Guest blog: Biathlete who overcame eating disorder shares his storyPosted on 11/01/18 01:23:pm
Share this article:
Paul Schommer overcame an eating disorder as a teenager during treatment at Rogers that has allowed him to now compete as a member of the U.S. Biathlon Team. We invited Paul to share his thoughts on food and diet.
A common question I get is, "Are you on some sort of special diet?" Some people think that high level athletes have a special diet, some sort of high octane fuel that allows them to perform at a crazy high level. Thankfully as a high level athlete I do not have a crazy diet that consumes my thoughts and time, but for a good portion of my life believed the same things as others.
Back when I was a young impressionable middle schooler, I heard about the lengths athletes would go to become successful. I often saw advertisements for high protein options with little to no fat, thinking these were healthy options. I thought that the most successful athletes were living on diets primarily consisting of protein, some carbs and that fat was the enemy. I heard about how fast food was full of hydrogenated oils and preservatives, both of which would make your body start rotting from the inside out and severely hinder your performance. As a teenager who was looking to maximize my performance as an athlete, I started to manipulate my diet around these ideals of health I was being fed by the media and I ended up spiraling out of control. By the end of the summer leading into my freshman year of high school, my body was struggling to survive. In my attempt to get ahead, I had deprived it from the basic nutrition it needed. The 'advice' I had put into action to become healthier did not leave me thriving like I hoped, but merely surviving, barely able to carry out basic functions, let alone perform at a high athletic level.
Over the next year, my struggles with food grew into struggles with my self-image as well. As my body started to wither away as a result of anorexia, so did my confidence and I often hid in shame of my skinny physique. I always wore long sleeve shirts for fear of exposing my skinny arms because I believed that’s not what was cool and would not be accepted. I told my classmates I missed school because of a heart condition for fear of them finding out my true struggle with food, while actually my heart was struggling to beat because of malnutrition. This shame stemmed from the misconception that I was struggling with a "woman's disease," not knowing that eating disorders affect people of both genders and all walks of life. Scared that my peers would find out about my condition, I continued to hide, secluding myself during mealtimes and avoiding social events with food. I thought if I was strong enough to overcome this by myself, I could get back to normal before anyone else found out. I hoped that maybe this was just a phase and one day I would wake up and all this would be over. I wanted to be strong enough to fix myself before anyone else find out, but as I continued to flounder my desperation for help grew.
In fact, I did have the strength to overcome my struggles with food, but part of that strength came in the form of reaching out to find professional help. When I finally came to Rogers, I was placed in an environment that allowed me to overcome my struggles and no longer be consumed with thoughts of food. At the time, I was just looking to get back to normal eating. To a point that was correct, but I also was overcoming my eating disorder and developing a healthy relationship with food so that I could one day live out my calling as an athlete.
As I now train full time as an athlete, I am thankful to not be living on a super regimented diet of only high octane fuel. I have come to know that the best way to know what to put in my body is to listen to my body and not let fear cloud my judgment. I understand that there will be times when my diet won't be perfect, but thankfully I believe that God has better paths for me to take than an impossible pursuit of nutritional perfection and a life motivated by fear of food.
How we can help
If you do not feel you or your loved one needs treatment right away, but may be concerned, we offer online quizzes to possibly provide some relief. While these quizzes do not provide a diagnosis, it could be the first step in finding the treatment you may need. Take our online Eating Disorder Quiz today.