For athletes, the pressure to compete and in some cases, look a certain way while doing so, can be taxing on both physical and mental health. Past research reveals that elite athletes may be close to three times more likely to struggle with disordered eating than the general population. Eating disorders and body image disorders affect athletes of all genders, but are statistically more prevalent in women than men. And in a study of female college athletes, it was discovered that one in four had disordered eating, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. That means it’s likely someone close to you could still be in the healing process of eating disorder recovery, and you may not even know it. So in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week happening Feb 24 - March 1, we’re celebrating athletes who continue to triumph over their eating and body image disorders with the help of the Spartan Race community. Read on for inspiring stories.
Spartan Warriors: 3 Inspiring Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery Stories
Katie Purcell, founder, Fear Gear OCR
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Hey All!! spartangrind tagged me in a post awhile back with 10 fun facts about them...asking me to do the same & pass it on...so here it goes!! Let’s see which of the following Katie trivia you already know, & which stuff is new 😂😂 . . . 1️⃣ I created my own written language that I used to keep a journal in (for real! Swipe for a sample ⬅️😝) . . . 2️⃣ My undergrad degree is in sociology/anthropology bc I LOVE to study culture and how that affects us/how we relate to each other 🤓🌎 . . . 3️⃣ I speak French & Italian...in high school I used to DREAM in French ❤️ . . . 4️⃣ I was never really “athletic” until I got into OCR about 6 years ago 🙈 . . 5️⃣ I have an MBA with a concentration in entrepreneurship & marketing 📊📈 . . . 6️⃣ I launched a business in OCR called @fiercegearocr in April 2018 & it’s a 🎢 but I love it . . 7️⃣ I had a really serious eating disorder that started when I was 13, & I entered recovery at age 20, which is part of why I think it’s SUPER important for all of us to be good role models for the next generation 🦋 . . 8️⃣ I love classical music from the romantic era (e.g., Brahms, Debussy, Chopin) 🎼 . . 9️⃣ My favorite authors are Chuck Palahniuk (think “Fight Club”) & Brett Easton Ellis (think “American Psycho”) 📚 . . 🔟 I HATE cold water...I’m seriously a total baby about it...so the dunk wall at a race is usually my least favorite part 😳😳🥶🤗 . . . I’ve tagged 10 of my AMAZING @fiercegearocr Ambassadors in this post who I hope will pass it on! Or if I DIDN’T tag you & you want to do it, go for it! Be sure to tag me in the caption of the post so I can see all your fun facts too 🤩🥳🙌 ——————————————————————— #FierceGearOCR #startuplife #womanowned #spartanwomen #strongwomen #spartanrace #spartantraining #warriordash #spartanasheville #spartanutah #toughmudder #ocrathlete #functionalfitness #bicepswinraces #lovewhatyoudo #prettyfiercespartan
The period of time in which Spartan athlete Katie Purcell struggled with an eating disorder was the worst in her life. “I had negative scripts running through my head all the time; I was never good enough,” she says. “Letting myself feel happy was always just out of reach, based on losing the next xx pounds or fitting into xx size.” She felt as though she was just a hollow shell of a person, depriving herself of the healthy lifestyle she deserved, until she started Spartan racing, that is.
She writes in an Instagram post that she was originally self-conscious of her arms, even during her eating disorder recovery, because she saw them as “bulky”. But one of the turning points for her body image was surrounding herself with other Spartan athletes, who “come in all shapes and sizes,” she writes. She can celebrate her strong arms among a group of people who all show their physical and mental strength in completely different ways.
At the same time, she sometimes sees the media directing potentially problematic messaging toward athletes, with slogans like “Strong is the new skinny.” Of course the premise of it is empowering, she says, that being conventionally “skinny” shouldn’t be the default body type, especially among athletes. “But, in mainstream media it seems like the vast majority of female athletes are portrayed with a specific body type: showing off a slender frame and 6-pack abs,” Purcell says. And that’s not always what the picture of “strong” and “healthy” should look like.
“It misses a huge piece of the story: that ‘strong’ and ‘healthy’ can look different on different people, due to our body types, genetic makeup, eating and exercise habits. Even if you have the genetic ability to be able to get a 6-pack, if you choose not to because it’s not worth the lifestyle sacrifices you’d have to make to get there, that is okay too and also healthy,” Purcell adds.
