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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Guest Post: Lize Brittin’s Anorexia Recovery as a Runner Part 1

I am honored to have Lize Brittin as a guest on the blog. She is the author of Training on Empty which chronicles her struggles with, and recovery from, anorexia nervosa as a runner. Rated one of the top mountain runners in the world in the 1980s, she has worked in careers ranging from teacher to chef to assistant manager of an art gallery, and has also hosted her own radio show.

When I first got the offer to write a guest post for the blog Running in Silence, I was both excited and honored. There are so many topics I would like to address, but I feel I should break the post down into a limited number of points I believe will help others most. Since I have already shared my story in my book, Training on Empty, I decided to give only a brief history of my career as a runner. The reason why I feel this is necessary at all is to show not just what I have survived but how my past played a role in both the eating disorder and my recovery.

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Why Certain “Lifestyle” Diets Didn’t “Fix” My Eating Disorder

(Thank you to BetterHelp.com for sponsoring this post, with their link about getting professional help included near the end. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like this may helpful to some.)

Q: Balance – If we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t as able to [take care of] others. It’s about finding balance so that you avoid extremes in diet and exercise. I know that people have commented that they want to know what diet you finally found that works best, and it makes me wonder if they are looking for answers for themselves. That’s a pretty tough question to answer because nutrition isn’t that cut and dry, and there is still a lot that we don’t know. Everyone thinks that they are an expert, and you can find great arguments that support almost any diet. That’s why I think balance and moderation is best. I’m curious to learn where you are at with this.

A: Perfectionists like me seem to want to go “all the way” with anything and everything. If a little bit is good, then a lot must be better. I think many runners and other athletes fall into this trap, too. You think, if I run this many miles, then ten more miles each week would make me even faster.

While that can be true, we perfectionists can escalate things quickly: Because I have enough discipline. Because I have enough willpower. Because I can force myself to do it.

When my mom suggested I cut down my portion sizes if I was uncomfortable with my weight, I figured I had to starve myself. After all, the way I ate at the weight I was at meant eating until I was full/content. To lose weight, I figured, meant I must go hungry.

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Eating Disorders vs. Healthy Eating

(Thank you to BetterHelp.com for sponsoring this post, with their link on anxiety included in the final paragraph. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like this may be of help to some.)
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Let’s say a friend chooses to order a salad while the rest of your friends order pizza. Is this friend restricting calories to lose weight? Or does he want a salad right now because pizza doesn’t sound appetizing at the moment?

Some people may eat in a way that makes others think, eating disorder.

But you can’t point to every raw foodist and claim they have an eating disorder. You can’t claim every vegan is masking a bigger problem. And you don’t want to assume that just because someone eats a seemingly balanced diet that they don’t have disordered eating. Some may eat in restrictive ways to avoid food allergies or find that they feel better eating this way, while others use “gluten intolerance” or “raw food diet” as an excuse to carry out their eating disorder behaviors in a more convincing way.

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A Mother’s Struggle to Free Her Son from Anorexia (Guest Post by Bev Mattocks)

I’d like to introduce a guest blogger Bev Mattocks. I first discovered her blog about three months ago, only to find out that it was a blog-turned-book. I was able to read Mattock’s book, Please Eat… A Mother’s Struggle to Free Her Teenage Son from Anorexia. It helped to see the struggle from the perspective of a parent, especially as my own parents have learned to deal with my eating disorder.

In the second chapter of my book Please Eat… A Mother’s Struggle To Free Her Teenage Son From Anorexia I describe my pride at watching my 15-year son, Ben, win the 1500 metre race at the school sports day in July 2009. At the time Ben (who lives in the UK) was into a whole range of sports, not just running. Then, over the summer of 2009, his sporting activities got even more intense. He was swimming, running, and working out at a local gym every day – and more. With this came a whole new dedication to ‘healthy eating’, especially fat-free food. Ben quickly became an expert at slimming down recipes, cutting out the ‘baddies’ from his diet, and examining the nutritional content of food packaging in microscopic detail.

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Why Did I Attempt a Raw Food Diet as a Runner?

One of the biggest questions I get is about why I felt the need to follow a raw food diet as a collegiate cross country and track runner.

Nutrition was important to me from a young age because I wanted to eat well to run well–and I started running consistently when I was 5 years old.

I continued to run in middle school and high school. After years of competing against the best high school runners in the state, and losing some weight my senior year, I thought that weight loss helped me to run faster. That’s when food began to consume my life.

The Raw Food “Lifestyle”

When I first heard about a raw food diet in college, I didn’t think it would be ideal for athletes. I told myself that I wouldn’t get enough protein or that I would be more susceptible to injury since I’d be missing out on protein and calcium. But my doubts about raw food slowly vanished when I wrote a paper on the topic for one of my classes (we could choose anything to research, and of course, I was drawn to food topics).

Much of the information I read in raw food books and on raw food websites convinced me that instead of being harmful to athletes, this diet could actually be helpful. And the wording changed as I dug deeper–this was not a “diet,” but a lifestyle.

Abundance at Last

Raw food forums and websites advertised this diet as a way to eat as much as you want. And as someone who thought that the only way I could eat “normally” meant I had to go a bit hungry after each meal, this was exciting. I could lose weight while eating as much raw food as I want? I could finally have an excuse to give up meat and run okay, if not better? I could give a “good” excuse and reason for only wanting the lowest-calorie foods? I could have the confidence to know I wouldn’t be deficient in minerals (according to the raw food gurus)?

What I didn’t realize was how unsatisfied I would feel eating just raw food. As I embarked on the diet, I blamed this feeling on my lack of discipline and “broken” appetite. But really, my intense cravings and eventual bingeing was a result of eliminating so many food groups. Years removed from my raw food diet, I understand why only eating raw fruits and vegetables wouldn’t feel very satisfying, and that my body was trying to tell me something.

All of this set me up for a rollercoaster of different diets, bingeing, and questioning food more than ever before. It also eventually sparked the realization that my odd relationship with food was called an eating disorder, and that I had something more to fix than food itself.

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2023 Reflection: If I had known it at the time, seeing a registered sports dietitian would have been the best way to help me with my relationship with food. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that seeing an RD would have been the answer, and no one recommended it. If anything, as I fell deeper into the rabbit hole of raw food, the more I was convinced an RD wouldn’t understand this “cure.” This situation highlights the importance of talking about disordered eating and how so many athletes could benefit from seeing a registered dietitian. You can find one in your area at eatright.org, or check out additional resources in this blog post:

This blog post shows how helpful a registered sports dietitian was once I did finally see one: