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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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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The Summer I Ate Burgers and Chips

The first summer of nearly full eating disorder recovery, I ate burgers and chips.

It was a summer of eating food I hadn’t consumed in years. And with it, I discovered freedom.

A New Way of Living

No longer did I have to worry about having “healthier” food to eat when going out with friends. No longer did I fear weight gain from a food I used to deem “unacceptable.” No longer did I spend time thinking about how the food might affect my running.

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“I’m Scared I’ll Lose My Scholarship” | Eating Disorders in College Athletes

“I used to restrict and now I binge. I don’t know how to stop.”

“I need to lose weight again.”

“How do I stop bingeing?”

“This is so important. I could lose my scholarship.”

These pleas for help sound eerily similar to my own back in college. I had been struggling with bingeing after years of restriction. Fortunately, my situation didn’t rise to the level of a lost scholarship despite my slower times. My mom had had the foresight to ask my future coach, before I chose my college, if my scholarship would remain even if I got injured or, in her words (as described in Running in Silence), “hit by a bus.” She, and I, had no idea what would eventually befall me. But she knew it was ideal to choose a school that would not make their faith in my value depend on running times.

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On Full Recovery: Guest Post by Emma Zimmerman

Emma is a writer and activist currently based outside of Chicago. Through her writing, Emma explores topics of women in endurance sports and environmental justice. She is passionate about creating a healthier culture for female distance runners, a topic which she continues to write and speak about. Her work has been featured in Women’s Running, the Sacramento Press, and Girl Talk HQ. Originally from the East Coast, Emma is thrilled to return to New York to pursue an MFA in Nonfiction Writing this fall. You can follow her on Instagram @emma_zimmerman or at uprooteddiaries.com. 

An issue of Women’s Health magazine lay on my mother’s coffee table, its cover sporting the crop-topped image of an actress or model—I was not sure which.

“What it really took to get this fit,” read the fine print, strategically placed where the woman’s shirt met her skin. Those words, and the airbrushed body beside them, were all the ammunition I needed to feverishly flip through magazine pages.

I landed again on the woman from the cover. Newly-clad in spandex and boxing gloves, she stood beside a paragraph which outlined her daily routine: precise meals of brussels sprouts and grass-fed eggs, full-body training sessions, and absolutely no chocolate. That paragraph was all it took for me to toss aside my carefully curated armor—the Instagram pages of non-diet dietitians and body-positive poetry.

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Little Things With BIG Impacts: Guest Blog Post by Hannah Wolfe (Part II)

Hannah Wolfe reached out to me about supporting the Running in Silence nonprofit, and I wanted to give her the opportunity to share her own story here, part 2! You can read part 1 here. Events and conversations have been recreated from her memories of them. Eating disorder behaviors are mentioned.

A sneak peak of recovery

Summer came and little by little, recovery crept closer. Under the guise of my age-old stomach aches, my mom (unbeknownst to me) took me to an “Eating Disorder and Wellness Center”. There, I was diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), a diagnosis that shoved me even further down my rabbit hole. To me, EDNOS read NSEFA: Not Skinny Enough for Anorexia.

Gradually, I began recovery, attending weekly appointments with a therapist, dietitian, and three-hour sessions of group therapy. At first, I tried to work this recovery into my regular routine. I tried to get better while remaining comfortable (news flash: without discomfort, recovery is impossible). I stayed on the team, running some of my best times with my regained fuel but still-small frame. But slowly, it was too much to bear. Much to my mother and coach’s dismay, I quit the team and strayed away from running. I knew I wasn’t getting better.

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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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Jumping Into the Unknown: The Discovery Phase of Eating Disorder Recovery

As I work on my second book this year, I’ve reflected a lot on the time in my life when I set out to find who I was (note, this is still changing/growing–at the time I was figuring out who I was outside of perfectionism and running).

I felt like my body was changing even though my weight wasn’t changing. I was at my heaviest, but it didn’t seem to matter as much anymore.

My mindset was changing without forcing it to happen.

I was enjoying who I was; bits and pieces of Rachael that had been buried under running and the eating disorder emerged. And that’s when I began to feel a different kind of beautiful. I felt I could see that change reflected in the mirror, even though it wasn’t my weight or appearance that changed.

I was happy, and it didn’t depend on what I did–it was based on the relationship I had developed with myself and others.

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Core Happiness in Eating Disorder Recovery

“Hey Smiley!”

“So many pictures of you smiling on Facebook!”

“You seem so happy.”

I remember hearing these comments in the spring of 2015—so different from the comments I heard in the spring of 2012 about my physical weight gain (all made with the right intentions, but not quite helpful in eating disorder recovery).

The comments about my happiness–my smile–made me feel that friends and family were noticing who I was as a person, rather than my appearance, and that what I was doing through eating disorder recovery was working (and showing!).

Eating disorder recovery was a feeling, not a body size.

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