“You Can Never Have An Eating Disorder That Isn’t ‘Serious Enough'”

Charmaine is an undergraduate at the University of Bristol reading International Social and Public Policy. When she’s not running, you can probably find her in climbing gyms, the mountains or some corner of Bristol. If she’s not outdoors, she’s probably cooped up with a book about the human condition, a social issue or someone’s adventure. All things aside, she believes in sharing and connection. We are all walking libraries, connected by the power of stories for the empathy and understanding that they can foster.  

NOTE: Eating disorder behaviors mentioned.

2017: An Innocent Diet Journey

For the bulk of my teenage years, I struggled with disordered eating. I was a competitive athlete in Triple Jump, and failed to perform during the 2017 season. That prompted me to go on a weight loss journey, with the innocent desire to improve my performance. I thought that if I weighed less, I could ‘jump further.’ 

I started off by eliminating certain food from my diet and tracked every food item I consumed. Knowing cardiovascular activity was known to help with weight loss, I started running. As the numbers decreased on the scale, I became more motivated. I decreased my calorie limit every week while increasing my weekly mileage. 

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A Destructive Numbers Game

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, that you had to grit your teeth, and push through pain. When I valued these things in running, it wasn’t difficult to grit my teeth and 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 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 practice denying myself in running, so 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.”

“You’re eating AGAIN?”

“Didn’t you just eat?”

These were the kind of comments I received—not just in my mind when I had an eating disorder, but also from those around me as I was recovering. And in the midst of recovery, I was taking in a lot of food. I thought that the hunger would never end, and I felt powerless to stop it.

Granted, not everyone knew I struggled with disordered eating. Many may have thought they were “helping” me. The misconceptions about eating disorders probably made many people think I was “cured” once I gained weight. Perhaps they thought that I wasn’t aware of how much I had gained, or what to do about it (as if anything “needed” to be done).

Instead of “helping” me, people’s comments about how much I was eating only caused me to hide what I ate even more. I snuck food after eating what others would deem the “correct” amount. This need to eat more, I believed, further proved how “out of control” and “broken” I really was.

Recovery felt like I was not just fighting back against a personal eating disorder, but also against a society that believes there is an absolute “right” and “wrong” way to eat, or that there’s a certain amount of each food everyone should eat—and that it’s the same across the board.

Dietitian Dialing In

When I began working with a registered sports dietitian, she did give me portion size examples for my meal plan. But she emphasized that it was a guide, or a place to work from. From there, I learned how to understand my body and hunger.

You might be thinking, okay, the dietitian helped Rachael to see that she didn’t need to eat as much as she thought she did. Actually, it was quite the opposite: I learned how often I pushed away hunger, which worsened the restriction and increased the bingeing.

It felt like my RD gave me permission to eat more than my mind ever would.

Through this work with my dietitian, I could express my fears and figure out that hunger could feel different throughout the day, but that it was okay to honor it. I learned how to trust my body again and see that allowing myself to eat more created a much more satisfied, whole person. All of the times I wanted to eat, I realized, were valid. My dietitian helped me to see that I was not “broken” for wanting more food. My body was telling me something, and it was okay to listen.

The more I understood hunger and my body, the more I could ,concentrate on life. I could move on with my day and no longer think so much about food. It was then that I came to this wonderful conclusion: My body is the only one that knows its own “correct” portion sizes each day. And even that changes day to day.

In Recovery

In recovery now, I confidently eat as much as I want. I’m no longer bothered by people’s comments about my food or body. Where before I thought I would go out of control on a certain food, thinking I wouldn’t know how to stop, bingeing has taught me that my body did know when to stop—it just happened to stop outside of my comfort zone based on the rules and regulations I put on myself.

My hope is that we begin to see that our bodies are not as “out of control” as many of us think them to be. More often than not, the rules and constraints we put on our bodies often make us feel that we have something we must “contain.”

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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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