Editor's Note: The following story discusses weight loss and an eating disorder. Please read no further if this is triggering for you.
Amelia Boone had it all together. A world champion obstacle course racer, she had the magazine covers, the sponsorships, and the love for life and everything she was doing, from her day job as an attorney to her athletic career.
Internally, she was in turmoil, but from the outside, you couldn't tell.
In July, an explosive blog post brought it all into the light. In the post, published on her website, Amelia revealed a 20-year struggle with anorexia that dated back to her teens, for which she had sought treatment and been hospitalized in the past. It culminated, Amelia wrote, in a three-month stint in a treatment facility this past Spring.
Amelia realized, "I could white-knuckle my way through this for a really long time," she told POPSUGAR. "But I'm just tired of living with the anxiety. I'm tired of living with fear. I finally got to a place where I was just tired of fighting."
The eating disorder wasn't related to her athletic endeavors, Amelia said; in fact, she knew that anorexia was hindering her goals in obstacle course and endurance racing. It led, for example, to a string of debilitating injuries, including four stress fractures in the past three years. The eating disorder, she said, was about what was going on inside. She used it to cope with emotions that she found overwhelming.
"Always, and especially as a kid, I was a very emotional person," Amelia said. "By nature, I'm a crier." As she grew up, she decided it was better to keep tight control over her feelings, to suppress them, to dull them as much as possible. Anorexia did that. "When you're starving yourself," Amelia explained, "you don't feel anything."
Amelia went to a treatment facility after college and felt she'd gotten to a good place, but recovery isn't linear when it comes to eating disorders, she said; they can feel insidious. "Things kind of slowly creep in without you realizing," she told POPSUGAR. It was hard to tell whether she was "fully recovered" and what qualified as a relapse; these things just aren't clear-cut, which can make it easy to fall into old habits without realizing where they might lead. She'd opened up to people before about "beating" an eating disorder, only to relapse later on and feel ashamed for having said she was fully recovered.
This was part of the reason Amelia chose to share her story now. Her recent stint in a treatment facility ended in June, and she wrote the blog post in July, openly stating that she didn't consider herself fully recovered. She'd considered waiting, wanting to fit her story into that satisfying narrative: I did struggle with anorexia, but now I'm all better. But "if I keep waiting for that moment," Amelia realized, "I'm never going to talk about it." She does believe that recovery is possible and that someday she'll get there. "But I don't know when that will be," she said honestly. "It may never be."
And Amelia couldn't stay silent waiting for that time to come. Even as she struggled with an eating disorder, Amelia remembered getting compliments on her body, her fitness, her appearance. It was troubling, even deeper than the effect on her own shaky mental health. "You hear those positive reinforcements that your body's so great," she said. "I don't really know if I want people to aspire to what I look like because I'm clearly not taking care of my body."
There's a tendency in sports, she noted, to equate thinness with fitness and athletic success. For Amelia, it's an assumption that's frustrating, outdated, and blatantly false. She referenced Mary Cain, a young runner who was pushed to lose dangerous amounts of weight in pursuit of faster times, a practice that ended her promising career. "It's like, haven't we gotten past this?" Amelia said. "Haven't we realized that thinness does not equal speed and does not equal talent? How long do we have to continue to bang this drum?"
As Amelia returns to athletic competitions, that means continuing to use her platform to amplify a message of hope. She just raced in the World's Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour obstacle course challenge and an event she's won three times. She knows how hard it is for an athlete to compete at the highest level while struggling with an eating disorder; it's why she's striving to share her story, as uncomfortable as it might be. "We need to get to this critical mass," she said. "The moment that we stop talking about it is the moment that people push it under the rug, and then it goes back to how it was." Amelia knows that her struggle with anorexia is by no means unique, and she's determined to use it to push for progress. "If I can amplify the voice of all of those people, I absolutely will."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has resources available including a 24/7 helpline at (800) 931-2237.