Becoming Brave by Emily Fanelli

2013- Making sure my heart was healthy enough for exercise

My relationship with food and exercise has always been complicated.

When I was twenty years old, I started spending too much time in front of the mirror. I ate no more than 800 calories per day, and I ran 5 miles every morning. My greatest joy was in manipulating numbers like these. Calories, miles, half-cups, teaspoons, and my body weight. I made rules and worshipped foods that were “safe” to eat. Once, my skin turned orange from a week of baby carrots. I was terrified I would always be “fat.”

Let’s also be clear that for me at this time, “fat” meant anything other than bone-thin hospitalized. The mental intricacies of anorexia are beyond the scope of what I’ll tell you about here, but I’d like you to trust me when I say, it is a prison built and maintained by your own worst fears. 

The time spent underweight was hard on my body, and the disease conditioned my mind to reject strong and healthy as code for “not thin enough.”

After I got the OK from my treatment team, I started to exercise again. 

At first, I used workouts exactly as I had been using them: to burn off what I ate and alleviate guilt. I made my way through every online workout program I could find, and the (still needed) weight gain stopped. 

At some point, a friend and I decided to try out a CrossFit gym. The idea of CrossFit intimidated me, but I had seen it help people lose weight, and I hadn’t yet given up on the idea of “thin.” Thankfully, instead of fueling my disorder, CrossFit helped me find my way to a barbell and the sport of Weightlifting.

During the 2015 CrossFit Open

Weightlifting changed the way I approached my world.

Working to become a better weightlifter was (and still is) a process requiring significant revision of my thought patterns. I lacked patience, trust (in myself and others), and confidence. 

In learning patience approaching the barbell, I learned patience with myself in my recovery. I found ways to trust my own mind and body as I grew to trust my coach and my teammates. I became stronger physically, and I became brave. Brave enough to face what scared me without needing to hide in a body too frail for my soul. 

It is important for me to include that weightlifting is not beneficial for everyone in recovery. I was worried at times that I had replaced one numbers-based obsession with another, but as I’ve grown and trained more, I realize I’ve been lucky enough to find a true passion. 

The arms I couldn’t lift above my head for fear of a shoulder slipping from its socket are the arms I now use to compete. Since the beginning of my recovery, I’ve restored sixty-five pounds I was never supposed to lose, and I’ve lived a much better life strong than I ever could thin.


During the 2017 Spring Invitational


To everyone reading this who suffers from an eating disorder or is struggling with exercise or food in their own way, you are not alone. Be gentle with yourself. Recovery is a long road, and I know you are tired. I know you want to give up sometimes. Please accept help from those who love you. Know that strong and healthy have no size. Accept strong and healthy as words used only to describe the best version of yourself.

Eating Disorder Information/Treatment Resources:

National Eating Disorders Association

National Institute of Mental Health

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Next Month's Guest Writer: Kate Wehr