'I didn't know how to stop'

Updated: October 24, 2008, 8:47 AM ET
By Andrea Valachovic |

As I stepped off the scale, the look on the nurse's face was something I had grown used to seeing -- it was a combination of anguish and dread, which I had taught myself to ignore.

I still remember sitting in a big comfy chair when she walked in. The nurse's face was void of emotion when she looked at me. She didn't introduce herself. Rather, she looked at me and said in all seriousness, "You weigh less than a typical 12-year-old girl."


Running On Empty

Five signs you may suffer from an eating disorder:
1. Rapid weight loss
2. Drastic decrease in food intake, sometimes to the point of skipping meals completely
3. Loss of energy and constant fatigue
4. Obsession with exercise
5. Frequent headaches, dizzy spells and even fainting spells

To hear how other athletes came to grips with their eating disorders, check out Christopher Parish's article, "Running on empty."

"Instead of seeing a beautiful 24-year-old young woman, I see a withered seventh-grade little girl in that chair," she added. "And I am here to fix that."

I had lost close to 25 pounds in three months and my 5-foot-6 frame was down to a withered 100 pounds. I avoided mirrors and embraced the streets. I became obsessed with running and losing weight. I started cutting down on meals, eventually skipping them entirely. I didn't know how to stop.

I'm still uncertain when my love for activity turned into obsession. This question may take a lifetime for me to figure out. Sadly enough, this fixation on working out while maintaining a certain body image is quite common throughout the athletic world -- and society in general.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, as many as 10 million females in the U.S. battle eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

I'm one of the 10 million. But I wasn't always that way.

As a college lacrosse player at UMass, I was a defender who relied on an athletic, muscular build to keep the opposition away from the goal. My playing weight was 135 pounds.

Throughout my athletic career, I would have rather played back-to-back grueling games than do any sprints. Running was the part of sports I dreaded the most, so it's somewhat ironic that I all of a sudden found myself addicted to it.

Without lacrosse to satisfy my competitive urges, I started training for a marathon after college. As first, the training was tough. There were even times I wanted to quit. But as a die-hard competitor, I pushed myself.

Looking back, it's easy to see I was following the same patterns many of my teammates did back in college. Some girls on my team openly talked about their battles with eating disorders, while others sought out help with body image difficulties.

It takes a lot of courage to admit you have an eating disorder. Sitting there in that nurse's office was definitely one of the hardest times in my life. Saying "I have an addiction" out loud was even harder.

But thankfully I did. And with professional help, I started to keep a daily log of caloric intake, enjoy healthy meals and attend bi-monthly meetings.

Today, I'm back to a healthy weight and realize that there's more to life than being a size 0. I've even rediscovered my love for lacrosse and play for adult teams.

If you or somebody you know struggles with body-image problems or an eating disorder, the best thing to do is seek help quickly. Professional guidance helped me fight this battle in a healthy manner.

As someone who has battled an eating disorder and addiction to exercise, I want to make myself available to anyone who has questions about diet or nutrition. E-mail me here or join our chat Friday at 3 p.m. ET.