How the Barbell Helped Me Battle Bulimia

How the Barbell Helped Me Battle Bulimia

This guest post was written by Rachel Garmon and was first posted on her blog, Run, Girl, You GOT This!.

In March 2014 I came clean to friends and family members about the struggles and recovery with Bulimia. I came clean to myself in April 2013, when I first started CrossFit.

Setting foot into CrossFit Balance was the first step in years of finally investing in myself. I've become physically stronger and gained new skills through CrossFit, but the most amazing change for me has been the mental strength I've gained. Correction, the self-respect I've gained.

The first year of CrossFit was a hard and difficult fight for myself. My body was sore, but I still didn’t feel settled with myself and my accomplishments. I was in an intense battle with myself each and every workout. Constantly thinking I wasn’t good enough, fast enough, or in shape enough. No one told me these things. These were my own inner demons.  

Day in and day out I was amazed that no matter the score, everyone cheered me on and encouraged me. They encouraged me even when I wanted to be pissed in a corner because I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t see that the strides I was making were amazing. I was in a constant battle with myself, but never fighting for myself. I never knew what it was to truly fight for myself until CrossFit.

The me I never let people know was bulimic and depressed. I let people see the outside me, the happy, joking, and laughing Rachel. I spent more time facing a toilet from age 16- 24 than I did putting on makeup in a mirror. That time doesn’t count the years in the mirror feeling fat and ugly. When I was younger I loved ballet, but being 5’1” with quads does not lend itself to being a ballerina. As I got older, I slowly realized I was being pushed to the back of the class for not having the right look. I spent years hating my thighs. Years. The same thighs that let me break 200-pound back squat within six months of starting CrossFit.

I battled through the worst of it three years ago, but it never really left. Rather than throwing up, I’d go sweat it off on the treadmill in my apartment and then run upstairs to see if I had dropped any weight. That summer I was at the lowest I’d been for me (127 pounds) and everyone commented on it. I felt good, but empty. My evenings were spent worrying if I could sweat it off before I went to bed. I soon went back to purging and found a race to train for after realizing that 3-mile sweat-fests were not the way to train. Running could quiet that self doubt, but I never truly escaped it until last year.

Purging was less frequent, but would still occur. It was a comfort to purge; it would allow me to feel control. When I felt fat or stressed I would purge. When I hit a depression swing, I would purge, hoping that would somehow right the wrongs. It never did. That mentality of what order to eat food in to optimize purging, or constantly weighing myself to measure how I felt about myself that day was always there. There was always a voice telling me I was fat and not good enough. I sought comfort in the control of the purge.

This was where I was when I walked into CrossFit and picked up a barbell for the first time in April, 2013. Slowly, I found a strength within myself I did not know I had. You can't purge when you need to back squat 200+ pounds or run 48.6 miles; though I would try. I began to see food for what it truly is: fuel, not a devilish caloric enemy. Food is no longer something to fear, but rather something I can enjoy and use to fuel my muscles. I found that I can feel good about myself, not by the number on the scale, but by what I can accomplish with my body.

I took an interest in Olympic weightlifting in May 2014. When I needed to weigh in for my first meet in September, I realized the scale didn’t control me. I used to weigh myself every time I saw a scale. EVERY TIME. That day, finally a little number on a scale no longer controlled me and my happiness. I cared about what I could lift over head.

Lifting has taught me to focus and control amidst chaos. Those moments with a barbell, whether squatting or snatching, are my time with myself. Those are the times to dig deep and find a fight within myself. My time to show myself I am good enough and am only getting better.
Seeing what I am capable of reminds me how far I've come.

Years of never feeling pretty or in shape has left me constantly needing to reach an unreachable point. If you want to succeed, you have to be settled and accept yourself as you are right in this moment. Only then can you understand who you can become. When life becomes too much, or depression creeps in, I seek out a barbell.

Being bulimic has affected me, and that voice, telling me to purge or doubt myself, will always be there. But now, that voice is drowned out by the fight within me. I have caused damage to my body that I can't undo, but I've gained the strength to stop hurting myself and instead grow into an amazing, strong person.

I still get frustrated with myself or upset when something doesn't go well. But instead of beating myself up about, I take it as a challenge. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me, because I believe in myself, and I now fight for myself.


Rachel is a certified Personal Trainer in the Washington, DC area and has been doing CrossFit for 2 years. In addition to lifting heavy things up an putting them down, she enjoys running races, teaching/performing improv, being a freelance fundraiser, and traveling when she can.

Follow Rachel on Twitter & Instagram @r_garmon.

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