Olympian Jessie Diggins Opens Up About Her Eating Disorder Relapse: ‘Relieving a Big Burden’ (Exclusive)

Jessie Diggins is telling her truth in hopes of helping others.

The 32-year-old Olympic cross-country skier opened up to PEOPLE about her journey, sharing that after 12 years in recovery from her eating disorder, she resurfaced this summer.

“It was really hard,” Diggins tells PEOPLE of learning her disease had returned. “I struggle with feeling pressured to be perfect, and a big part of that is the pressure I put on myself. Many different small stresses were piling up. It’s like if you go hiking and someone puts a little rock in your backpack, it’s not a big deal, but if you keep adding and adding and adding rocks, suddenly it’s a lot to walk every day. And it became very difficult. And that was difficult for me.”

For Diggins, recognizing that her bulimia had resurfaced was due to a change in mood. “I just realized that I was sick and tired, and I realized that I didn’t feel as strong as I should have,” says the gold medalist.

The US women’s national team had its best Olympic Games in 20 years in PyeongChang

“And when I realized that I was using my eating disorder to not have to feel things, that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, it’s back. And that’s the problem.’ And I like to wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to feel things. And when you use it to block out the feeling of pain, anger, stress or sadness, you also lose the feeling of joy and happiness and love and all good things.”

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

When it came to telling her husband, family and friends, Diggins admits it was “heartbreaking.”

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“It was hard to tell my husband and my parents simply because you don’t want to cause pain, stress and worry to the people you love, who love you,” she explains to PEOPLE. “But I also knew I should tell them; they want to be there for me and I have to let them in, and that almost immediately took quite a load off my shoulders. It was as if everyone reached into their backpacks and took out a bunch of stones and could carry them for me while I figured out how to throw them.”

Although she is grateful for all the support she has received, Diggins especially appreciates the empathy of her coaches. “Everyone reacted in a really great way, and I think it’s really important to talk about it because instead of panicking about what it means, everyone just said, ‘I’m sorry this is happening, but we really care about you as a person first. . Ski racing comes second, and all we want is for you to live a long, happy and healthy life, so that’s the priority.’ ”

Team USA’s Jessie Diggins receives the silver medal in the 30km cross country during the closing ceremony

Diggins feels the fear and vulnerability that comes with announcing a relapse, but she knows it’s best for her to share the news with the world.

“With social media, you can tell your story in a way that a lot of people will hear it, so I’m in this really unique position, at this point in my life, where I can help people and I can make it okay to talk about things, ” the cross-country skier tells PEOPLE.

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Jessie Diggins

Matthias Hangst/Getty

“If I can come out and have the courage to say, ‘Yes, I’m struggling with this, I’m working on this and I’m leaning on my support team,’ then maybe that can make it okay for other people to do the same.”

Diggins adds that between his 2020 book Brave enough and sharing her eating disorder story publicly in 2018, she received letters and messages thanking her for speaking out. “I’ve kept a lot of letters and they’re really moving, so I have proof that this is helping people and that it’s okay to talk about it is something that works — it also gives me a lot of courage.”

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Thinking about the future of his career is a “step-by-step” process for Diggins. “I’ll only train and race if it’s the right thing for me because my life goal is to be 80 years old skiing the Birkies with my grandkids, and that’s what I want more than racing or training right now,” the Olympian says.

“Regardless, I’m in a much, much, much better place right now, so I’m training and planning to come to our team’s camp in the fall. I would really like to race because it’s something that brings me a lot of joy and a lot of meaning.”

Diggins hopes that sharing her story will help others realize that “[an eating disorder] it shouldn’t be something that’s shameful.” The skier knows firsthand that eating disorder recovery isn’t “this perfect linear line,” but she wants people going through a similar experience to believe that hard work pays off.

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“It’s almost more like trying to train for cross-country skiing. You’re doing all this work and you might not see results right away. You may have to put it off for a while before you see that progress. But knowing that doing that work, that emotional, that mental work, it goes somewhere.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, visit NationalEatingDisorders.org.

Categories: Trends
Source: HIS Education

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