Allie Ostrander competing in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase heats at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Sept. 27, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
EUGENE, Oregon – After baring her soul to the world about her eating disorder and recovery, Allie Ostrander is running her heart out at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field.
“I’m tired of keeping secrets,” Ostrander, 24, said on Instagram on June 11, linking to an emotional video on her YouTube channel that was filmed five weeks into her recovery program. “I’m tired of telling half truths. But most of all, I’m tired of living with an eating disorder.”
Nine days later, Ostrander ran in the first round of the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Trials. Sixth in her race and 11th fastest overall, Ostrander was one of 14 women who qualified for Thursday’s final.
Her time of 9 minutes, 35.56 seconds, her third-best career performance at the distance, is even more remarkable given what Ostrander has been going through.
In that Instagram post, the three-time NCAA steeplechase champion from Boise State revealed that she left altitude camp with her Brooks Beasts team to enter a partial hospitalization program for eating disorder recovery.
“This has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It is challenging, uncomfortable, uncertain, and pretty much every other feeling that I just don’t like,” Ostrander wrote. “I’m really scared, but I always tell myself that being scared isn’t a good reason to not step to the line for a race, and I think that rings true here as well.”
Her nearly 17-minute YouTube video, titled “The Truth About Eating Disorder Recovery,” has already been viewed 64,000 times. She begins the video by covering her face with a folder, but gathers strength as she talks.
“I really want to be the example that I needed when I was younger,” Ostrander said. “Maybe if I had seen this story when I was 12 or 11, when all this was starting, maybe it would have kept me from being in the position that I’m in today.”
Ostrander spelled out the reasons why she overcame her initial reluctance to tell her story and also offered guidance to others who may be struggling with an eating disorder.
“One of the major things that was a motivation for me sharing this with everyone despite all my fear, shame, anxiety, etc. surrounding telling the world about this and my mental illness,” she said, is that she really wants “to help to normalize mental illness and especially eating disorders as well as pursuing recovery as the No. 1 priority.
“Because eating disorders are incredibly prevalent, especially in the running community.”
Ostrander explained that entering treatment wasn’t actually her decision. She said some of the doctors at USA Track & Field as well as her coach, Danny Mackey, and people at the corporate offices of her sponsor Brooks Running “felt that this needed to happen, so I was pretty much told ‘Do this, or you get dropped,’” she said.
Ostrander had been afraid of jeopardizing her Olympic hopes with the Trials coming up, but recognized that “long term health and living a full life is more important than a season.”
As she sat in front of her bed to film the video, Ostrander said, “It sucks, I hate it, but I,” she paused for a few moments, “am glad I’m here, I guess.”
She also said she was “super thankful to Brooks and USATF for being so supportive through this process and even helping to cover some of the financial strain, so that’s obviously huge.”
Ostrander grew up in Kenai, Alaska, where she won 10 state championships in four years. After winning her third straight NCAA title, Ostrander, who graduated from Boise State with a degree in exercise science and a 4.0 grade point average, turned pro in 2019. She ran in the 2019 world championships, then suffered a torn Achilles tendon in 2020.
In a 2019 Instagram post, Ostrander called out ESPN commentators at the NCAA meet for comments that have “brought attention to my appearance more than my ability” and that she said were “objectifying and unnecessary.” She added, “In a sport where eating disorders and body dysmorphia are so common, the media has an opportunity to help women (and men!) feel capable, powerful, and worthy, but, by focusing on appearance and body proportions, this opportunity is missed.”
Ostrander posts videos on her YouTube channel, which has 14,500 subscribers, about her training, including one from March 30 titled “WHAT A PRO RUNNER EATS” that delves into “how I fuel myself surrounding a workout.”
Yet few people knew what Ostrander was dealing with privately.
“I feel shame just because I couldn’t do this on my own and that’s upsetting to me,” she said in the recent video, “because there’s so many areas of my life where I feel really capable and then there’s this super basic human function - literally everyone has to do just to stay alive, and that’s eating - and I can’t even do that properly. I am so frustrated with myself for that and feel so ashamed that I need to be in this center 10 hours a day to make sure that I can eat enough.’
Ostrander also said she felt guilt and shame “because I hate that I have contributed to the toxic structure of an obsession with leanness and fitness and body size, and appearance over ability and I am just so frustrated with myself, because I want to be a good example and I don’t want the next generation to feel the way that I feel.”
She added that a lot of the things she did around food and exercise were not healthy or right. “I am not an example at this point and I am trying so hard to become one,” Ostrander said, “but I’m not one right now, so just know that and know that I’m truly sorry, and I really, really want to make up for any damage I’ve done by sharing my story with mental illness and recovery. So bear with me, I’m going to be better.”
She said she doesn’t feel enough is being done about eating disorders. “I think it should be normal for athletes to be screened for eating disorders and encouraged or even, honestly, forced to pursue treatment to be able to compete on the team,” Ostrander said.
She believes the problem should be targeted earlier, such as in high school or college, and it’s not enough for a coach to tell athletes to eat enough food.
“Someone that has an eating disorder knows that they’re not eating enough food,” she said.
Ostrander said there’s always a reason not to go into treatment, always a feeling that it’s not the right time.
“You’re not really fully living your life until you recover from your eating disorder because your eating disorder is living your life,” she said. “They’re in control. So if you have doubts about your relationship with food, talk to a medical professional to see if treatment is a good idea for you and just try to tackle it as soon as you can because the longer it goes on, the harder it gets.”
Ostrander said there also aren’t enough examples of elite athletes who have gone through intensive eating disorder recovery. The ones who do share their stories have done it when they came out the other side.
“I don’t know what other people were feeling at this point because I’ve only heard the success stories, so I want to share this right now, in the middle of it,” she said.
Another reason for sharing is Ostrander’s belief in being authentic and showing her true personality in person and on social media, where her description says: “I specialize in sarcasm, ice cream consumption, and laying on the floor.”
Ostrander promised to continue to show her journey, “the ups and the downs, because if you can even help one person, that’s worth it to me because if I had been that one person my life would be so different.”
She also said she would answer questions and would be open to ideas about other videos on her recovery.
An Instagram post on Tuesday showed a photo of Ostrander after clearing the steeplechase water jump with the words “Eyes on the final.” One of the hashtags was #runhappy