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Amelia Boone reveals 20-year eating disorder

The OCR stud turned ultra-trail racer blogs about her history with anorexia nervosa

Amelia Boone

A year ago, four-time OCR-world-champion-turned-trail-runner Amelia Boone appeared in a Runners World cover story entitled “Amelia Boone: Stronger than Ever,” which detailed her comeback from a string of injuries after making the switch to trail running. But in March 2019, the Pop-Tart-loving runner hung out on the sidelines of the Barkley Marathons in a walking cast, with her fourth stress fracture in three years. Yesterday, she posted that she has been battling anorexia nervosa for 20 years, and that she spent the last three months at a treatment facility in Seattle.

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The hardest things to talk about are also the most important to share. . After my last stress fracture in March, I finally admitted that it was time to make changes. I’m not dense: I’ve known for a long time that the reason I keep breaking bones is because of my 20-year history with anorexia. . So I’ve spent the last three months at an eating disorder treatment facility, working to restore the health of both my body and my mind. . There’s a crippling shame that comes with knowing the reason you keep breaking your body but feeling incapable of changing that on your own. There’s an embarrassment that, at 35, I’m still battling this. There’s a paralysis that comes with the cognitive dissonance of knowing what you need to do, but continually falling short of that. . But there’s also a great freedom that comes in complete surrender. A quiet confidence that starts to build when you reach out for help. A calm when you realize there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And a peace that overcomes as you realize that, finally, you are learning to live again. . This is, hands down, the most important journey in my life, and one I’m ready to share. Link to full blog in my bio 👆 (one blog post can’t do it justice, so this will be an ongoing process). . To those who have been with me every step of the way, thank you. My journey is only just beginning, but I’ve never been more excited for what the future has to hold. 📸: @codypickens . #edrecovery #hope

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In the Runners World story, Boone describes her first stress fracture (of her femur), in April 2016, when she was training ridiculous mileage, and increased her volume (she figured later) from 40 to 100 miles a week in the space of four weeks: “I didn’t think I was running that much—frankly, I just didn’t understand the concept that you may need “rest” every once in a while. I thought rest days were for weenies.” Boone said she didn’t come from a running background, and had never learned how to increase her volume gradually.

RELATED: Amelia Boone’s rapid rise to OCR dominance and her love for ultrarunning

She also describes a mindset that, conditioned by her success as an OCR racer, had become fixated on winning: “Racing, and the need to win, began to consume my life. I lost relationships, I alienated people, but most of all, I relied on that “hit” of winning to give me some sense of validation and love.”

Boone spent five months on crutches, even using crutching as crosstraining, crutching through the first eight miles of Western States. Then her sacrum fractured.

For the first time, Boone stopped exercising altogether. She couldn’t run for a year, but with the second fracture she also stopped cross-training, which she’d done obsessively with the first one. “It was awful, but it forced me to confront the demons I’d been running from,” she wrote. “And when I finally got the all-clear to run again, I vowed to do it right this time.”

RELATED: Missed periods and stress fractures: Rachel Hannah’s story

Boone now struggled with the fear of re-injuring herself, but raced to an 11th-place finish at the 2017 Spartan Race World Championships. “Racing through my fears as I rebuilt from injury, I learned something: There’s freedom in being humbled. Realizing your expectations are only constructs in your own head. Learning that the world keeps spinning regardless of what a finish time says.”

At last year’s Barkley Marathons, which had no finishers, Boone completed two loops, but not fast enough to be allowed to attempt a third. The weather was brutal, with driving rain, thunderstorms and snow on the course. Boone said she felt prouder of that DNF than of any of her previous wins. “I finally felt alive again,” she says.

But nowhere in the story was there any mention of the eating disorder that Boone now says she has been battling for 20 years, and which is the real reason for the continuing stress fractures.

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Oh hey there, it’s been a hot minute. . I took a conscious break and step back from training, the racing world, and social media this past month, and was surprised at the emotions it brought up. As I sorted through them, I realized the main edge of it all was “if I’m not racing, engaging on social media, and doing “epic shit”, will people stop caring about me?” . I’m aware how that question makes me cringe – that I’m admitting how much validation from and connection with the masses was influencing my self-worth. And that if I wasn’t “doing,” I felt lost. So that reinforced it was time to step back and do some deeper work. . The funny thing is, the less time I spent on social media and “doing”, the more connected I became in my day-to-day life. And at some point, I learned that connection fills my soul more than anything. I realized that’s what I’ve been seeking, and THAT’S what I’ve been missing. . (At the same time, my heel healed in record time. Coincidence? Probably, but I’m starting to believe in this mind-body connection thingy. Oddly enough, I’m also not feeling the pull to rush back into training/racing just yet. I’m kinda ok with that, but still working through it.) . I’m always a work in progress (as we all are), but it felt good to finally take the foot off the gas, and practice being more mindful in all aspects of life. . Not sure how I’ll consume/engage going forward, but I totally did miss you all. #mindfulness #justbe

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Boone blogs: “…I knew I had one big fight left in me. Because there was one thing that I hadn’t tackled head on in a very long time: my eating disorder.

“I’m not dense: I’ve known for a long time that I’m the living, walking example of RED-S (also known as “the female athlete triad.”) I’ve known that probably a huge reason that my bones keep breaking is because I have a 20-year history with anorexia… I’d been in and out of treatment so many times in my life, I wasn’t ready to admit that, in my mid-30s, I was STILL battling it… I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it on my own.”

RELATED: Are you at risk for RED-S?

Boone reveals that she was first diagnosed at 16, spending US Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital that year, and that she was in and out of treatment throughout high school and university. (The reason she didn’t come from a running background was that during her high school years she was too ill to play sports of any kind.)

She seemed to get better for a time, went to law school and became an attorney. She took up obstacle course racing, and found she excelled at it. She thought her anorexia was behind her. But the distorted thoughts and habits that fuelled her eating disorder were still driving her. When you read her story, you realize the stress fractures were the inevitable result of a deep compulsion to control her weight to the point of near-starvation.

Boone managed to hide the truth from herself, her family and friends, her employer and her sponsors for a long time, but with the fourth fracture this spring, she could no longer do that. She admits the disorder affected every aspect of her life–and that eating disorders “are never really about the food.” Also that hiding her disorder put her in “a paralyzing state of cognitive dissonance… It’s led me to feel even more disconnected when I… don’t address the elephant that has been crowding my room for many years.”

Boone’s story is sobering, and heartbreaking. She says she is not sure if she’ll ever be able to achieve good bone health, given the years of starvation she has put her body through. And she, correctly, refers to her eating disorder as a mental illness. She decided to go public with her story in the hope of helping others who may be suffering, and of educating the public that eating disorders, like bodies, come in many different shapes and sizes.

Boone doesn’t kid herself that she is recovered, knowing recovery will be a lifelong process. But she has ripped the bandaid of secrecy off, which is a very big step in anyone’s recovery. “I’m not ashamed any more,” writes Boone. “I’m not afraid any more. And, most importantly, I’m not starving any more. Instead, I’m full of hope.”