Sebastian Perez’s toughest challenge wasn’t running the Miami Half Marathon, but in battling bulimia, the eating disorder that involves binge eating and purging.
In January, the 21-year-old ran in the 13.1-mile Miami Half Marathon, collapsing during the race.
“They took me to the hospital,” said Perez, a graduate of TERRA Environmental Research Institute, the high school in Southwest Miami-Dade, and who was working in McDonald’s at the time. “I asked for help. I stopped running.”
Perez was diagnosed with bulimia during his first year at Miami-Dade College in 2017, but his condition began during his senior year of high school when he became obsessed with what he should and should not eat. He would often wake up at 3 a.m. to run.
By early 2018, the lack of proper nutrition and excessive exercise led him to develop severe dehydration and malnutrition. Doctors had to insert a feeding tube to keep him alive.
“I would eat in the morning whatever I wanted and then I would have episodes of purging because I felt guilty,” said Perez.“I wouldn’t eat all day to compensate and I would run excessively.”
Over two months — December 2018-January 2019 — Perez dropped about 40 pounds, going from 140 pounds to nearly 100.
“It was getting bad at work I would get anxiety attacks. I would use my breaks and run in my McDonald’s uniform,” said Perez, who did not tell anyone about his disorder, fearing people wouldn’t believe a man could have an eating disorder.
In fact, men make up about 25 percent of bulimia cases, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
“Running was my escape and source of comfort,” said Perez. “I was in a trance when I was running. An eating disorder is more than just the food. It’s more than the nutrition, but also a lot of psychological factors.”
Running teammate Mallie Lesniewski noticed Perez’s weight loss.
“It’s something that is unfortunate, and most likely it is a lifelong battle you are battling — the demons in your head and society’s expectations,” said Lesniewski, whose sister-in-law suffered from an eating disorder.
Perez enrolled in a 12-week program at ViaMar Health in West Palm Beach. The program consisted of psychological and nutritional assistance. He was a resident for seven weeks, and attended the remaining five weeks at half-day sessions as an outpatient.
Perez credits his family and friends for giving him courage to enter the program, including his Go Run Coach Doug Nicaragua, who is excited to see him back. Nicaragua says Perez is a great athlete and a great kid.
“I feel ecstatic that he is back,” he said. “My runners are my kids.”
On Thursday, Perez will run in the annual Turkey Trot 5/10K run at Tropical Park on Thanksgiving Day. He started training with his Go Run team in September.
For him, the Turkey Trot is more than just about earning a medal or beating a time.
“I want to show people that when you put your mind to it, you can do anything,” he said. “You are never alone.”
If you go
The 2019 Baptist Health Turkey Trot Miami 5K/10K & Kids Race will be on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, at Tropical Park. To register, go to