What I Learned as a Collegiate Runner Majoring in Dietetics (Guest Post by Maggie Farrell) Part 3

Read Part 1 of Maggie’s Journey here.

Read Part 2 of Maggie’s Journey here.

Donate to her Running in Silence marathon journey fundraiser here! Maggie will be running the Austin Marathon THIS Sunday representing Running in Silence.

Since I wrote my initial blog post for Running in Silence, I have had several people ask me, “Why did you wait until now to share your struggles?” To be honest, I was scared–scared of what admitting I had a problem would mean for my running career. Scared that asking for help made me weak and people would question if I had actually had a problem.

It took stepping away from competitive running to realize that asking for help didn’t make me weak. My perspective mattered.

I shared in my first post that the first time I ever worried about my weight wasn’t until my junior year of high school. However, upon reflection, I realized that this isn’t entirely the truth. I remember stepping on the scale as a fourth grader. When I looked down at the scale, I remember feeling dissatisfied with the number and making myself get out the door for a walk. That night for dinner, I cut back on the number of bread and butter slices (a staple in my diet at that time) because I had been told that bread was “bad.”  Fourth grade.That is absurd.

I bring up this experience to illustrate how difficult it is to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies today. We are told, explicitly or implicitly, at a very young age, that our weight is one of the most important things about us. I won’t go too much into how our diet culture is harming our relationship with food at the very first exposure because we could be here for a while. I do, however, want to point out that this exposure to diet culture, in combination with additional pressures to “stay fit” and look a certain way in competitive sports, can make someone’s susceptibility to developing an eating disorder incredibly high.

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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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What I Learned as a Collegiate Runner Majoring in Dietetics (Guest Post by Maggie Farrell) Part 1

Last year, Maggie Farrell reached out to me with a request to raise awareness for eating disorders in sports through Running in Silence in an upcoming marathon. As a Michigan high school cross country and track coach, I had the opportunity to witness some of Maggie’s running accomplishments in high school. But the greatest privilege has been watching her work on this three-part piece that reveals the gritty woman Maggie aspired to be from a young age, who now inspires others.

Maggie Farrell, 2016 high school state cross country and 2017 3200m high school state track champion for Michigan, graduated in 2021 from Michigan State University with her BS in Dietetics. In addition to her studies, Maggie competed on the MSU Cross Country and Track & Field team. Throughout her time competing at MSU, she was Big 10 Freshman Runner of the Year, first-team All-Big 10, and competed in the NCAA Cross Country Championship. Maggie also helped the MSU women’s team win the Big Ten’s conference championship in 2020. Maggie is currently a graduate student at Texas State University where she is completing her dietetic internship and MS in Human Nutrition to become a registered dietitian.

This past fall, I was inspired by my dad to run the Austin Marathon in February 2022. Throughout my time training for this marathon, I will be raising money for Running in Silence, an organization that encourages the athletic community to talk about the prevalence of eating disorders, help athletes seek out the help they need, and assist coaches with eating disorder awareness and prevention. I encourage you to consider donating to this amazing organization so we can help raise awareness about eating disorders in sports and help lessen the struggle for athletes.

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Need a Dietitian, But Can’t Afford One? Q&A with Dr. Paula Quatromoni

Paula Quatromoni is a senior consultant for Walden Behavioral Care, a registered dietitian, and one of the leading experts for eating disorders in athletes. She has published several papers on both clinical experiences and qualitative research on recovery experiences of athletes. Dr. Quatromoni is the Department Chair of Health Sciences and a tenured associate professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Boston University where she maintains an active, funded research program. In 2004, she pioneered the sports nutrition consult service for student-athletes at Boston University. Dr. Quatromoni was named a 2016 Outstanding Dietetics Educator from the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors (NDEP) Council. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from the University of Maine at Orono and her Doctorate in Epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health.

In this Q&A series, Paula answers some of the biggest questions coaches and athletic staff have to better prevent and assist athletes who may be struggling with eating disorders.

What if an athlete needs a dietitian’s support but says they can’t afford one?

Dr. Paula Quatromoni: If the athlete is otherwise healthy and is seeking general nutrition advice or recommendations for performance nutrition, there are many resources, noted below.

If it is a situation of a health concern, like GI distress, food allergy or intolerance, disordered eating or an eating disorder, the athlete needs a medical evaluation and individualized treatment. The athlete should consult their doctor and be fully evaluated to determine the next steps.

