CrossFit provided the structure and discipline to help a bulimia survivor overcome her demons and establish her own box to help others. Eating disorders come in a rainbow of colorful flavors, each with its own distinct recipe. Start with a big heap of self-hatred, add a dash of perfectionism, and sprinkle with insecurity and you’ve got the basic ingredients for self-destruction. While these traits undoubtedly factored into my own struggles with bulimia, I think a more deeply seated issue was to blame: I was a “Yes Girl.” You see, Yes Girls are pleasant and agreeable, the type of girl that others describe as sweet or nice. However, because their identity is created by the rules of society and the opinions of others, Yes Girls often have a very ill-defined sense of self and this is where I got into trouble. For any Yes Girl, the idea of sel f-explorat ion seemed about as appealing as a root canal. “Who am I?” was not the puzzle I sought to solve; it was “What do you want me to be?” I wanted to know the rules. I wanted to know what was expected of me. I wanted structure, an outline, and guidelines for behavior. And so, I continued on as the dutiful Yes Girl that I was for more than 13 years.

My journey from being bulimic and weak to strong, healthy, and confident was forever altered when I discovered CrossFit and came to know its immense value. I didn’t know it at first, but CrossFit with its inherent standards, structure, and order would be the ideal grounding mechanism for me. CrossFit is not a cure, but it’s the best medicine I ever had.

How it Began

My eating disorder began f reshman year of col lege, a treacherous time for many, often riddled with uncertainty and instability. “These are the best years of your life,” I heard people say. “You will come into your own and find out who you really are.” These proved to be fateful words. For the first time in my adult life, I gained weight. The weightlifting sessions that were required by my basketball coach added lean muscle. That coupled with late-night food runs caused me to gain scale weight.

cf-med-3Beginning in junior high, I was preoccupied with my weight and experimented with unhealthy eating habits. When the “freshman 15” came, I was crushed. I was known as “the girl who could do everything” and “blessed with a smile that shines,” so how could I be getting fat? My perception of myself was always in terms of what I am not and what I haven’t accomplished — a sum of my failures instead of a sum of my successes — so gaining weight was unacceptable. I recalled that Cosmopolitan magazine had once published the ideal weight for a woman: 125 pounds. I was now 17 pounds above this number. I was exceeding the limits. I was breaking the rules. I was being a bad Yes Girl.

The Journey

I was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and very athletic with a scholarship in basketball and volleyball. In reality I was within a normal, healthy weight range, but this didn’t matter to me. I was determined to be good again. I would lose the weight, then more weight, and redeem myself. And so I began to diet. I also binged. The connection between dieting and bingeing has been researched and proven over and over again: Severely limiting your food intake almost always precipitates a binge. Of course, at the time I did not know this.

Recovering bulimics do not talk about the night they ordered three pizzas from Domino’s, devoured two of them with a liter of Coke, then threw up; followed that with a bag of Doritos, a Big Mac and french fries, then purged; and finished with a whole sheet cake with icing and a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.

It was not uncommon for me to consume 6,000 calories in a day, typically spending more than $100 on junk food.

After more than 13 years, I knew I had developed a very serious problem. I had lost a lot of weight, dropping from a healthy 145 pounds to below 115 pounds, yet I wanted to be smaller. I would starve myself for as long as I could, then I would be so hungry I would binge on anything, then make myself sick again. It was a vicious circle of starving, bingeing and purging. Because I never fully digested my meals, consuming enough food to make it through my workouts had become a full-time job. I knew it wasn’t right, but at the same time, I thought there was nothing wrong with me and this was a normal thing to do. I exercised obsessively. I was seriously underweight, sickly, and emotionally fragile. Alongside my eating disorder came hair loss, depression, self-hate, and lies. A consequence of all the food I consumed was the enormous grocery and restaurant bills I accumulated. Since I wasn’t earning much money, I quickly developed crippling credit card bills. When I used up my credit cards, I wrote bad checks for food, which caused legal problems. This was another in a string of bad choices all stemming from my bulimia.

Pregnancy

I was in the midst of my disease when I became pregnant. Early on, before I told my OB/GYN that I was bulimic, I developed a strategy (in my irrational mind) of how I could continue purging while still getting nutrition to my developing baby. I started by eating something nutritious then follow that with carrots. A little later, I would throw up until I got to the bright orange carrots. When I saw orange in my vomit, I figured I had nutritious food for the baby left in my system. Later when I admitted this behavior to my doctor, he said he was not overly concerned about the baby because she would take all the nutrients first. The real concern was how malnutrition would affect me.

My pregnancy was difficult. I almost lost my daughter twice before my doctor put me on complete bed rest in the fourth month of my pregnancy. I was diagnosed with toxemia and preeclampsia. My body began to shut down. My doctor told me that if I didn’t stop vomiting, I would lose my baby. I successfully stopped vomiting and found that my metabolism had virtually stopped. I went from 115 pounds to 202 pounds during the last five months of pregnancy. The fact that I gave birth to a healthy girl is a miracle. But the day after my daughter was born, I went back to my old behaviors. My monster was back. My sick, comfortable cycle of chronic aerobic exercising, bingeing and purging was raging full bore.

