How CrossFit Saved Me From an Eating Disorder

by Allen Gil February 15, 2015

How CrossFit Saved Me From an Eating Disorder

There are two things I’m not going to do in this article:
  1. I’m not here to persuade anyone to start doing CrossFit; and
  2. I’m not going to whine about that time I basically had an eating disorder in college.

What I know to be true is that CrossFit absolutely helped me re-evaluate my fitness objectives and prevented me from further succumbing to the pressure to become thin for thin’s sake—a misguided goal that many of us are all too familiar with. If I can prevent anyone else from going through that bullshit, I'm going to, because my story is not unlike many others.

I look back at my behavior during that time—an obvious obsession with multiple daily workouts; being gripped with anxiety every few hours when I had to choose what to eat and how much; leaving classes early to make it to the gym with enough time to do extra cardio—and I know that if I saw another person acting that way, it would be clear to me that she had a problem.

There are two points that I do believe are worthy of addressing in this piece, however:

  1. “Disordered eating” is, in fact, a thing, and it should be discussed openly; and
  2. We all need to get on board with the notion that diet and exercise will absolutely give us the best version of our own bodies, but not anyone else’s.

So, the story proceeds thusly:

In college I discovered the transformative effects of diet and exercise: A powerful and positive set of tools, providing your relationship with them is healthy. Well, I got a little out of control. Exercise became more than an outlet, it became an Epicurean eraser. If I overate, tacking on an extra three miles to my (already lengthy) runs was like hitting a real-life backspace. It got the job done but it only taught me that I could make irresponsible choices and get away with it as long as I looked good. Except I never thought I looked good enough.


My unhealthy obsession with diet escalated after I became a personal trainer. Starkly contrasted with the advice I gave my clients to practice “everything in moderation,” I regularly found myself moving through phases of intense caloric restriction followed by a secretive binge, inevitable feelings of hypocrisy, and then more cardio.

Fast-forward roughly four years. I stop working exclusively as a personal trainer. Enter: CrossFit. After nearly two years of consistent training, I now recognize that I fell into a pattern of disordered eating, a habit that is destructive to both mind and body, and just an unbelievably shitty way to manage your relationship with food.

See, I discovered this because CrossFit helped me put a few things in perspective.

While the sport has given me a bounty of positive experiences, these three particular facets of the CrossFit mindset helped me overcome what might have been a life of quiet self-loathing:

1. A Body is Beautiful Because of What it Can Do

What’s the use of a gorgeous car if the battery is dead? CrossFitters value performance over aesthetics. You don’t need to have a ballerina’s physique or a six-pack to feel sexy if you can bang out a 400-meter run and 50 pull-ups faster than you did the day before, because that in and of itself is sexy. Concentrating on the development of skills rather than a weight loss or pant-size goal can help motivate you so much more than simply wanting to look good. I truly believe it is the secret to success that many people fail to incorporate into their health and fitness plans. CrossFit epitomizes the strong-is-sexy movement. Ability is attractive, if you will; ability makes you a badass.

And while we're on the subject, how many people do you think refer to the core group of Victoria’s Secret models as badasses? How about two-time Fittest Woman on Earth Annie Thorisdottir? The defense rests.

2. Earn Your Doughnuts, Then Eat Them


If you don't love to eat and celebrate food, you're missing out on a big part of the CrossFit experience. You work hard and earn your doughnuts. Period.

It's a beautiful thing, eating and not feeling ashamed about your choices, but that's because this is a sport that values health and performance over societal-imposed ideals of what healthy looks like. Healthy doesn't have to be slender thighs, and frankly, your chicken legs are probably not going to help you PR your back squat. While making proper food choices on a daily basis is a crucial part of any fitness program, the CrossFit mindset removes the added pressure of pretending that food doesn't taste good, which is a big, sad lie that dieting people routinely tell themselves.

Instead of avoiding food and believing it to be counterproductive to my fitness efforts, CrossFit has given me the freedom to drool over burgers and pastries and have a mimosa without worrying about the sugar content because obsessing over tiny cheats will only make you hate life. I can't begin to list the times Old Me had a near panic attack trying to schedule lunch dates based on a strict diet. Am I going to look like an asshole if I refuse to have a cocktail? If I do have one that's 140 calories. What if they serve bread? Ironically, I have found that even just embracing the idea of food has helped me find a more consistent style of clean eating, and I rarely crave "cheat" foods. Except for pizza or anything that remotely resembles it. That's always a go.

3. There is No Way to Change Your Body's Build—Just Go With It!

Sorry GOOP devotees, pilates isn't going to make you look like Gwyneth Paltrow if you're more of a Sofia Vergara. Restrictive diets won't, either. So, unless you want to look and feel like a wet rag, I'd suggest ditching restrictive dieting and stop relegating yourself to Cosmo-approved methods of getting skinny, unless that's the body type you have to begin with.

For me, the best part about CrossFit is that I finally found a culture that favors my natural build: Muscular, leanish—"petite compact," as some people put it. That's when it clicked for me and that's when I really began to repair my relationship with food. I finally found a physical ideal that I could actually achieve because it was based on my build, so the obsession over what I didn't have (a size 2 butt, twig arms) was unnecessary.

You have to be real with yourself when you look at improving your overall health and fitness. Whatever your build—lean legs with a round middle, top heavy, pear-shaped—remember that coveting a body type that is different than yours means you will never achieve your ideal body. Better to adapt and create the best version of what you've got than pine for what you don't, right? I think so.

Living by those three principles has helped me immensely. Every day that I accept my strengths and weaknesses for what they are, the happier I get. And I can definitely thank CrossFit for that.

I hope it is clear that this piece was not written to harp on the ins and outs of my particular experience, but as a way to reach others who feel as frustrated as I once did. You don't have to look like a skeleton to have an eating disorder; you don't have to be clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder to suffer from disordered eating. It might not threaten your existence but it can definitely diminish your happiness, and life's too short for that nonsense.

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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