Corey Bellemore is a Canadian sub-four-minute miler and 3:39 1,500m runner who represents Adidas. He holds numerous national track titles, both indoor and outdoor, and has dedicated himself to (hopefully) qualifying for the upcoming Olympics. Bellemore suffered from an eating disorder during his 2019 and 2020 seasons, and he has since sustained two stress fractures. His current injury is a tibial proximal medial stress fracture that hasn’t healed well. He says, “It’s been ongoing since April. I took eight weeks off running when I was diagnosed, but we didn’t get an MRI to make sure it was healed before I returned to running. Turns out, it wasn’t fully healed. So now I’m out again.”
RED-S and eating disorders are two topics that are gaining attention in the running community. RED-S, or relative energy deficiency in sport, is a product of underfuelling and prolonged unhealthy weight loss. This change doesn’t occur overnight. In reality, it’s usually a shift as runners ramp up mileage and intensity, and fail to meet their growing energy needs. This begins as LEA (low energy availability), which means that your energy input (food) and energy output (exercise) don’t match up. If runners are in a state of low energy for too long, they can enter into the realm of RED-S, which can compromise bone and reproductive health, which can have long-term negative effects if left unattended.
RED-S can also result from an eating disorder, which generally involves highly restrictive behaviours around food. This is what happened in Bellemore’s case.
Through runners talking about RED-S and eating disorders, awareness has been raised on the topic, increasing the understanding that leaner doesn’t necessarily mean faster. However, much of this conversation is geared toward, or coming from, women. Many men also suffer from eating disorders, but they might not feel comfortable talking about it.
How it started
Bellemore says he’s been described by his peers as a bigger runner, especially for his event. The 1,500m runner had often been told that he was too large to cover the distance at a world-class level. Those comments didn’t get to him in the moment, but over time, he believes they wore him down. The tipping point came in a conversation with a runner he looked up to, who told him that it’d be easier for him to run well if he lost 10 pounds. “From that day on I kept thinking about losing that weight. I was trying to become a body type that’s impossible for me. I wasn’t listening to myself or my body. I was listening to everyone else around me.”
A 2018 study found that among study participants (elite male cyclists), 28 per cent were found to have LEA. The study also found that 44 per cent had low bone mineral density of the lumbar spine. RED-S was associated with fat loss, and the athletes with chronic RED-S had lower levels of both testosterone and vitamin D than those with adequate energy availability.
The quest to be leaner
Bellemore did as his peer advised, and became leaner. He ate only three meals a day with small portion sizes, and would drink a big glass of water with apple cider vinegar before bed as an appetite suppressant. “Unfortunately, when I was engaging in these destructive habits, I also ran my 1,500m personal best. However, eventually it caught up with me.”
It wasn’t until the fall of 2019 that the prolonged restriction caused an issue in training. Bellemore describes going to the track and being exhausted after only a warmup. “I’d go to work out with my brother, and after a short jog I’d be extremely tired and need a snack. I started to realize that I’d been underfuelling for months, but it was too late. The damage was already done.” A few weeks later he was diagnosed with his first stress fracture, which Bellemore knows now was tied to his poor nutrition habits. Seven months later, he was diagnosed with another, this time in his other leg.
Getting back on track
“My strength is an asset, but I didn’t see it that way before,” says Bellemore. Since his stress fracture, he has been getting blood work done to monitor his hormones, vitamin levels and key minerals, like iron. He’s also going to work with a nutritionist to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Bellemore’s message to his peers is this: “Men, their whole lives, are told to keep things to ourselves and to not be vulnerable. I think there’s a lot of catching up to do. I haven’t heard many of my male peers talking about eating disorders, but I know they’re in the community. It’s so important for runners to become aware of the potentially destructive habits around eating and training. It starts by talking about it.”