Vanessa Campos, personal trainer
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“𝕐𝕠𝕦 𝕔𝕒𝕟'𝕥 𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕘𝕖 𝕨𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕚𝕤 𝕘𝕠𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕠𝕟 𝕒𝕣𝕠𝕦𝕟𝕕 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕦𝕟𝕥𝕚𝕝 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕘𝕖 𝕨𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕚𝕤 𝕘𝕠𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕠𝕟 𝕨𝕚𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟 𝕪𝕠𝕦.” If you want to know my story, just ask, just read. I’m a pretty open book. This 3 year transformation says so much about my life, not just on the surface, in the eyes, the look on my face...transformation isn’t only about what’s going on with the body, but mainly what’s happening to someone in their mind, heart and soul. Mine has changed. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s exactly what needed to happen. I’ve found my purpose. ℍ𝕒𝕡𝕡𝕚𝕟𝕖𝕤𝕤 𝕚𝕤 𝕚𝕥 #transformationtuesday #ulcerativecolitis #sicktospartan #spartanwomen #mystory #becomingV #spartan #overcomingobstacles #tenaciousV #vcnfitness
Though she wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2014, Vanessa Campos began struggling with body dysmorphic disorder in her preteen years. She hid it from her parents, taking diet pills and only eating in front of them during the day. What made matters worse was that as a young dancer, a respected ballet instructor commented that she had talent but was “in the wrong body,” Campos recalls. “I actually carried that statement with me into adulthood.”
Fitness started as a stress reliever for Campos, but after becoming a personal trainer, over-exercising was a form of controlling her weight and of self-harm for her (she later competed in bodybuilding competitions and figure shows, which she felt had an unhealthy impact on her), she says. She had a brief respite from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) during her first pregnancy, but it came back with a vengeance after she had her first son, coupled by extreme social anxiety. After her second son was born, her mental health declined further, so she began seeing a therapist and was officially diagnosed with BDD.
Now, she has 65 races, 11 trifectas, 3 AG podiums, and a 3rd place finish in her age group in the Stadion Series under her belt. “I have never felt more self-assured and confident than I have since becoming deeply involved in the OCR community,” Campos says. She does try to keep her distance from mirrors, though, especially having grown up surrounded by mirrors in the dance world, and later as a professional dancer. Instead, she looks at herself through others’ perspective. “I try to see what others say they see, and I do, when I see my race action photos and can say, ‘Wow! That’s what I really look like?’” she says. “Through my OCR training and racing, and the camaraderie of the community, I have truly found my happy place and my new passion.”
Laura Messner, Entrepreneur and OCR athlete
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#TB -- I know I have posted this before, but I think it's always good to be reminded of the power within self love ❤️ -- For most of my life I have beaten myself up. Starting from a young age, I, like many other girls/boys had been sucked into the hypnotic pull of the "reality" lifestyle we see on TV and in the magazines. I'd question: How do I become more like them? How do I become a model and live the same rockstar life? My answer to myself was my image. Yes, my image was once my worth. - Inside my twisted, emotional roller coaster I would eat too much then not eat at all followed by hours of vigorous workouts that, at the time, never had a stop button. Everything was fake: the eyelashes, the clip in extensions, the nails... then to top it off, fake a smile so I could convince everyone that I was "living the dream" and my life was "perfect"...it was a brutal cycle and one which I thought was "normal". The skinny picture was me in 2011 and I remember I STILL thought I wasn't thin enough. 😮 I was searching for perfection when I didn't even know it's meaning -- so what does that leave me with: disappointment after disappointment and feeling more and more lost inside of myself. Over the many years of working on ME I've come to realize that my "need" to be scary thin did not make me or anyone else any more likeable or any more desired. -- those thoughts were all in my head-- I was too wrapped up, worried about being loved and accepted by others that I forgot all about the importance of loving and accepting myself FIRST. So I may not fit into a size 0 pants anymore, but I'm okay with that for I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. This change came from letting go of others opinions of me, knowing and loving the person I am today and believing in the woman I am becoming. --> How YOU see yourself is going to determine how YOU live your life. ❤️ --> #SelfAcceptance#SelfLove #IMuscleUp
Laura Messner’s eating disorder began at a young age as well, and she shared a similar sentiment of feeling as though she had to prove herself, even physically. In her mid-teen years, she struggled with binge eating, and did her “purging” through working out. “That went on for a long time, she says. I went to a lot of therapy, and really made progress in my mental stability.”
Starting Spartan Races came at a perfect time during her recovery, she says. She gained momentum with her first trifecta at age 22, the same year she started racing. “Instead of working out to be skinny, I was working out to rise above the eating disorder to be a role model to other people,” Messner says. Coming from a career as a model and singer that tended to perpetuate her disordered eating, she felt new-found support in the Spartan community, especially when she injured her knee in 2012. “Someone from the Spartan community called me just to check in on how I was. That meant more than anything, because in modeling and singing it was just about how much you can give them, and no one was ever checking in on you,” she says.
During her injury, Messner also gained 20 pounds, bringing her to her heaviest weight, which she calls her “greatest blessing” in coming to terms with her body image. “I was able to look in the mirror and tell myself I was beautiful and mean it—that’s when I knew I had made it,” she says. “From there I was just unstoppable.”