From Eating Disorder To Coach: How My Battle With Anorexia Helped Me Discover My Passion For Helping Others

Sharing my story has always been a struggle. Full disclosure, it’s taken me 3 months and about 4 drafts before finally hitting “send”. I’ve spent years crafting this image of the “fit guy”, but in reality I’ve had to walk through some really dark times to get where I am today. I’m afraid of what people will think of me because I battled (and still struggle) with a disease that is primarily classified as “female”. Of course an eating disorder isn’t something you bring up around your buddies while drinking beer and watching football. Are you kidding me? No way! But it’s time I lay that fear aside in hopes that a piece of my story would be able to help and encourage someone else. So here it goes.

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and struggled with low self esteem. Just like the fear of sharing my story, I’ve always been overly concerned with what people think of me. I’m a people pleaser and I just want people to like me and think I have it all together, when of course I don’t. I’m not sure where these traits came from or how they developed, but they led me down the road of an eating disorder as I navigated through the awkward years of middle school. I watched as my friends became men while I looked down at my squishy frame which only added to my low self esteem. I left my shirt on at pool parties, began to avoid social gatherings, and quickly lost friends. I thought if I could just get in shape and be happy with the way I looked I would gain confidence, friends, and respect.

So I decided to begin exercising and eating healthy. At first it was a good thing. I began eating a little less than I used to and started running. Back then people still believed that lifting weights at a young age stunted your growth so that was out of the question, and I don’t even think I knew what a push up was at the time. So I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement. 1 mile turned into 2. 2 turned into 5. 5 turned into 7. I’d leave the house and not return for hours, logging mile after mile, day after day.

At the same time I started eating less. A lot less! At first I eliminated the daily honey bun I had been eating for years prior. I saw results. Combined with the excessive running each day, I quickly began to lose weight. Even then I would look in the mirror and hate what I saw and think that if I just lost a bit more fat here and there, I would be happy and people would like me. So I ran more and I ate less, and less, and less. I exercised obsessively even as my body deteriorated.

I remember one day after school walking across the courtyard and feeling like I was going to black out. I began seeing spots, my head started spinning, and I felt like at any moment I was going to collapse in the middle of the school courtyard and die. I ran to the snack bar, bought a granola bar, and quickly scarfed it down. The only thing I had eaten all day. I was in a dangerous place and my body dysmorphia, anorexia, and exercise addiction were going to kill me.

My parents saw the path I was on and quickly pulled me out of school, began homeschooling, and sent me to begin working with a dietician. I agreed to go see the dietician but was doubtful she was going to be able to change the physical and psychological damage that had been done over the last year. I slowly began to recover. I learned about proper nutrition and what my body needed to look, feel, and perform it’s best. My mindset toward food slowly began to change and I finally saw the harm I was doing to myself. It didn’t happen overnight. It took an entire year to break down the deadly habits and mindset I had developed, but by the grace of God I slowly began to develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and my own body.

After a year of recovery, I finally reached a healthy weight and my parents agreed to send me back to school. I entered high school as a scrawny 15 year old kid determined to make friends and excel at sports. I knew to make it on the high school athletic field I was going to need to get bigger and stronger. The year + of battling anorexia and body dysmorphia had taken a toll on me, and while I had reached a healthy weight, I still was one of the smallest kids on campus.

Everything changed when I walked into the high school weight room for the first time and saw a senior football player named David, bench pressing 225 lbs. David is now a professional bodybuilder and owns a company called Dynamic Fitness where he trains other people for bodybuilding competitions. I immediately decided I wanted to be just like him! At first I just would weirdly follow him around the weight room during our weightlifting class and try to copy exactly what he did. Soon he caught on to what I was doing and was kind enough to answer my flood of questions and even let me lift with him on occasion. I soaked up every bit of knowledge I could. I quickly fell in love with training and became hungry to learn more!

I made the high school baseball and football teams, and that only fueled my passion for training. I was never the most talented and to be honest I was one of the least talented in both sports, but I was determined I wasn’t going to let anyone out work me. Most of my teammates lived for Friday Nights under the lights or hitting the game winning home run, but I preferred the off season. I loved the camaraderie that was forged in summer training camp and in the weight room through hard work and discipline. I soon was given the nickname, “Sarge” for my military like discipline in the weight room and at practice. While most kids chose to play basketball during our weightlifting class, I was in the weight room training.

I went on to attend college in Tallahassee at FSU. My dorm was a mere 1/2 mile from the campus gym and I spent most of my first year living at the gym. My roommate was trying to walk on to the football team that fall and I made it my personal mission to help him make the team. We would spend roughly 3 hours every day training together in the gym, at the track, at the stadium, and on the field. I spent hours scouring the internet looking for the best training methods, workouts, and nutrition information to help us both reach peak fitness and help my roommate make the greatest college football team in the world. After a few months of training together, he made the team and went on to win a National Championship with FSU in 2013.

While searching for new training methods, I stumbled upon a youtube video of Rich Froning, Josh Bridges, and Dan Bailey competing at the 2011 CrossFit Games. In the event they had to swim in the ocean, perform sets of push ups, pull ups, and squats, and then finish with a 1 mile run on the beach. The guys looked like superheroes and whatever they were doing looked like an absolute blast! I immediately looked up the nearest CrossFit Affiliate and joined CrossFit BlackBox the very next day.

Less than a year after doing my first CrossFit workout, I earned my CFL1 Certification and the owner of CrossFit BlackBox was gracious enough to offer me a position on the coaching staff. My passion for coaching and helping others quickly rivaled my own passion for training and I knew I wanted to pursue coaching as a career, but I had no idea where to start. My mom jokes that, “I majored in CrossFit since I probably spent more time at the gym than I did in a classroom. She’s right!

Hannah and I got married as soon as I graduated from FSU and it finally came time for me to get a “real” job. I began work at a marketing firm in Tallahassee, but continued to pursue my passion for helping others with their health and fitness. I would wake up before dark and coach classes and run PT sessions before heading to the office, then clock out at 5 and head back to the gym to coach for another hour. Looking back now it seems crazy, but coaching people and seeing them succeed brought me life! It gave me energy! It gave me purpose! And that’s exactly what I wanted out of life.

One night Hannah and I sat down at our dining room to try to map out our future and where God was calling us. It didn’t take long before Hannah said, “Why don’t we open a gym?” Sometimes all you need is for someone to truly believe in you and tell you that you CAN do something. That you are capable and they believe in you, and even if you don’t get it right the first time they are willing to ride the ups and downs of chasing what’s possible. Much like a coach, that’s exactly what Hannah did for me. Together, we made plans to open CrossFit Townie in Thomasville, GA.

Fast forward 5 years and we’ve now been blessed with the opportunity to help hundreds of people with their health and fitness goals and find confidence in themselves. My personal fitness journey has had many ups and downs, but I know that each part of my story and each person along the way has played a pivotal role in helping me heal and discover my passion for fitness and helping others. I’m excited for what God has in store next for our family, our business, and our community as we aim to help people get healthy and freed up for maximum impact.

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