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How quarantine exacerbates my eating disorder

While reading tweets from my friends about how it does not matter what you eat or drink during quarantine, I debate whether having lunch is a good idea. I stare at my fridge and my pantry before deciding that a granola bar or a bowl of fruit is enough to fuel me for the day. I drink an insane amount of water and tea to fool my stomach into thinking it is full.

I was a junior in high school when I was prematurely diagnosed with anorexia nervosa by a sports nutritionist. I say prematurely because I refused to see a doctor that could formally diagnose me.

At the time, the diagnosis seemed as unreal as the 10 pounds I lost during that year’s outdoor track season. Over those four months, I went from an already small 120 pounds (on a good day) to a mere 110 to 112 pounds depending on when I weighed myself. For a 5 foot, 6 inch tall girl that trained for at least an hour six days a week, those 10 pounds were the difference between being healthy and my body eating itself to survive.

My body started to break down. I developed many of the physical symptoms of anorexia, from always feeling cold to amenorrhea, or the lack of a period. I shivered at any temperature below a sunny 65 degrees. My heavy periods that once forced me to change my tampon at least once during a two-hour practice completely disappeared.

Even with these symptoms, I refused to believe anything was wrong with me. I did not have anorexia; I just did not have time to eat. After all, I was balancing Advanced Placements, being a photographer for my high school’s online newspaper, a social life, and running. I was using my lunch to do homework so I could go to bed before 1 a.m. It was a perfectly normal thing to do.

However, this attitude bled into every meal I ate. A quarter of the time I managed to finish two pieces of toast for breakfast. Most evenings, I barely finished half of my dinner. I went to bed with hunger pangs almost every night, telling myself that sleep was the cure for them instead of food.

Entering my senior year, I managed to weigh a consistent 115 pounds. The continuous lack of food and the high-calorie expenditure meant I got injured more often. I had shin splints, pain along the tibia or “shinbone,” and a stress reaction, swelling in the bone before a stress fracture, in my heel.

My thoughts about my body got worse. I started to relate being skinny to being fast. I chalked up not winning races to not being thin enough. I pulled at parts of my body, pinning them back or sucking them in to try and get a glimpse of what I wanted to see in the mirror.

I carried these thoughts into my freshman year running for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I ate more than I would have in high school after seeing my female teammates have their fill. However, it was still only enough to stop the hunger pangs. I wanted to eat just enough to look normal and to stop the pain, nothing more.

This, in combination with collegiate level training, led to even worse injuries. My shin splints turned into three stress reactions along my right tibia, cutting my outdoor season short. My coach had me count calories and found that I was eating less than 2,000 calories a day. A gynecologist visit later that summer revealed extremely low estrogen levels in my blood. According to my gynecologist, if I kept those levels over another few years, I would likely go through menopause in my late twenties or early thirties.

That finally got my attention. I worked on changing my attitude toward food. I went back to the sports nutritionist for help. I forced myself to drink smoothies and protein shakes to ensure I was fueling my body.

I was doing well until the pandemic canceled my spring track season. Without a strict training regiment, I feel like there is nothing to fuel for. I may still be running, but it is nowhere near the level I was at while at UMBC. I am no longer pushing myself through workouts that make me want to cry. I am no longer stacking on weights in the weightroom to keep up with my stronger teammates. I am no longer training and feeling like a Division I athlete, so why fuel like one?

When I run, I feel like I did in high school. My stomach growls when I wait for my GPS watch to start. I get lightheaded barely two miles into a run. I feel like I am forcing my body to take every step, no matter the pace I am running. 

Even sitting at my desk doing homework is exhausting. I struggle to concentrate in class. I often forget about how nauseous I am until I stand up to get more water to fill my empty stomach.

I stare at myself in the mirror more, poking at my stomach and seeing countless flaws with my body. I blame each of them on not training as much and for eating too much. My increased time on social media, staring at professional runners and lifestyle Instagrammers and YouTubers further deters me from eating. With these images in my mind of what I should look like, I am back to doing core unnecessarily. I am still struggling to find the line between looking the way I want to and tearing my stomach apart.

There is no rationalizing to me the need to eat during this quarantine. Even when I think about food as fuel, I manage to validate how little I eat. I do not need as much food because the pandemic makes my training less intense. Less intense training means I consume fewer calories while exercising. Consuming fewer calories while exercising means I should eat less, in general, to not gain weight.

The worst part is that I am now conscious that what I am doing is wrong. I know this way of thinking is destructive. I know it would upset the sports medicine staff and my coaches, especially since I never told them out of fear of being babied. 

I do have small successes here and there. I tell myself to eat lunch. I eat a full plate at dinner. For once, I am thankful for my sweet tooth as it encourages me to eat; even if what I am eating is toast with Nutella or Twizzlers.

As Maryland’s quarantine continues, so does my struggle with eating. I only hope that, as the fall’s cross country season approaches and my training ramps up, I can convince myself that consuming more calories is a good thing. While there is a chance that cross country will not happen, the season is a hope I cling to. Without it, I worry my relationship with food and my health will get even worse than it was in high school.