Edinburgh high-jumper tells of eating disorder in new book

Jayne Nisbet in the High Jump final at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Jayne Nisbet in the High Jump final at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A TOP sporting career, a burgeoning business and the beauty to work as a model, success would appear to come easy for Edinburgh high jumper-turned-author Jayne Nisbet.

And yet with her athletic physique also comes frailty – manifesting itself in an eating disorder that cost her a place at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Former high-jumper Jayne Nisbet. Picture: Contributed

Former high-jumper Jayne Nisbet. Picture: Contributed

But the Baberton girl bounced back to represent her country at the 2014 Games – a tale of redemption recounted in her first book. “It’s very exciting. I’ve wanted to do it for a while,” says Jayne, 29, of Free-ed – out on October 16 and billed as a self-help guide for others to overcome self-sabotage.

“A lot of people were getting in touch about the issues I faced going into the Commonwealth Games – being self-destructive and how I overcame it.

“A lot of athletes were reaching out and asking for help. It was overwhelming, to be honest, how I was going to deal with all these people contacting me.”

And so the concept of Free-ed was born, as a “mass distribution” vehicle for Jayne’s struggles and ultimate triumphs.

Jane Nisbet. Picture: Contributed

Jane Nisbet. Picture: Contributed

The book tackles Jayne’s demons and her personal battle with bulimia that led to stomach ulcers, illness and contributed to her missing out on the Delhi Games.

“It’s about how to identify it and overcome it,” says Jayne. “I had to be in control of all aspects of my life.

“I tried to plan everything and every part of my life had to be perfect – how I looked, what I was doing and what I was 
eating.”

So warped had Jayne’s self-perception become, she started to misconstrue compliments.

Former high-jumper Jayne Nisbet. Picture: Ian Jacobs

Former high-jumper Jayne Nisbet. Picture: Ian Jacobs

“I had massive issues. When someone said I looked healthy, I took it to mean they were saying I looked fat.”

The condition would go undiagnosed through much of Jayne’s rise to the top of her sport that included six Scottish titles and an 
indoor record.

Only when a coach questioned her obsessive nature did alarm bells start to ring – but control is easily mistaken for commitment in the elite sporting arena.

“It took a trainer to tell me to stop panicking about everything – but that’s what makes you a successful athlete,” admits Jayne.

Yet her time as a model, in particular, opened Jayne’s eyes to the strain placed on girls to look a certain way.

“There’s definitely a pressure and massive issues,” she says. “The reason I’m open about this stuff now is I’m trying to get other girls to think about it.”

So passionate is she of the cause, Jayne has set up her own campaign to tackle body image preconceptions, beYOUtifulU.

The genesis of her travails go back further – all the way to her time at Merchiston’s George Watson’s College.

“Being a girl growing up can be very difficult – girls can be horrible,” recalls Jayne. “You have to look a certain way and be on top of your game.”

But despite the peer pressure, Jayne remembers with fondness the Capital and growing up in Baberton.

“I really miss Edinburgh and all my family are still up there,” she says, having moved to London four months ago to train fitness instructors.

And a special place in Jayne’s heart is reserved for Meadowbank, where she will be signing copies of the book on 
Tuesday.

“The coaching network there is unbelievable which shows in their success. Everybody is from Edinburgh. They train together, travel together and compete together, so they’re a team.

“It built strong characters. It would always be raining – I was praying for rain at the Commonwealth Games!”

And should campaigner, entrepreneur and author not fill her time, Jayne is pursuing a sporting second coming – as a long-distance runner.

She lines up in next year’s London Marathon to raise money for eating disorder charity Beat and has her sights set on qualifying for the New York race as a lead runner.

Yet it was so nearly a sporting comeback over before it barely began. “I had my kneecap crushed by a bike straight down the middle,” says Jayne.

“It was eight weeks with no walking and another eight weeks’ rehab before I could run.”

Remarkably, a year on and in only her third race, Jayne clocked the second fastest time in her category in Rome.

Few would bet against her overcoming the odds once more for a second tilt at sporting success. “Who knows,” she says. “I wouldn’t rule it out.”