Creating Community: Recovery is Better Together (Guest Post by Sarah DeGraff)

Sarah DeGraff is a Grand Rapids, Michigan native running the Afton 50K Trail Race this Saturday, June 2. She decided to run this race and raise funds for Running in Silence to support bringing eating disorder awareness to more athletes and coaches around the country. Every $1,000 donated helps us reach another group of athletes and/or coaches. You can donate here!

Sarah holds a BA in International Development. She is currently earning her Master’s in Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she is researching organic vegetable variety trials. Previously, she has worked as an Agricultural Extension Educator with UW-Madison Division of Extension. She enjoys running on the Ice Age Trail and Kettle Moraine trails nearby, as well as gardening, backpacking, hiking, traveling, and biking.

I ran my first marathon at age 27. “Limped through” is probably a more accurate description. Thanks to IT band issues I had throughout training, I wound up walking the final three miles into the finish chute. I immediately signed up for another race, despite my coworkers laughing at me as I hobbled around the office for the following week.

I had fallen in love with the training process of endurance sport.

I am not a traditional athlete. I didn’t join a track or cross-country team in high school or college. Training competitively started about five years ago, when I joined a marathon training team organized by a local running store. When my pace improved, I signed up for as many road races as I could.

Two years later, I moved away from friends and family to work on an organic farm in northern Wisconsin and began to train for my first ultramarathon trail race on my own, away from friends and family. I stayed busy working forty hours a week on the farm plus ten hours of training. The improvements I saw in my running performances added to the excitement. I felt a strong emotional connection to running, identified myself as a runner, and started to win age group awards and place in races.

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What I learned as a Collegiate Runner Majoring in Dietetics (Guest Post by Maggie Farrell) Part II

Read Part 1 of Maggie’s Journey here.

Donate to her Running in Silence marathon journey fundraiser here!

My eating disorder and running goals had me focusing on one common thing: how to be less. How I could spend less time on the cross-country course or track? Eat less throughout the day? Weigh less on the scale? And take up less space in this world? These thoughts of how to be less took up most of the space in my brain. It seemed the better I got at running, the more mental space was taken up by these goals.

This hyper-focused mindset, in addition to the irritability that came with under-fueling, made it difficult for me to form meaningful relationships and spend time with the ones I loved.

Looking back at the time I was struggling the most with my eating disorder, I can now identify several ways my social life and relationships were impacted:

  1. I went to bed early due to a fear of eating too much or “giving in” to my cravings. At this point in my life, it was a miracle to find me out of bed past 8 p.m. I was afraid the later I stayed up, the less willpower I had, and the more likely I would eat more food. Plus, thanks to the lack of energy I was consuming at the time, I just didn’t have the energy to stay up late.
  2. I turned down offers to go to social gatherings where food was involved. I would do just about anything to avoid my “fear foods.” These are foods that people avoid due to negative thoughts about the healthfulness of the food. I avoided foods that were commonly deemed by society as “bad” since I thought they would make me run slow or gain weight. I would do just about anything to avoid these foods.
  3. My thoughts were always dedicated to food. Like I said earlier, most of my thoughts at this point in my life were dedicated to food and my diet. How could I cut a couple of extra calories from my diet? What would I allow myself to eat the next day? Is the dressing that they served with my salad “healthy?” How many more calories should I eat today? This obsession with food was exhausting, but I couldn’t control my thoughts, so I just tried to ignore them. Little did I know that this was my body’s cry for help. I was starving.
  4. I didn’t have much energy for social events, and I was easily irritable. As I mentioned in my previous post, constant under-fueling translated into me feeling irritated a good proportion of the time. In addition, I was restricting my caloric intake, which meant I didn’t have the energy to do much else other than run.

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A Destructive Numbers Game

One season.

I thought it was just a numbers game. I thought it was just about having discipline and willpower. I thought it was running until you threw up, gritting your teeth, pushing through pain, just as I started to push through hunger.

I thought I was smarter than my body; that to lose my period and happiness was a worthy sacrifice.

I had one season.

I had one season where I accomplished the dreams I had set for myself for years. One season where I felt the wave of praise, admiration, and accomplishment, while each night I lay in bed thinking about the next meal I’d allow myself to eat.

I thought it was just a numbers game–calories in, calories out. That emotional eating was “bad,” and “wrong,” that I didn’t “want it bad enough” if I gave in too quickly to my emotional and physical cries. I had seen this occur so often in running; how would it not easily translate to how I lived outside of each run?

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NEDAW: “Let’s Get Real” with Recovery and the Prevalence of Eating Disorders

The first time I “got real” was in an email to my mom.

“I think I have an eating disorder,” I wrote.

In that moment, I recalled the terror and pain of binge eating alone each night. I thought of the race, days prior, where I had revealed my bloated, heavy body for the first time in months.

All-American runner from freshman year, gone?

