Interview with National Champ Erin Herrmann: Speaking Up About Eating Disorders

I had the privilege of interviewing National Champion for the 3000m Steeplechase from Hope College Erin Herrmann, who came out about her eating disorder in May. She shares her story & advice for others who may be struggling in the video interview below! Biggest tip? TALK ABOUT IT.

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“Trust in the love of the people you are surrounded by. They will help you see what you need to see in yourself.”

Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

“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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Guest Post With Megan Flanagan of Strong Runner Chicks: The Dark Side of Distance Running

I met Megan Flanagan through social media thanks to our interest in preventing eating disorders in the running world. With a similar mission of speaking about the topic, and encouraging those who struggle to speak up. I am excited to work with Megan in the near future, and I’m especially excited to share what she’s doing through  Strong Runner Chicks, a website dedicated to fostering strength in the female running community!

Strong Runner Chicks started as a way to inspire female runners to embrace their strength rather than cover it up; to embody the curves, muscle, and female bodies that we were given; to foster strength in the female running community and connect females of all ages, competitive and recreational runners alike, to an online space where they share ideas, tips, and personal stories on topics related to running, racing, strength training, fueling right and defining what it means to be a strong runner chick.

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When you think “female distance runner,” what image comes to mind?

Thin? Lean? Wispy? Emaciated?

Likely, the word “strong” doesn’t appear first in your head, if at all.

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Rachael Recovered? Phases of My Eating Disorder, and Where I Am Now

[[[TRIGGER WARNING. Eating disorder behaviors mentioned]]]

I didn’t realize until recently how unhealthy and DISORDERED my mindset was these past five years–in all stages of an ever-changing eating disorder. After presenting about my experiences to my college a few times I’ve realized that when I talk about my past eating disorder practices, the person I speak of seems so different from the Rachael I know now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed because it’s been so gradual, but when I write it all out as I’ve done here, it becomes clearer than ever.

Restriction (2 years)

7 a.m.: Wakeup and the first thing you think is BREAKFAST. But you weigh yourself first, of course.

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Guest Post: Brittany Burgunder’s Battle

I came across Brittany’s blog about a year ago and found her eating disorder struggle similar to my own. Certainly Brittany’s drastic weight fluctuation in a small amount of time is relatable to me as well as many more of us, and shows that the problem lies not in appearance, but in our attitude toward food. Just like me, Brittany is also in the process of getting a memoir published about her eating disorder experiences. I’m so glad Brittany was willing to share her journey as well as the struggles she still encounters on a daily basis, as I believe eating disorders should be monitored even in recovery.

My name is Brittany and I want to let you all know no matter what you are struggling with that there is always hope for a better life. For me, my major life struggle was with my weight and appearance. Growing up I was constantly bullied and teased and I never had a close friend; only acquaintances to say hi to so I didn’t seem like a complete and utter loser. I was always a great student and a very talented tennis player and horseback rider to top it off, but that didn’t matter. My self-esteem was nonexistent and every day I wondered what was so wrong with me that I didn’t fit in like everyone else. Instead of realizing there was nothing wrong with me other than I was shy and insecure, I turned my anger and sadness inward.

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Guest Post: Lize Brittin’s Anorexia Recovery as a Runner Part 2

(Read Part 1 of Lize Brittin’s journey here).

After 20 years of struggling, my life started to feel different. Over time, I was able to find joy again. I could run again without having to force myself to be at the top.

During this transition, I noticed a strong correlation between my thoughts and my speech and how I was feeling. The more I switched my focus away from food, calories and miles, the more I could allow myself to be in the moment, and this was a way for me to temporarily forget that I was anorexic. I aimed at avoiding triggering statements like, “I feel fat” and instead tried to uncover what this symptom meant. Was I tired, afraid or lonely? Did this translate into feeling uncomfortable? Digging for the cause of the symptom rather than focusing on the symptom itself was essential to my recovery.

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Guest Post: Lize Brittin’s Anorexia Recovery as a Runner Part 1

I am honored to have Lize Brittin as a guest on the blog. She is the author of Training on Empty which chronicles her struggles with, and recovery from, anorexia nervosa as a runner. Rated one of the top mountain runners in the world in the 1980s, she has worked in careers ranging from teacher to chef to assistant manager of an art gallery, and has also hosted her own radio show.

When I first got the offer to write a guest post for the blog Running in Silence, I was both excited and honored. There are so many topics I would like to address, but I feel I should break the post down into a limited number of points I believe will help others most. Since I have already shared my story in my book, Training on Empty, I decided to give only a brief history of my career as a runner. The reason why I feel this is necessary at all is to show not just what I have survived but how my past played a role in both the eating disorder and my recovery.

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We Lost a Beautiful Soul

About a week ago today we lost a blog reader to anorexia.

Elizabeth Ellie S was not a close friend of mine. We never even met in person. I don’t know how she found my blog, but when she did, she added me as a friend on Facebook and has been supportive ever since, “liking” my Facebook updates about the blog and giving me words of encouragement. I admired her bravery, love, and kindness, and wondered if we could meet someday.

I awoke Friday morning to find out, through Facebook, that anorexia had taken her life. I remembered thinking months ago that she could die from this, but I never thought this soon, this sudden, and honestly … a big part of me said “Nah, that won’t happen.” Elizabeth had been working so hard to recover while helping others too, and it seems she just wasn’t able to get there fast enough.

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How to Find Balance in Eating Disorder Recovery

Q: Balance – If we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t as able to [take care of] others. It’s about finding balance so that you avoid extremes in diet and exercise. I know that people have commented that they want to know what diet you finally found that works best, and it makes me wonder if they are looking for answers for themselves. That’s a pretty tough question to answer because nutrition isn’t that cut and dry, and there is still a lot that we don’t know. Everyone thinks that they are an expert, and you can find great arguments that support almost any diet. That’s why I think balance and moderation. I’m curious to learn where you are at with this.

Balance is a topic my friends tried to stress to me at one point this past year (something I will go into detail in my project – it was stressful, but eye-opening, and continues to turn up in my life as I come to more conclusions/realizations).

Being a perfectionist, dedicated, hard-working person who finds the ultimate “secret” to success (supposedly) caused me to be consumed with achieving success at the cost of my mental and physical health. I think it comes with having that natural drive, that certain personality – we perfectionists seem to want to go “all the way” with anything and everything. If a little bit is good, then a lot must be better, right? I think it comes with being a runner, too. You think, if I run this many miles, then ten more miles each week would make me even faster. While that can be true, we perfectionists think we can bump it up quickly: Because I have enough discipline. Because I have enough willpower. Because I can force myself to do it.

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