Swapping Her Eating Disorder For The Olympics. How Professional Runner Charlotte Prouse Found Her Voice, Overcame Her Eating Disorder, And Now Has Her Eyes On The Olympics, Paris 2024
If you have ever struggled with food, you understand the level of hard it can be to make peace with food and your body.
Charlotte Prouse, 2-time NCAA Runner Up, 6-time All American, 3000M Steeplechase Western Hemisphere record holder, and professional runner knows this all too well.
I am so excited to have Charlotte, an amazing client, and incredible human, on the show to share her story of recovery, resiliency, and finding her voice in a high-pressure sport.
Funny Story: She hated me when we first met.
I was brought into her team to evaluate her clearance for sport participation because of her eating disorder.
Charlotte Prouse has battled anorexia during a crucial part of her life. While mentally she was not ok, physically she was winning. She is a 2-time NCAA Runner Up and 6-time All-American and is currently the Steeplechase Western Hemisphere record holder…
Those are some high expectations to keep up with.
Charlotte’s story is not short of obstacles (including literal AND physical hurdles— seriously she hops over these in her Steeplechase race). It is one that will leave you feeling inspired!
We wrapped up Eating Disorder Awareness Week last week and this is the perfect time to talk about recovery. If you have ever had an eating disorder or know someone who has, you are no stranger to the level of pain that comes with it.
One of the hardest parts about an eating disorder is that it often comes with shame and isolation. When our struggles are hidden they carry an even heavier burden. Our hope today is that Charlotte’s story inspires anyone out there who may be struggling.
You are not alone. There is hope. And recovery is possible.
Cheers, and happy eating,
Here is an excerpt from one of Charlotte’s journal entries:
“Trusting that this whole time I have not been lost, but rather learning to re-direct. Letting go of old ways that kept leading me to the same door, tricking myself to think I found a new path only to end up at the same destination.
This year has been filled with the hardest hurdles, battles, training & hard work of my life. And yet it consisted of the lowest mileage/least amount of races & workouts and no existent long runs.
Instead, my first year as a professional runner has been filled with confronting the most challenging competitor I have ignored for the last 5 years….. My eating disorder.
Saying that out loud is both terrifying and freeing. For years I have been shamed and gossiped by many, and allowed it to continue to tear me apart. It feels freeing to take the power away from those who write about people struggling on LetsRun forum, team group chats, social media & the gossip circle by simple word of mouth.
Instead of placing ourselves in the person who is struggling with shoes, we isolate them. We shame them. We blame them. We throw what “we heard” about them back in their face, we believe all is done in malice & continue to tear others down in hopes we find ourselves higher up.
This is what brought me to finally write something like this, finally owning my own story instead of hiding in shame for all that has been “heard”. To take my story back.
So yes… I, Charlotte Prouse, have struggled with an eating disorder from the fall of 2016 to present. And as incredibly trying, destructive & exhausting as it is & has been I also firmly believe that if I did not have this/these experiences I would have missed out on essential lessons, tools, pieces of myself I found, people I found & things I have been taught to build myself into the person I am today, and who I hope to be.
In the fall of 2016, I returned to the NCAA as the U20 Western Hemisphere record holder in the 3000mSC after placing 6th at World Junior Championships that summer. I ran 9:44 and my “whole” world changed.
Through the fall of 2016 I struggled incredibly hard. It was horrible. I was honest with my coaches, doctors, friends, and those who I felt needed to know. I starved myself because I was exposed to believe that this was the way to be “successful, dedicated, talented, fit, and look like a contender to be a top NCAA distance runner.” And it worked… For a short moment.
Half of my sophomore cross country season I was the “fittest” I had ever been, crushing races & workouts. I won the UW invite running 19:30 for 6km, placed top 5 at the Wisco Nuttycomb, and thought I was going to be a top contender at the NCAA Champs at the end of the season.
Instead, I continued to deprive myself, ignore care from the team doctors, and allow myself to believe that continuing to race was the best thing to do for both myself & the team. I allowed myself to be convinced to choose racing over; the impact it had on teammates, friends, family, and myself….. And it showed, with an incredible 208th place at the NCAA meet in Terre Haute IN & my entire world at that time came crashing down.
Things quickly happened from here. I stayed in Seattle over the Christmas break so I could stay in the intensive PHP ED clinic from December and on. I dropped out of all classes but 1 that was once a week for an hour at UW through the winter until March.
