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Amber Keegan: How low energy availability impacted my life

Amber Keegan is dreaming of representing Great Britain at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after overcoming serious injuries and mental health struggles.

Here, in the second of three articles, the 26-year-old gives an honest assessment of how low energy availability and an eating disorder impacted her life.

To the ‘outside world’, Amber Keegan appeared to be completely healthy.

As a competitive junior swimmer who had represented her country, it seemed the world was at her feet.

However, low energy availability had led to her developing an eating disorder which was having an impact on every aspect of her life.

She suffered more with injuries and illnesses, struggled to focus on her academic work and did her best to avoid social occasions.

Amber said there were a number of causes which led to her developing an eating disorder, including the ‘societal pressure’ on ‘how to look a certain way’.

“Low energy availability and my eating disorder both impacted my life in the same way,” said Amber. 

No area of my life that wasn’t affected

“I got more injuries and illness, I wasn’t as good at focusing on my academic work, I was less enthusiastic for social occasions or sometimes literally avoided them. 

“There was no area of my life that wasn’t affected but also, to the outside world, I still probably looked like I was doing good most of the time.

“That’s the difficult thing.

“There were lots of causes – some of it was purely accidental. At one point I was injured, so was training less and didn’t need quite as much food, but instead cut back way more than was needed without realising. 

Swim England has published two documents to help raise awareness about the potential health and performance consequences associated with low energy availability.

The guidance is broken down into information for coaches, team managers, support staff and welfare officers, with a separate document focused on specific advice for athletes and parents.

To view the documents, please click here.

“Some of it came from the pressure to look a certain way, watching other swimmers around me be put on diets or made fun of for being ‘fat’. 

“I think we all have this image in our head of what the ideal swimmer should look like and this is so ingrained, not just into our sport but into other sports, that even commentators on professional races will literally comment if someone is of a different body shape. 

“The societal pressure on women, and girls in particular, to look a certain way is huge and that’s only compounded by spending most of your time walking around in a swimming costume. 

“If you’re having a low-body confidence day, you can’t just shove on a baggy T-shirt in our sport.

You’re not alone

“On top of that, your body is literally changing shape in front of your own eyes and it’s a weird stage of life trying to navigate this whilst being on display to the world and having other people notice and comment on your body changing, too.

“Most people didn’t notice the problem with me until I started to lose weight and, honestly, most people with an eating disorder aren’t underweight, so it’s really too late if it takes you that long to notice. 

“I would say I was incredibly difficult to spot from the outside. In social settings, I would deliberately match my eating to what other people were doing so that I didn’t look out of place. Then at home by myself is where I would avoid food.”

Amber realises her journey has not been easy but hopes her experiences will help others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

And she has a simple piece of advice for anyone struggling with low energy availability or an eating disorder.

“You’re not alone,” said Amber. “Even if it feels like it.

“It’s never too early to get help. You absolutely do deserve it. The sooner you can get support, the swifter and fuller your recovery will be. 

“Educate yourself and get yourself better because your health is the most precious thing you have.”