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Avoiding Eating Disorder Triggers: Athletes Can’t Talk About Food? Q&A With Dr Paula Quatromoni

This Q&A was originally part of the third Q&A here, but is republished below to separate and make it easier to find questions/topics. This is part of a Q&A series with the leading expert in eating disorders and sports and registered dietitian, Dr. Paula Quatromoni.

Q: One running program forbids athletes to talk about or even post about food on social media because they think it will help stop the spread of eating disorders. What are your thoughts?

A: To me, this is silly. Eating habits, food behaviors, and attitudes about food are contagious in our culture regardless of social media. A different approach for the leadership in this program could be to invest in educating their athletes about responsible use of social media and working to build a supportive team culture where there is zero-tolerance for food shaming, body shaming, or promotion of restrictive eating or dieting culture. Social media posts and open discussions about food, if managed strategically and with some ground rules, can be quite positive and can role model healthy strategies for fueling athletes and sharing evidence-based recommendations.

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Questions Athletes Can Ask about Nutrition, Weight, & Mental Health in College Programs (with Dr. Paula Quatromoni)

I was asked by an athlete what questions she could ask a college coach she was considering running for. After being directed to some great questions to ask (and not ask), it sparked my own questions: How could athletes see if the college coach they want to compete for has a healthy attitude toward nutrition and weight? How could they ask about available resources should an athlete struggle or need questions answered down the road?

So of course, I went right to expert Dr. Paula Quatromoni, registered dietitian (RD) at Boston University, for advice about navigating this important and delicate topic. She pointed out that many coaches are interested in these very same questions and are actively working to identify resources and build a positive team culture around these very issues. But, like resources, attitudes and culture can vary widely from one college or university to another. So, it is best not to assume that the coach shares your philosophy or is as equally engaged on this as you might hope. One way to find out is to exercise your strong communication skills. Be prepared to ask some very direct questions.

Paula suggested asking the following:

What is the culture like on your team with regards to athletes’ nutrition, weight, and overall wellness?

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My Eating Disorder Dietitian Saved My Life

Anyone who has read Running in Silence knows that I was convinced to take on “macronutrient” or “lifestyle” diets. I wasn’t sure how to decipher correct nutrition information when books were being published about the wonders of these diets, and when the leaders of such diets were boasting about the benefits. And if a certain diet wasn’t working for me, I believed it was because I wasn’t doing it right, or going through “detox.”

As someone who was in a vulnerable spot with my body image, running, and eating disorder, these diets felt like a way out. Each one felt like freedom and a fix for my “broken” appetite. Only, embarking on these diets actually made everything even more confusing. It made it difficult to eat out, to have enough “good” food, and the cravings were the most intense cravings I had ever experienced in my life. I thought I was in control, but the food was in control of me and everything else I did.

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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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How Can Coaches Help Underweight Athletes Gain Weight? Q&A with Dr. Quatromoni

This is part of a Q&A series with leading expert in eating disorders and sports, Paula Quatromoni. For more Q&As click here.

Q: I’m a high school coach. I have an elite runner who needs to gain weight/body fat. She is not intentionally losing weight but is very active with either running or other workouts like core and strength work. She never really slows down and on top of that just doesn’t eat enough to offset her exercise. She has seen a dietitian, but they haven’t really given her a strategy. She knows what needs to happen and her parents are working on it as well. My immediate thoughts are that she needs to record her intake and maybe that shows her just how much it is and shows ways to increase it. It could also show me how much she can run so as not to create a deficit each day.

A (Paula Quatromoni, DSc, MS, RD, LDN): It sounds to me like maybe she hasn’t seen the right dietitian who truly understands sport and the importance of a fueling strategy for an elite runner, because she reportedly came away from that interaction (was it only one session?) without one. I am betting that the RD (Registered Dietitian) she saw was not credentialed and experienced as a sports dietitian; not all registered dietitians have the additional training or qualifications to work in sports nutrition or eating disorder treatment. She needs an expert capable of designing a fueling strategy for an elite athlete. She should look for someone with the CSSD credential (Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) on top of the RD credential; or at least an RD who states on her practice website or is known to the local sports community as experienced working with and customizing nutrition plans for athletes.

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Time to Change: Adding New Food to My Diet

I’m ready for change. I’m ready to take the next step to eat “normally.”

I’m ready to get out of this rut.

It’s strange how, out of seemingly nowhere, I realized that the food I deemed “fattening” was only so because it became a rule in my head. The voice whispered to me day after day that I must eat perfectly, that I cannot mess up.

Now, I can face my fear. As scared as I am to move on, I know I must. The only thing scarier than staying in one place is thinking that you may stay in one place forever if you don’t do something about it.

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