‘I had never felt so alone in all of my life’

In a high-performance environment where athletes are training, people around them can feel entitled in the worst possible way.

They often think they have a say over an athlete’s body, how it should look and how it should be treated.

As a result of pressure to be ‘super skinny’, 10-time British cycling champion Charlotte Broughton has battled with under-eating and accepting how her body looks since the age of 13.

Her under-eating has led to some drastic moments after races, but had a much deeper impact on her day-to-day life. From blacking out during training to severe dizziness after her workouts, Charlotte’s career has been riddled with injury and illness.

“I’ve often been fed sweets and high-sugar foods by doctors in ambulances after races,” says 21-year-old Charlotte. “At first it felt drastic, but then it just became commonplace.

“I never had enough energy to do everyday things so focusing for training and school was something I drastically struggled with. On the other hand, I felt I was in control when I wasn’t eating.”

This control led to feelings of euphoria and under-eating became addictive. She had always received backlash for being ‘fat’ or ‘too skinny’. It was constant and came from all sorts of people. Through under-eating and being skinny, Charlotte felt as though she was wrestling back control from those pressuring her to look different.

“I was being bullied at school and in cycling so being skinny and not eating helped me to feel on top of everything,” says Charlotte. “When I saw the gap between my thighs, saw my bones prominently or could feel my hip bones rub against my jeans, I felt euphoric.

“When people commented on me being skinny, even if it was an insult, I didn’t take it as one. Being told to ‘eat up you skinny bitch’ was a total rush of dopamine for me.”

Below the surface, however, the sense of control was a catalyst for a steep downward spiral, which lasted for several years. It affected her daily life as she felt constantly on edge and behaved erratically. She now admits that her behaviour wore her out and she hated herself for it, but she just could not get it under control.

“My own relationships were very volatile, which was my own doing,” she explains. “I was completely closed off and isolated. I wouldn’t talk honestly about things and due to my eating habits, I would just lie thorugh my teeth to have people get off my beck. I’d never felt so alone in all of my life.

“Every day I’d lie about my food intake. I’d throw my lunch in the bin or give it to a friend. I’d skip meals and wear baggy clothing. I felt so worthless and depressed. I tried to get help but was refused by two institutions. If you think drug addicts are the most deceptive addicts then you’ve never met an under-eater.”

Now, Charlotte feels that she has more control over her issues and it’s a better ‘type’ of control. Despite still being a cyclist and training regularly, she is at a healthy weight and eats well. When asked how she managed to make such a recovery, she can’t find an answer.

With no professional help or official diagnosis from any medical professionals – most of whom turned a blind eye or sent her away with leaflets on diet – Charlotte has taken this journey alone.

While she will never be completely happy with how her body looks, she looks back on years gone by through a different lens. Taking steps to make sure she doesn’t slip back into old thinking habits is also key to her daily life.

“I look back at photos of myself from when I felt fat and think ‘wow, I was skinny there’ or ‘that doesn’t look healthy.’ Either way, I’ve never been satisfied with how my body looks,” she says. “I don’t own a set of scales anymore as I don’t want to trigger myself into old ways of obsessing over weight.”

Through her Instagram page, Charlotte shares her stories and actively encourages others to talk about theirs. She is a passionate advocate of mental health awareness and general kindness. Without prompting, she issues a plea to encourage other people to talk.

“Please talk about mental health issues you have,” she says. “Whether it’s a professional or someone you trust, please just let someone know. You don’t have to suffer alone and you really shouldn’t. You don’t deserve this and your brain is lying to you. You are not alone.”

While many people try to have a say over how athletes’ bodies look, Charlotte is the perfect example that you are the only one who is entitled to ultimate control of your body and, most importantly, your brain too.

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