“They Just Disappeared”: Beyond Anorexia in Runners

We often picture eating disorders in the running world as a frail girl crossing the finish line in first place. There’s the assumption that they 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 frail. Meanwhile, the least-discussed part of this “disappearing act” is what you might call the sister of anorexia: binge eating disorder, a very common rebound effect of having restricted calories or food groups.
Binge Eating Disorder
Just as serious as anorexia (and even more common), binge eating disorder manifests in a nightmare of consuming vast quantities of food in a frantic, guilt-ridden manner. It prompts sufferers to eat foods they would’ve never touched before, and leaves them feeling immense guilt for days afterward. It triggers a response to want to restrict again, which, in the end, only makes the binge eating worse.

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Chilled To the Bone: It’s Time for BINGE

I’m happy that To the Bone (YOU’VE BEEN TRIGGER-WARNED!!) is airing on Netflix to start an important eating disorder conversation, but I’m disappointed that the eating disorder story hasn’t varied or expanded in television/movies. It focuses on the physical consequences of being at a very low weight, something in the past kept me thinking I wasn’t “sick enough” to receive treatment in the midst of my eating disorder. I didn’t talk about calories at all (I was trying to hide an obsession I felt ashamed about!), never fainted from lack of food, and never whittled down to a near-death weight.
The reality is that most eating disorders (and these are just as serious) turn out to be average-/normal-weight women AND MEN consumed with hatred of their bodies/weight, think about food and calories constantly, and isolate themselves from friends and family. Even when eating disorders don’t end up with fainting spells, losing hair, or being put on a feeding tube, the other devastating realities we don’t often dive into are the feelings of loneliness, depression, development of other addictions, loss of control, bingeing as an aftermath of anorexia, and trying again and again to convince ourselves that life would be better without the eating disorder, but not quite wanting to give it up completely.

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Video: How Dad Responded to my Eating Disorder

For Mother’s Day I shared videos from my YouTube channel about how my mom responded to my eating disorder, and I figured it was good timing to interview my dad for this past Father’s Day. Both of my parents offer different, but very important perspectives of their understanding of eating disorders. I was also blessed to have parents who were willing to support me through it despite their confusion from the onset.
My dad, as you’ll notice in the videos below, has been a great source of laughter and joy through my difficulties. I am so thankful he was brave enough to do this with me, and he not only makes our conversations on the subject interesting, he makes them entertaining! You can read from a previous conversation we had years ago in The Difficulty in Understanding as well.


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Dear High School Rachael (Response to Lauren Fleshman)

This is very clearly a spin-off of Lauren Fleshman’s most recent article/letter to her high school self that went viral in the running community. I HIGHLY encourage all of you to read it here (Dear Younger Me: Lauren Fleshman). I’ve underlined HER words in my own letter below so as not to confuse what I’ve written with her own sentences, as I want it to be clear that this is based on her letter/article, and I used her structure.
I decided to create my letter from the perspective of someone who actually developed an eating disorder in running (unintentionally–you will see from this that I hadn’t linked weight loss to running faster from the get-go). I also wanted to include men in this conversation, because so many men in the running world battle eating disorders and disordered eating. This is not to say Lauren’s article is not “right”  (because it is an EPIC article, and so so needed for young women!) but simply to give another perspective of eating disorders and disordered eating in the world of running from someone who has been there, and from someone who has been blessed enough to have such amazing support along the way:
Dear High School Rachael,
I have so many things I want to tell you, but I’m going to start with the most urgent. Because of all the ways I’ve seen athletic stories unfold over the years, this is the No. 1 destroyer of dreams.
You’re a young woman, but the sound of the word “woman” makes you cringe. Your mom claims we don’t have the genetics of the “typical woman.” You won’t ever get “large hips and boobs” that supposedly hinder running success, she says. Your well-meaning mom sees discipline, willpower, and control as strength, and your family has it. Your mom also tells you that our tall, broad bodies are to be celebrated, that these are what make us strong athletes.
As a straight-A student, All-State runner you figure you have what you need to be the best.

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Eating Disorder Recovery with my Mom: A Video Interview

From the first few chapters of Running in Silence my mom doesn’t suspect anything is wrong as I embark on a raw food diet. She doesn’t question my intense obsession with food and running fast, mostly because I kept the worst of the obsession to myself. I didn’t open up. I wasn’t myself, and HADN’T been for her and my dad for my whole life.
And then you get to the chapter where I come out about my binge eating disorder, but we both don’t know what monster we are dealing with. We are BOTH confused and lost, and she gives the typical answers to “cure” what I’m dealing with by telling me I can just eat less to lose weight again–a “normal” response from someone who doesn’t understand and just wants to help.

What my mom did right in that critical moment when I asked for help? She offered to get me the proper, professional help elsewhere. My mom brought me to an eating disorder support group to see a therapist and dietitian. My mom took on the role of eating disorder researcher, attended the parent support group meetings, and listened to me talk for hours on end about my fears, doubts, and why my brain was thinking the way it did.

