Facing the Dragon: A Tale of One Powerlifter’s Experience with an Eating Disorder

DISCLAIMER: This is a personal experience. This is meant to be a post about inspiration and personal triumph and not from the perspective of a medical professional. If you are dealing with or know someone dealing with an eating disorder please seek professional help. 

Written by Alexandra Trezza

The terms “anorexia” and “bulimia” are monsters to young girls, as they are always paired with words and phrases like “throwing up,” “starving” and “hospitalized.”  I don’t know which was scarier: the idea that I would have to face these dragons or the fact that I would have to face these dragons without anybody knowing. The taboo around these labels had scared me so much that it took years before I identified with the word “bulimia;” the term stirred up images that, if you were born in the 90s, looked a lot like the actresses in P!nk’s “Stupid Girls” video, carrying emaciated bodies and using the back of a toothbrush to throw up in the bathroom sink.  The image was often curated with damaged girls who slipped to the bathroom after each bite of food. That wasn’t me; at the peak of my disorder, I was a Division One athlete and a straight-A student on track to graduate a year early. I didn’t fit the profile for what a girl with bulimia should be, so it couldn’t possibly fit into mine. But I did know that there was something not quite right about hiding in the bathroom eating an entire box of pop tarts, or swallowing a week’s worth of laxatives immediately after eating them.  

At the time when I finally accepted that I had a problem with food, I was competing in powerlifting, and knowing that I competed in a strength sport when my mind was so far removed from strength made me feel like a failure for a long time—as if I didn’t belong on the platform.  But what I came to realize from competing, was that the platform was the one place where I did belong. It was the one place where it didn’t matter how thick my thighs were, or what I had eaten the day before. It was the one place where I could appreciate my body for what it could do instead of scrutinizing it for how it looked and hating it for what it wasn’t. 

While my compensatory behaviors changed over the years, the severity of the disorder seemed to get worse and worse, until I completely isolated myself from most social activities, and lost any relationships that had been hanging on.  For a long time, powerlifting felt like the only thing I had left. I spent years mourning the person I could’ve become without the relentless relapses; I dwelled on the relationships I could’ve built, the experiences I could’ve had, and the opportunities I could’ve taken.  I beat myself up for allowing it to take so much from me, instead of acknowledging and appreciating the strength and control that powerlifting had allowed me to regain.  

Despite the desperate hours I spent talking in therapy sessions, reading self-help books, and listening to audible tapes, I owe my recovery to the time I spent beneath the barbell.  Many times, powerlifting gave me the will to get through the day, and often times the courage to get up and face the day. It’s allowed me to see myself for more than my monsters and has reintroduced me to the person I lost so many years ago.  

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”  I met my dragons when I was 13, and the scariest part was facing them on my own. Because of powerlifting, I didn’t have to.

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