Recovery

Being a Yes Girl enabled me to dodge conflict and confrontation for so long that I didn’t know how to deal with either one. My eating disorder was largely an attempt to avoid these types of uncomfortable situations and protect myself from rejection and criticism. I built a cocoon of self-protection to shelter me from the potentially harsh judgments of others.

After a lifetime of looking to others for affirmation, I was finally forced to look inside myself. I had a poignant conversation with a personal training client, a woman with terminal brain cancer, who shared with me her deep regret at not living a healthier lifestyle. She commented on how healthy I was, yet I was in fact a sick woman hiding a dreadful disease. My first course of action was to discuss this with my counselor. We discussed how coming clean about my bulimia to my ailing client had made me feel. Six months later, I made the exceptionally difficult decision to leave my two-year-old daughter behind and checked into a rehab facility.

cf-med-2Recovering from my eating disorder did not happen over night; it was a long hard battle. At the rehab facility, I learned how to deal with my inner demons and address the issues that were destroying my life. I was fortunate to have a great counselor who provided support in getting back to the regular world after three months away. With her help and constant words of encouragement, I found my way. It was another year before I stopped purging altogether. I firmly believe bulimics are constantly in a state of recovery. I’ve learned to live with a different mindset.

I compare the unpleasant behavior of my eating disorder to driving along the road of life with a flat tire. You can keep driving on it, limping along, and you may have a wreck. Or you can remove the tire and drive off, but you won’t get too far with only three tires. What you must do is replace the defective tire with a new functioning one that will help you get back on the road to living. That new tire is different for everyone, but it needs to be something that makes you feel worthwhile, successful, productive, and positive about who you are and what you can do. You must count on yourself to build a new life and a new way of handling your feelings.

It is important that if you know or suspect you have an eating disorder to seek help. You must find a support system in either a formal program like the one I checked into or a relationship with a healthcare professional experienced with bulimia. Seek people who are non-judgmental and supportive. There are two types of people in this world: pumps and drains. Embrace those who pump you up with their positivity and get rid of (or at least limit your exposure to) those who drain you with their negativity. Find what makes you feel good and is good for you and commit to doing it every day.

I’m sometimes asked if I ever worry about falling back on my old behavior of purging after meals. The answer is yes. The feeling comes on occasion, typically when I feel extremely full after a meal or stressed out. The key to controlling this desire lies in knowing I never want that feeling of any substance to control me again. When I left my daughter to enter rehab 16 years ago, I promised myself that I would learn to be a strong mom for her. I have been 100 percent clean for 13 years.

My substance of choice now is CrossFit. CrossFit coaching, community, and competitions filled the void left by my eating disorder. That and listening to Kid Rock music make me feel like I can achieve anything.

The 13 years I spent as an active bulimic has taken an enormous toll on my health. The damage done to my teeth has been devastating — nearly all of my teeth are filled or crowned.

I’m thankful for my dentist and also grateful for my doctor, Rob Huizenga (aka Dr. H), who has helped so many on “The Biggest Loser” and is a leading expert on eating disorders.

Other health issues include supraventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rhythm of the upper heart chambers that causes dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest discomfort, which I fortunately don’t experience much. I also have early stage kidney disease, which my doctor says may be related to my bulimia. Yet all things considered, I feel good. I eat healthy foods in proper proportions and maintain a strong and athletic body through regular CrossFit workouts.

cf-med-1I’m sometimes asked why CrossFit plays such an important role in my daily life. As a recovered bulimic and survivor of an eating disorder, I use my 3,500 square foot box as a place where those with or without disorders can find the best in themselves. Every day, my staff and I encourage our CrossFit APx athletes to find their inner strength through a barbell lift, pull-up, or just by stepping foot inside a box. CrossFit has given me the opportunity to build a gym where people can get strong, fit, and beautiful at their own pace and without judgment. Some of us have a goal to compete at the Games, which I would love, yet my most important goal is to give people a place to belong and reach their inner strengths. I also want to be a positive role model, leader, teacher, friend, and confidant. My aim from the very beginning was to own a box where people of every description would be welcome. All I ask of my members is that they do their personal best every time they participate in a WOD.

I am a certified CrossFit coach and owner of CrossFit APx in Cary, N.C., where I help people realize their personal best. In addition to our general membership of CrossFit athletes, I help those with special needs, including the physically handicapped, and those who have neuromuscular disease or eating disorders. I’m proud that I help people change their lives for the better and I do it by using my CrossFit box as a safe place. My coaching and that of my staff is based in positive psychology, staying focused on positive emotions and individual traits to find and nurture athletic ability and talent. When I opened my box, my goal was to make it the most inclusive gym in the nation, a place where everyone with the will to work hard could achieve his or her health and fitness goals. Like I tell my APx community, CrossFit is not a cure, but it’s the best medicine I ever had, and that’s why I say yes to it every day.

Andrea Logan holds a master’s degree in exercise science. She also founded her box, CrossFit APx in Cary, N.C. to help others and spread her message of hope.

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