By Alyce Collins
A FIGURE SKATER developed anorexia and dropped to FIVE STONE from tirelessly fighting to become a better skater to the point of only chewing gum to survive and being told by medics she was just weeks from death.
Student, Nicole Rossi (21) from Michigan, USA, was an avid figure skater after finding out she had a real talent on the ice but having to eat healthily for the sport led to obsessive behaviours, including starving herself for weeks on end.
Nicole first began figure skating when she was just 18 months old receiving her first pair of skates. She later began struggling with an eating disorder at the age of 16 when the need to be a better skater led her to control everything she ate and constantly decrease her calorie intake.
Having anorexia meant Nicole had to stop skating because she no longer had the strength to get onto the ice as she was addicted to losing weight and feeling empty, resulting in her eating just one apple a day for two weeks running, and some days only having a piece of chewing gum to stave off her hunger pangs.
At her lowest weight, Nicole weighed just 5st 4lb with a BMI of just 13.9, which is well below the healthy range of 18.5 – 24.9. Nicole wore a children’s size small, which was still too big for her tiny frame. Now, Nicole has restored a healthy physique and weighs 7st 5lb and wears an adult size small.
“Figure skating is what led to my anorexia and it worsened my thoughts,” said Nicole.
“Initially I thought I had to eat only healthy and clean foods in order to be a good skater.
“At first, I changed my eating habits into only eating healthy foods, but this led to me staving myself to the point where I couldn’t even skate anymore.
“I trained for two to three hours a day, five times a week on the ice, and then I did one or two hours of cardio off the ice each week.
“I started counting calories and became very obsessed with lowering the number. I got this high from starving myself and exercising.
“I also became obsessed with exercising, so I’d train for hours on the ice five days a week and then run a few miles on the treadmill each day.
“The more I exercised, the less I ate. Once the disease took hold of me, I didn’t even care about skating anymore. All I cared about was the number on the scale, how many calories I ate and the number of calories I burned.
“When I was in the depths of anorexia, I felt very isolated from the world and I wouldn’t hang out with any of my friends because I was too focused on starving myself and exercising.
“I knew hanging out with people would involve food. I refused to have family dinners and I’d never go out to eat.
“I then became too physically ill to even do basic functions. I could barely walk to the bathroom and I’d have to lie down in the shower because I was too weak to stand.
“I could feel that I was dying, I felt very zombie-like and had no personality left but all I cared about was losing more weight and eating as few calories as possible.
“I became so addicted to losing weight and starving myself that I didn’t care that I was losing my life.
“I couldn’t skate anymore because my anorexia became too severe. All my muscle had wasted away, and I was too weak to do anything besides lie in bed and sleep all day.
“I ate one apple a day for two weeks straight and a week with only chewing gum at my most severe. Before this, I went two months straight with eating just 300 calories a day.
“I also used laxatives for about three months because I was unable to go on my own and I noticed that I felt ‘emptier’ and the number on the scale would go down after using them.
“They made me feel miserable to the point where I’d cry on the bathroom floor for hours, but it seemed worth it because my stomach felt more sunken and the weight went down each time.”
Nicole started seeing a therapist after being hospitalised and doctors told her she had just weeks left to live because her organs were shutting down. Nicole’s health was so poor that her hair began falling out in clumps, she fainted multiple times a day and felt freezing even in soaring temperatures.
Nicole thanks her family, friends and her boyfriend who have supported her and helped her get the professional help she so desperately needed.
The shock of being told she was so close to losing her life made Nicole realise how important it was to recover and how much she wanted to live.
“I was told that I only had a few weeks to live, but I didn’t think that I had gone that far,” said Nicole.
“I was literally knocking on death’s door and I was terrified. I didn’t want to die.
“So, I made the choice to start eating simply because I wanted to live. I have a wonderful boyfriend who I want to have a future with.
“I wanted to be able to have kids and build a family together, and I knew I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t alive.
“You aren’t truly living when you have an eating disorder. I needed to give up on my anorexia and start living, instead of my life being revolved around food, weight and calories.
“I wouldn’t have been able to recover without professional help. My doctors and therapist saved my life. My wonderful family and boyfriend have also been my number one supporters throughout this entire process.
“I can look at life much differently now, and I value myself more now. After almost dying from anorexia I feel more grateful just to be on this earth.
“I no longer value training or skating over my own health. I was inspired to change career paths to now become a therapist. I want to be able to help others who suffer from anorexia because I know exactly what they’re going through.
“Recovering from anorexia nervosa is a life long process. Even when I have bad days I know that I never want to go back to anorexia again.
“I’ve had to stop training and competing for skating, stop counting calories and stop stepping on the scale. I also stopped body checking which I used to do constantly when I was checking for bones and stop chewing gum.
“I’ve also got to stop eating the same ‘safe foods’, enabling me to try foods I hadn’t had in years.
“Looking back at the painful memories has made me a stronger woman. I feel strong to have beaten anorexia and I feel lucky that I survived and can share my story.”
Nicole hopes to inspire other sufferers to seek help and not keep quiet about their illness by being open about her journey. She has now been able to get back on the ice, although not competing, but she can skate for her own enjoyment.
“The first thing I would say is to reach out to someone, either a parent, family member, friend or even a stranger,” added Nicole.
“Tell them you are struggling and that you need help.
“In order to recover from an eating disorder you need to seek professional help. You also need to recognise or admit that you have a problem to move forward.
“When you keep your eating disorder to yourself, the disease gets stronger. Anorexia thrives on secrecy. An eating disorder will have less control over you when you allow yourself to open up about it.”
You can find out more about Nicole’s journey at @nicolerossi_3.