivated me.
Now, as a coach I help others:
It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to the sport, and tell me you want to be the world champion. Roll up your sleeves, let's dissect how to make improvements.
Same with nutrition. No judgements if there’s a time you ate 6 whole birthday cakes alone. Guess what? So did I. The point is where we’re going, and how we get there.
Why am I sharing this? Well, I want you to know that wherever you are, whatever goalpost keeps moving, there’s a way to reach it. This could be with the help of a health professional, me, or another coach (and I’m happy to refer, I know a lot of very good ones).
The points outlined above are my principles, philosophy, and reasons why I coach others. I know I couldn't have made progress without help along the way. A coach is someone who brings you where you want to go, when you can’t get there on your own. (For real, that’s the origin of the word. A coach. Like a horse carriage. A coach brings you from one place, to another).
Second, I want to break down the stigma. Athletes are more likely than any other population to develop an Eating Disorder. Openness will lend to awareness. Honestly, posting this publicly is terrifying. And this isn’t even close to a tell-all. Bulimia doesn’t have the same stoic nature as its counterpart. This one is more ‘7 sins’, which is actually an appropriate description since it was a living hell. But, a small ripple creates a tidal wave. Here’s my ripple.
Finally, I’m giving a shout-out to the power of life-long athletics and teams. For me, these are Endurance Sports and Rowing. The process of training for and completing 8 Ironman races was a huge bump in the recovery process. To make an analogy: The best drills I give are the ones people cannot do wrong. EX/ Jumprope. Do it wrong, point your toes, you stop doing it. This is true with health, self care, embracing community, and Ironman training. Fly straight if you want to soar.
Quick note on EDs, Recovery, coaches - In my experience, every head coach that has worked with me directly has been a positive turn of the dial. All were supportive to the degree they knew I had any issues. Yes, I was stubborn and resistant, but they all chipped off a piece of the iceberg. Special notation - for Female Administrative leaders- the AD, Assistant AD, and Dean of Students at my University (all female, which is highly rare) recognized an issue, and were proactive with support and resources. (Clark University, Worcester, MA). My current triathlon coach, Kurt Perham, is phenomenal.
I was blessed with some amazing friends and teammates along the way, too.
For me, this was clinically diagnosed in middle school, and the disposition started much earlier. So, instead of coaches being NYT scandal cases, I argue the exact opposite. Nothing that was ever said to me ‘caused’ this.
As coaches, athletes, and leaders in the community, we need more education and understanding. We also need the right people in roles that can move the dialogue and the culture, in this and MANY other areas. We are barely scraping the surface of understanding, but scraping is how we get to the next layer.
Feel free to share this post, which is terrifying, but may help open dialogue.
If you or someone you know is having issues please contact the National Eating Disorders Association. Go there for resources, or to talk, text, or chat. (800) 931- 2237 (call or text) or https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline to chat.
Ashley Blake, MA, helps athletes maximize performance through strength and nutrition coaching. She is a Strength Coach, Precision Nutrition Coach, and Women's Coaching Specialist. She also coaches nutrition for health, wellness, and a better relationship with the body.
USAT-1, USAC-3, USRowing-2, USMS-2
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