Why I Kept Silent About My Eating Disorder, and Why Coaches Shouldn’t

Dear Coach,
You are required to detect the early signs of concussions, and to know when to stop an athlete from continuing to play, all with good reason: concussions are common in many sports. Unfortunately, so are eating disorders—and we still don’t know how to talk about them. Coaches aren’t even required to discuss them.
By leaving this topic in the dark, we are failing our athletes. And as a past eating disorder sufferer and runner, my heart breaks to see other athletes struggle as I did—in SILENCE–because they don’t think their eating disorder is “bad enough,” or they don’t think you would understand. I read these emails, and hear these stories over
and over
and over again.
As a fellow cross country coach, I want to thank you for wanting to do something about this.

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The Chin-Up Podcast: Eating Disorders in Running

I first connected with Amber Sayer (author, exercise psychologist, and certified personal trainer) years ago when I read her memoir PR: A Personal Record of Running From Anorexia. It was one of the first eating disorder running memoirs I had read so I appreciated that it was a new angle, and that I could relate so much. I recommend you check it out, along with Amber’s blog at ProcessingProblems.com.
Recently Amber invited me onto her new podcast, The Chin-Up Podcast, where we talked about eating disorders in runners, recovery, writing, and approaches for coaches for athletes with eating disorders. Check out the link below (photo) for this podcast along with the others she will post in the future!

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Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds: Upcoming Sports Documentary

In a recent trip to St. Louis, MO for the Eating Disorders in Sports Conference through McCallum’s Place Victory Program, I was able to talk with and be interviewed by Chris Blunk, producer of the upcoming documentary Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds? And after a few days at the conference connecting with eating disorder therapists, dietitians, and athletic trainers focused on eating disorders in athletes/sports, I was even more excited for what Chris (and Nancy Kerrigan, Executive Producer!) have in store for us with this documentary. Chris Blunk has more background on the documentary below, but be sure to also follow the Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds website and social media pages for updates!
How long have you been in film?
I started making films my senior year of high school and went to the University of Kansas for a film degree. I graduated in 2004 and started working professional in film right after that.
What inspired you to start making a documentary for eating disorders in sports?
It was one of many tragic stories. I worked with a two married producers on a short sports doc and asked if they had another film topic in mind. It turned out they had a daughter who was into competitive cheerleading and was removed from the squad when her new lift partner could hoist her up. She asked the coach what she could do to get back on the squad and his suggestion was “Why don’t you lose 5 pounds?” As you can probably guess, that moment spiraled into an eating disorder that spanned several years and eventually took her life. They’ve spent years speaking on the topic on college campuses.

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[Dumpster] Diving Into Male Eating Disorders: Matt’s Story & Recovery

Several years after I graduated from my high school, and well into recovering from my eating disorder, I heard about a guy running cross country at my high school who had developed anorexia. From afar I yearned to help him, but not knowing exactly who he was and feeling I would overstep boundaries (a random woman who wanted to help this guy because she experienced something similar?!), I stayed distant and heard he was getting the help he deserved.
Little did I know that around that time Matt had found my Running in Silence website, and knew as little about me as I had known about him (he didn’t even realize until later that we had gone to the same high school!). I eventually found Matt’s incredible recovery story online through the Daily Mail and finally had a face. Soon after, we found each other through social media, and participated in an event during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He agreed to connect further through the interviews I recorded with him below.

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“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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Posted in Anorexia, Binge Eating, Call to Action, Running | 3 Comments

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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