My mom wasn’t sure what to think at first. We were talking about my binge eating experiences before it was even a diagnosable eating disorder in the DSM.

After our conversation, I feared speaking up again. But there’s something about talking–about getting real with all of this–that prompted me to say something more.

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Interview with National Champ Erin Herrmann: Speaking Up About Eating Disorders

I had the privilege of interviewing National Champion for the 3000m Steeplechase from Hope College Erin Herrmann, who came out about her eating disorder in May. She shares her story and advice for others who may be struggling in the video interview below! Her biggest tip? TALK ABOUT IT.

“Trust in the love of the people you are surrounded by. They will help you see what you need to see in yourself.”

“They Just Disappeared”: Beyond Anorexia in Runners

Post updated March 16, 2021, to improve clarity and readability.

We often picture eating disorders in the running world in the form of a frail girl crossing the finish line. There’s an assumption that this person will run into multiple stress fractures in the next few years. And that, that is how they will disappear from the ranks as quickly as they came.

Injury. Lack of energy. Infertility. We bring up these consequences of not eating enough, of becoming too thin. Meanwhile, the least-discussed part of this “disappearing act” is what you might call the other side of anorexia: binge eating disorder, a very common rebound effect from restricting calories or food groups.

Binge Eating Disorder

Just as serious as anorexia (and even more common), binge eating involves consuming vast quantities of food in a frantic, guilt-ridden manner. It prompts sufferers to eat foods they may have never touched before. It leaves them feeling guilt for days afterward. It often triggers a response to restrict again, which only makes binge eating worse.

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Guest Post With Megan Flanagan of Strong Runner Chicks: The Dark Side of Distance Running

I met Megan Flanagan through social media thanks to our interest in preventing eating disorders in the running world. With a similar mission of speaking about the topic, and encouraging those who struggle to speak up. I am excited to work with Megan in the near future, and I’m especially excited to share what she’s doing through  Strong Runner Chicks, a website dedicated to fostering strength in the female running community!

Strong Runner Chicks started as a way to inspire female runners to embrace their strength rather than cover it up; to embody the curves, muscle, and female bodies that we were given; to foster strength in the female running community and connect females of all ages, competitive and recreational runners alike, to an online space where they share ideas, tips, and personal stories on topics related to running, racing, strength training, fueling right and defining what it means to be a strong runner chick.

When you think “female distance runner,” what image comes to mind?

Thin? Lean? Wispy? Emaciated?

Likely, the word “strong” doesn’t appear first in your head, if at all.

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Rachael Recovered? Phases of the Eating Disorder and Where I Am Now

TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorder behaviors mentioned.

When I talk about my past eating disorder behaviors, the past Rachael I speak of seems so different from the Rachael I know now. When I write it all out as I’ve done here, it becomes clearer than ever.

Restriction (2 years)

7 a.m.: Wakeup, and the first thing you think is BREAKFAST. You weigh yourself first, of course.

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Guest Post: Brittany Burgunder’s Battle

I (Rachael) have included a link near the end of this piece to an article on depression, a mental struggle I had not dealt with but I know many others like Brittany have. Thus, this post is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like BetterHelp may helpful to some.
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I came across Brittany’s blog about a year ago and found her eating disorder struggle similar to my own. Certainly, Brittany’s drastic weight fluctuation in a small amount of time is relatable to me as well as many more of us, and shows that the problem lies not in appearance, but in our attitude toward food. Just like me, Brittany is also in the process of getting a memoir published about her eating disorder experiences. I’m so glad Brittany was willing to share her journey as well as the struggles she still encounters on a daily basis, as I believe eating disorders should be monitored even in recovery.

My name is Brittany and I want to let you all know no matter what you are struggling with that there is always hope for a better life. For me, my major life struggle was with my weight and appearance. Growing up I was constantly bullied and teased and I never had a close friend; only acquaintances to say hi to so I didn’t seem like a complete and utter loser. I was always a great student and a very talented tennis player and horseback rider to top it off, but that didn’t matter. My self-esteem was nonexistent and every day I wondered what was so wrong with me that I didn’t fit in like everyone else. Instead of realizing there was nothing wrong with me other than I was shy and insecure, I turned my anger and sadness inward.

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Guest Post: Lize Brittin’s Anorexia Recovery as a Runner Part 2

(Read Part 1 of Lize Brittin’s journey here).

After 20 years of struggling, my life started to feel different. Over time, I was able to find joy again. I could run again without having to force myself to be at the top.

During this transition, I noticed a strong correlation between my thoughts and my speech and how I was feeling. The more I switched my focus away from food, calories and miles, the more I could allow myself to be in the moment, and this was a way for me to temporarily forget that I was anorexic. I aimed at avoiding triggering statements like, “I feel fat” and instead tried to uncover what this symptom meant. Was I tired, afraid or lonely? Did this translate into feeling uncomfortable? Digging for the cause of the symptom rather than focusing on the symptom itself was essential to my recovery.

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