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Interviews, Book #2, Journal Entries Revealed

With snippets of information here and there, I figured it was high time to give more details about what’s been going on in the realm of Running in Silence and future writing/speaking endeavors. Quite honestly, I’ve just been way too busy, so I’m striving to carve more time into my day to work on writing, speaking, and YouTube videos. THANK YOU to all of you who have supported me/followed my journey so far!
YouTube Video Interviews
I’m about to embark on a video interviewing spree, which will include talking with my parents (separately, as they offer differing perspectives), men with eating disorders, and possibly my coach from Aquinas. Check out my YouTube channel (Running in Silence) for extra videos (and be sure to subscribe!). I will keep you in the loop on those upcoming videos via social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter). In the meantime, be sure to comment below (or email me at runninginsilence@gmail.com) if you have questions you’d like me to ask the interviewees!
Speaking Engagements
I will be speaking at First (Park) Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming Monday May 15, 7-8pm, focusing on topics of acceptance, identity, fear, and balance, all of which were issues I struggled with THROUGH the lens of food. These are especially important concepts when looking at recovery. For other upcoming presentations check out the Speaking Appearances Page (and see video below for the most recent presentation at CMU).

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Guest Post Sara Brekke Part II: Increasing Awareness

In the last Running in Silence guest post, Sara Brekke spoke openly and courageously about her eating disorder journey. In her original post (sarabrekke.blogspot.com) she made additional points about eating disorders that I felt were extremely important to share here in a post of its own:
1) Eating disorders are not reserved for self conscious girls who strive to have a body like those in the magazines. They affects all genders, races, and ages and don’t need to stem from a desire to be thin. In fact, I became extremely self conscious of my thinness. I feared being seen in a swimsuit or sports bra knowing that every vertebrae and rib in my body being visible made me appear more reptilian than human. To hide my emaciated body, I have worn two pairs of pants and baggy long-sleeves to hide my knobby elbows and jutting hipbones.
I did not develop anorexia because of the models in magazines. I was confident with my body up until sixth grade and ate anything and everything–never giving a second thought about the appearance of my body. While I do believe that society gives an incredibly detrimental message to young people, females especially, in what their body should look like, a full blown eating disorder for me was a combination of underlying mental illness and these societal ideals.

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Guest Post Sara Brekke: Breaking Through Fear

Running in Silence reader and eating disorder survivor Sara Brekke made the bold move to share her story with the hope that it would encourage more of us to find ways to stop running in silence. She says, “I am thankful that I have gotten to a place of recovery after all of these years to be real not only with others about the illness, but with myself.  More than ever society needs voices to speak up about eating disorders and mental illness as a whole to better our understanding of other individuals and the disease.”
You can read her original post at sarabrekke.blogspot.com
Posting this is terrifying.
Like, I was driving home from Madison by myself on a mild March day not too soon after getting my license when mother nature decided to unleash a spontaneous snowstorm. Before gathering awareness of the elements, I fish tailed off the road. After regaining control, I continued to drive at a measly 15 mph on the highway, but kept losing traction and decided it wasn’t worth it to keep going. I pulled into a side road, fully prepared to sleep in my car for the night–just as an ambulance came roaring by with its sirens blaring, soon followed by an oncoming car spinning completely off the road. The trip took three extra hours, but I eventually made it home crying tears of relief as I pulled into our driveway.
Posting this is still scarier.

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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: An Update

I can’t believe how easily time gets away from me–it’s already been nearly two weeks since National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), and I’m able to update on the craziness at last.
A few days before the NEDAW officially began, Karen Saukas (eating disorder survivor and mental health advocate), Zach Stepanovich (my friend and former Aquinas cross country teammate who also suffered from an eating disorder), Gail Hall (Director of the Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders), and I were all on the Maranda show to raise awareness for eating disorders.

Just days later, early on Monday morning, Zach, Gail, and I we were on Fox17 News for the lighting of the blue bridge in Grand Rapids (huge thanks to Gail Hall for making this happen for the first time EVER in Michigan!). The bridge was lit in the NEDA colors (green and blue), which made us a part of the nation-wide “coloring of buildings.”

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Visiting Suzy Favor Hamilton: California Part II

Half the time in California was spent with Suzy, including a gorgeous bike ride along the coast to Venice beach, and two hot yoga classes (“This is my community!” Suzy said). The other half of my time was spent walking by myself along the beach, looking in shops, and reading and writing outside.
I used to have so much chatter, introspection, confusing thoughts, and deep thinking about the eating disorder going on in my mind during my alone time. Now, there’s not much left to think about in terms of my recovery. I’m just content.
Yes, there are still difficult days (especially with travel, even). I don’t have easy access to all my “safe” food, and I’m faced with food I haven’t eaten in a long time. There might always be that challenge. But I continued to remind myself that even if I did gain a few pounds from a trip what did it matter? My clothes may be a little tighter, but they would still fit. No one would think differently of me. I know how to trust my body, and having it fluctuate slightly is healthy and normal. I could partake in all the experiences in California without spending so much time and energy focusing on the food I was consuming.

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