I was incredibly sick at this time, worse than the fall. The exposure in treatment to other sides of my mental illness consumed me, pushed me further in the hole & cracked my entire being. I was a shell of a person. I was a zombie in life, in treatment, who just wanted to “check off the box” so I
could return to the team ASAP. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could so no one in the running world would find out (which everyone found out anyways) if I listened to what boxes I was being told to check.
I was completely empty, both mentally & physically. I was incredibly depressed & dissociated from the world. I was for the first time in my life suicidal & actively acting on it. I wanted to leave, escape, give up and never face or open up ever again.
I suppressed any idea of not being “healed” because I had gone to treatment… I should be better!! Right?! That’s how it “works”, that’s what I was told would happen… wrong.
I let it eat me alive. I hurt people. I called for help in ways that hurt my friends, and people I loved and were completely out of character. I broke trust with people I love(d) and cared for.
So I left.
I left UW, the team, the state, the conference and went home. I went through about 2 months where I truly contemplated quitting competitive running. Staying at home and not running.
Being home reminded me of the version of myself I knew I could be when I allowed myself to be fueled & whole. Surrounded by past coaches & friends & old teammates that reminded me of the Charlotte they always have seen & loved.
So I transferred to UNM. I moved to a new place. A fresh start. A place I said would give me a sense of renewal/refresh & a second chance.
And it worked, for a moment. For some of my struggles. But the old wounds festered & new ones tore open.
The place, people, and team were all new. BUT I was still infected with old thoughts, beliefs, wiring, the trauma from the year prior, the ways of the “system” and the gossip about “Charlotte from UW” being thrown in my face.
Before even arriving at UNM, my fresh start…The gossip, the snapshot, the torn-out pages of a chapter from my book had already been read, Paraphrased, twisted, mixed around, and never once discussed With the main character… Me.
Although there are pages of my book and sentences or paragraphs that do hold truth…they Hold the unexplainable and inexcusable things that I have to live knowing that I have not only done but accept.
It still felt (feel) like I was living in the ultimate game of telephone. Where the creator/starter of the game is left on the sideline to just watch without questioning, Conversation, input, or even a moment of interjection.
Through 2017-2021, the remainder of my NCAA x UNM career I played the game of constant “Band-Aid fix” Like a craigslist plumber using tape to cover up the massive holes in the pipes of my own home. Ignoring the flooding basement. I covered up with distraction, delusion, dissociation, and destructive actions to help keep the disordered eating side of me thriving.
I denied myself help from anyone and acted as if there was no way people would ever suspect or think something still haunted my every thought. I faked it, acted like I was OK, and continued to perform on the NCAA stage then no one would suspect anything…I could try To dismiss The constant reminder Of The “Charlotte from UW.” I was wrong.
And I heard a lot of people acting that way. Again. I repeated the cycle. I repeated it through four years of my so-called second chance. I fulfilled the idea/forum written/game of telephone version of myself that the very niche elite running world both portrayed and saw me as. And it hurt.
It broke my heart over and over again. It frustrated me and the momentary glimpses of change in progress. It fueled the version of me that Proved me wrong. It confirmed the disordered version of myself I hated Being.
I gave the power to allow for an image to be created of meThat I knew to be false of my true character by playing that exact character for the majority Of my NCAA career. I pushed a lot of people away, and I hurt a lot of people. I only allow certain people to see the clearest, shame-filled, disordered and deepest parts of me.
I allowed myself to be hurt and to hurt others In past relationships. Where The snapshot of the disordered version of Charlotte overpowered any & all positive Experiences, Memories, and Moments. I allowed for my disorder to infect Almost all positive things in my life. It turned people I loved, it filled my relationships with a clouded And misinterpreted version of me. It held a version of Charlotte that was not truly who I was or wanted to be.
It gave the power For certain people to hold over me, to throw it in my face. To remind me of a version of myself that I was not. A version of me who was at her Sickest, most depressed & destroyed. It gave power to the idea that no matter how hard I recovered/grew/healed that I would always be reminded of that version of myself, that no matter what that was the black cloud people would remember and see first.
I like the quote “Finding yourself is not really how it works. You are not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and in accurate conclusion you were told represents you, your beliefs, and all you see yourself as. Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself. It is unlearning, and excavation, remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.”