Q&A: “I’m a Runner Who is Binge Eating and I Need Help”
Note: I feel this email reflects many of the questions/emails I often receive, and it is shared here with permission. The behaviors described may be triggering to some, but I do not include numbers. I share this to show how common the issue is, how many are silent about eating disorders, and what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation. Note that I am only speaking from my experiences with an eating disorder and recovery. I am not a dietitian, therapist, counselor, eating disorder specialist, or any kind of medical professional, but encourage anyone to seek out these professionals as I describe below.
Q: I recently bought your book and am currently reading it. I have never related to something so much in my life. I have been crying reading it realize how bad my eating has become. I have been controlling what I have been eating for the past years so severely, thinking it will help me with my running.
I was coming off a great cross country season and ready for an even better track season. That’s when I suddenly started experiencing intense pain and found out that I have a stress fracture in my femur. I am so crushed that I cannot run anymore. I have already taken weeks off and still have at least six more to go. I feel like I have lost such a huge part of my identity.
Since I haven’t been running, my eating has been out of control. I no longer follow the healthy eating plan my nutritionist gave me and I binge every single day. I started counted the calories during these binges and they are over X calories. I feel like I just cannot stop eating until the package of food is completely empty.
I tried telling my best friend about my problem and she recommended to just stop eating like that. I just do not think that she understands what I am going through. I am so scared to step on a scale. My stomach is so bloated all the time because I cannot stop eating.
I just do not know what to do from here and keep telling myself that I am going to stop binge eating but night after night I find myself nonstop eating until I feel physically sick. I’m scared to talk to my parents about what has been going on. I am embarrassed and worried they will be mad at me. I just cannot keep living like this and was wondering what I should do for help.
A: From someone who has been in a very similar situation, I get it. I’m sorry for your physical and emotional pain. It can feel lonely, confusing, and scary.
How heartbreaking to hear about your injury, too. Unfortunately, bone injuries may be common after under-eating (see more on RED-S). Additionally, eating disorders/mental health issues are common struggles when an athlete is injured. It happened for me both of the times I was injured in college. Looking back, I wish I would have reached out to see a school counselor to work through that time in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this would be something worth doing. I didn’t think that struggling through an injury as an athlete was “bad enough” to warrant seeking professional help.
My dad said something very similar to what your friend said. Unfortunately, those in a position to support may try to offer advice like this because they truly want to help, but don’t have the expertise to offer helpful solutions.
In my experience, I learned that my eating disorder was not a willpower or discipline issue—it was my body fighting back for what it needed after restricting food for years. You’ll probably read in Running in Silence that my mom didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation when I first told her, but we kept talking and she learned to support/listen.
I think eventually being open with your coach might help you, too–I know it helped me.
Working with my eating disorder sports dietitian was integral to my recovery (physically and mentally!). I found it especially helpful to be as honest as possible while working with her, and would encourage you to do the same. Being honest with my dietitian was tough for me when I was binge eating. I was so afraid she would think didn’t really have an eating disorder because I was eating what I thought was “too much.” I figured if she knew how much I really ate, she wouldn’t be able to treat me or think I was just gorging out of control. Being open and honest with your dietitian will likely help her to aid you in your injury recovery with nutrition, too.
Binge eating is a common part of the cycle of eating disorders, and our dietitians can only help us if we share as much as we can with them—what/how much we are eating, what we are feeling, etc. When I did share with her what and how much I was eating, she didn’t turn me away. She was able to help me more, which for me meant increasing my meal plan size. Restriction won’t help end binge eating. If anything, it often makes it worse. I understand the difficulty of getting out of that cycle, though.
I really encourage you to work with the professionals and have a support system with your friends, family, teammates, or coach (where you ask for support, NOT advice). Based on what you shared with me, I am steadfast in my recommendation to encourage you to seek treatment. What you are experiencing is a serious issue and deserving of intervention. As much as I tried to fix my eating disorder on my own, I found the most help from my dietitian and therapist. I went for years trying to “fix” the eating disorder on my own. I always look back and wish I would have sought professional help sooner. Staying stuck in the eating disorder kept me stuck in unhealthy situations with running, which was detrimental to my performance, my health, and my quality of life.
You can find more resources (ways to find a registered dietitian and/or therapist in your area, financial aid, treatment centers, etc) at the resources page here.