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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The Problem With Very Particular Portions

“You sure eat a lot.”

“Didn’t you just eat?”

“You’re eating AGAIN?”

These were the kind of comments I heard often—not just in my mind during the eating disorder, but also from those around me as I was recovering.

Granted, not everyone knew I had an eating disorder. Many may have thought they were “helping” me–a young runner who had gained a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time. The misconceptions about eating disorders probably made many people think I was “cured” with the weight gain, but now I might have to watch how much I was eating. What they saw before them was no longer a “sick” underweight runner. Now, I was someone who seemed to not know how much she was eating or what she looked like.

Believe me, I knew exactly what I looked like. I knew exactly how much weight I had gained.

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An Ode To Carbs: The Macronutrient That Jumpstarted My Eating Disorder Recovery

As I attempted various “lifestyle” diets throughout my eating disorder, I often read that eating sugary food or carbs would make me crave more carbs. I was quick to agree with this because any time I did eat carbs, my body screamed for more.

What I failed to realize was that my body was not going “out of control” or instantly “triggered” by carbs. My body was telling me, “YES! THIS! THIS is exactly what I need right now. Give me more and I will finally be satisfied, and it will no longer feel this intense.”

Also: “You will not have to battle against me anymore.”

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Journal Entries January 2013: Binge Eating Athlete?

Reading through old journal entries reminds me of how far I’ve come in five years. It also reminds me of how confused, lonely, and scared I felt back then.

The following journal entries may be triggering, but I do not reveal numbers. I thought it would be important to share how devastating and confusing binge eating is as an athlete, right from the journal entries themselves. I included some notes from myself now in 2018, based on what I’ve learned since 2013.

If you are struggling with binge eating (or even just feel like you’re overeating after having restricted food), please know that I hear you, I see you, and it does get better. I encourage you to be willing to learn more about yourself (journalling!), your body, and get eating disorder professionals to assist you through the journey.

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Returning to Competition with Binge Eating

To the athletes with a restrictive eating past who are now bingeing: I know this hurts. It hurts like hell. You probably feel broken physically and mentally. You want someone to understand. You want it to stop.

You just want to be back to where you were before.

I know, because I’ve been there, too.

Avoiding Old Behaviors

In the midst of my eating disorder, I thought that the key to getting “back in shape” would mean restricting food again. It took almost a year to realize that restriction was what led me to the bingeing in the first place.

I felt like I was losing time. I know you may feel that way, too. I know the few years you have to compete in high school or college seems short, and you want to get things accomplished in a short time span. But you will only slow yourself down by trying to return to the person you once were.

My hunch is that that person didn’t have a healthy relationship with food.

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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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“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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When Loved Ones Can’t Understand Your Eating Disorder

Trigger warning: eating disorder behaviors mentioned.
Post updated 3/5/21 to reduce triggers and update the writing because I am still a perfectionist. :)

 

“How can you physically keep stuffing in more and more food?” my dad asked one night. “I mean, I get to the point where enough is enough in one meal.”

My dad and I had agreed to sit down to talk about my eating disorder the summer going into my senior year of college, and it wasn’t off to a great start. At that moment on the couch, in the darkness of one summer evening, I felt I had to explain to my dad exactly what was going on within. Then, then he would “get it.”

The conversation went a little like this:

Me: “When you hold back on food for so long–like my two-year restriction–then your body is going to try to make up for it. It’s going to go for the simplest sugars. That’s why many people crave high-calorie food at the end of the day if they don’t eat enough. Your body wants to find the most calorie-dense form of food so that it can break it down fast and use it. And with an eating disorder–with your body in that desperation mode–you often stuff yourself until you are uncomfortably full, even if it hurts.”

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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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Discipline, Drugs, and Disorder

I was recently challenged with the notion that eating disorders are not as intense or similar to drug addiction or alcoholism. I’ve also been asked if eating disorders are more of a “discipline” rather than a “disorder” issue.

And then we have misconceptions about what eating disorders “look” like: only when are you very thin should you get help. When you are at a higher BMI number, you just need to “eat less and exercise more.”

Not exactly.

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