“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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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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Discipline, Drugs, and Disorder

I was recently challenged with the notion that eating disorders are not as intense or similar to drug addiction or alcoholism. I’ve also been challenged about how much eating disorders are a discipline–not a disorder–issue.

And then we have misconceptions about what eating disorders “look” like: only when are you scarily thin should you get help. When you are overweight, you just need to “eat less and exercise more.” Not exactly.

There’s a lot to fight against with eating disorders, and perhaps that is what makes them so difficult for sufferers to admit what they are going through. I do appreciate the questions I receive from those who simply have not had an eating disorder because it means they are either trying to understand, or that they are at least helping me to understand their confusion and skepticism. But it can be frustrating when people quickly dismiss the illness lightly when you are not hooked up to an IV or fainting at work.

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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: Holistic Nutrition Counselor Laura Burkett on Intuitive Eating

This next guest post is by Laura Burkett, a holistic nutrition counselor and eating psychology coach in West Michigan who works with local and national clients. I actually met Laura the summer I was learning and first experimenting with raw food. She came to speak at a nutrition workshop/seminar at Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids, and I met her in her office a few months later to discuss holistic nutrition. Even with the very few times we talked, I was very interested in what Laura did for a living so I hope you all can learn a bit about what she has to offer about intuitive eating.

Hello friends.  I am happy to be here with you. Thirteen years ago, I sat on the bathroom floor of my college dorm bathroom alone, bawling, stomach distended, after having binged, and knew deep within myself that part of my soul’s journey would be learn how to heal eating struggles with the deepest of integrity and would teach others to do the same.  I was certain we were still in the Dark Ages when it came to how to thoughtfully and elegantly work with the areas of eating, weight, and health.

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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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Eating Disorders Vs. Healthy Eating

Let’s say a friend chooses to order a salad while the rest of your friends order pizza. Is this friend restricting calories to lose weight he doesn’t need to lose? Or does he genuinely just want a salad right now because pizza doesn’t sound appetizing at the moment? But what if this person does need to lose some weight and is working on a healthy weight loss plan?

Some people may eat in a way that makes others think, eating disorder. But this is a touchy accusation. You can’t point to every raw-foodist and claim they have an eating disorder. You can’t claim every vegan has eating disorder issues. And you can’t assume that just because someone eats a seemingly balanced diet that they don’t have an eating disorder. Some may eat in restrictive ways to avoid actual food allergies or find that they feel better eating this way, while others use “gluten intolerance” or “raw food diet” as an excuse to carry out their eating disorder behaviors in a more convincing way.

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Why Did I Attempt a Raw Food Diet as a Runner?

One of the biggest questions asked was why I felt the need to do the raw food diet. For those of you who think it is the most strange, absurd decision anyone could make, for someone who was battling an eating disorder, it might make “a lot of sense.” It all depends on perspective, what is important to us, and who we are as people. Nutrition happens to be important to me. It has always been a large focus in my life, probably because I had a focus on health as a runner since the age of five. Since my obsession with weight had escalated (to the point where I felt mostly food and weight mattered in making me a better runner) I went into the raw food diet thinking it would help my relationship with food, not hurt it.

running at houseman

I’ve been running for a LONG time :) 

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Why Did I Binge? Raw Food Diet Journal Entries Analyzed

Now that I’m “all grown up” in my nutrition and cravings knowledge, I thought it’d be interesting to look back at my old food journal entries to point out “what went wrong” during those binges and intense cravings (for all the raw food journal entries posted on the website, go here). Why did I feel so out of control? What was I missing?

A whole lot, some of you say. You shrug. “Raw food. Not enough nutrition.”

Sure, to an extent. Raw food provides great nutrition from all the fruits and veggies, but I was definitely missing out on important parts of the raw food diet because of my restrictive tendencies (well, eating disorder); I was still too scared of calories (“I shouldn’t eat too much fruit!”), and my fear of fat prevailed (“limit the nuts, seeds, and especially the oils!”).

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