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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.