Mountain biking brightens my life. Through the intensity of the races and the close bonds with my teammates, I have become a more resilient, joyful, and confident person. But also, mountain biking changed my relationship with food at a time when I needed it the most, and showed me how to use food and exercise to thrive and improve. 

When "Too Healthy" Became Unhealthy

Hannah Bernier

I can’t tell you the root cause, but during my sophomore year of high school my attitudes toward food and exercise changed. I began trying to eat better and started running on the treadmill to keep in shape for soccer season. I was healthier, faster, and goal-driven. Until I wasn’t.

This focus on exercise and healthy eating quickly became an obsession. I would run religiously every night. I would refuse to eat anything I thought was unhealthy. I convinced myself I had a healthy lifestyle. But this “healthy” life was wearing on me.

Hannah Bernier

I lost weight. A lot of it, and quickly. Finally, when I went to the doctor, she gave me a concerned look and had me consume nutritional drinks to get my weight up. The summer after sophomore year, I drank my Ensure every day, wavering between dread and elation over my return to a normal weight. I slowly started to press on the forces controlling my eating and exercising habits. 

When Mountain Biking Entered My Life

During this difficult time I began to mountain bike. I started going on short rides with my dad, and eventually joined a mountain bike team of students in the Phoenix area. By the end of the summer, I decided to race in the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League during the fall.

Hannah Bernier

After the first race, I was hooked. I loved my teammates and discovered how amazing racing through forests and deserts could be. I amped up my training, going out to ride anytime I had a free hour. I exercised not because I felt I had to, but because I genuinely loved riding my bike. 

How It Changed Me

Although I continued to wrestle with feelings of guilt related to food, I started to see food as my fuel for races and rides, to give me energy and a chance to compete with my full focus. Each time that ugly feeling came back, I told myself, “this is going to make you stronger in the races."

Soon, I realized that I no longer felt controlled by negative emotions when it came to eating. My unhealthy habits lost their power over me, and I grew stronger every day. I continued to improve my riding skills and learned how to help my body recover after rough rides and races.

Hannah Bernier

I can now say that I’m out of the dangerous patterns I slipped into, and enjoy pancakes, cookies, and cakes after long rides in the desert. I'm still working on balance and moderation, but I now have a better sense of my desires and limits.

I eat healthy foods because I enjoy them. I exercise because I’m happiest when outside and active. Mountain biking changed my relationship with food by teaching me how food and exercise have the power to elevate my life.

Hannah Bernier