Three-time Olympian and two-time world champion hurdler Jana Pittman seemed to have the world at her feet at the height of her athletic career but behind closed doors she was secretly battling an eating disorder.
Pittman, now 35, developed bulimia nervosa in 2004 and spent the next decade battling a dysfunctional relationship with food while she was at the pinnacle of her sporting career.
‘As an elite athlete, you have to watch what you eat. For someone like me who loves food, this was hard,’ she said.
Hurdler Jana Pittman (pictured in 2004) has spoken out about her 10-year battle with bulimia
‘One evening, in the early stages of my bulimia nervosa, I recall going out and eating what I wanted. It tasted so good. But when I returned home, I threw it all up,’ Pittman said.
‘At the time, I was at the top of my game, competing globally and breaking world records.
‘Now with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my eating disorder was wrapped up in the really positive experience of achieving my dreams, which probably escalated my problem.’
For eight years, Pittman managed to hide her eating disorder from the world.
However, she said her calculated approach to eating and purging eventually began to spiral out of control.
The mother (pictured with her daughter Emily) said she developed an eating disorder in 2004
At the height of her success, Pittman said she was struggling with bulimia (pictured winning the women’s 400 m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Osaka in 2007)
‘Over time, I learned how to manipulate my body and to choose what I wanted to put into it.
‘However, the disease eventually took hold, and I moved from being in control, to the disease controlling me,’ she said.
This was certainly the case in January 2008 when Pittman’s marriage began to breakdown and she was struggling with an injury that put an end to her Olympic dreams.
‘I subsequently became moody, started bingeing on food, and purging regularly. My life began spiralling out of control,’ she explained.
‘It took many years for me to recognise that I had a binge eating problem. It wasn’t until 2008, when the disorder began to affect my marriage, that I finally sought professional help.’
As she fell into the grips of bulimia, the now-retired athlete – who won gold at two Commonwealth Games – said she felt the success had reinforced her illness
The mother, who recently published a biography entitled ‘Just Another Hurdle’, is now an newly ambassador to the InsideOut Institute – Australia’s first institute for research and clinical excellence in eating disorders based at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney.
She is also studying to become a doctor.
‘Im no longer in therapy, but up until two years ago, I was seeing many fabulous people who helped me to recognise the cause of my disorder, and armed me with many techniques to help counter it,’ she said.
‘I have moments when I eat something and experience a pang of guilt. But these days, I chose to just get on with it, and to start afresh again the following day.’
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please contact Inside Out or the Butterfly Foundation or call the national helpline on 1800 33 4673.