MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership Conference: Making Change

I felt blessed and honored to speak to a group of strong young women last week at the MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership Conference. I loved seeing these ladies interested in mental health and asking thoughtful, important questions.

And it struck me, looking out into the audience, that these high schoolers are the future of sports. These are aspiring coaches and athletic directors.

They will impact lives.

I saw great potential, but also heartbreak. A few tears were shed in the audience as I shared my eating disorder experiences. Having spoken about my own story for years now, I’d forgotten the impact it first had on me, and how new it is for these students to hear. I’d forgotten how scary it was when I first admitted that something was wrong, because now it is so easy to talk about, and I am so far into recovery.

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Sexual Abuse, a Massage Therapist, and Breaking the Silence

I have been watching videos of all of the athletes coming out about the sexual abuse by inmate Larry Nassar. In doing so, I was reminded of the discomfort I had with a massage years ago. What I experienced was not as invasive as Nassar, but something was not right.

I can see why so many women with Nassar blew off their own abuse as “medical treatment,” because you think you should trust professionals to do their job properly, even if it seems strange. You’re embarrassed to question what they do, especially if it makes you uneasy in the first place. They convince you that it’s to help you.

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“Why Aren’t We Talking About This?” Coaches & Eating Disorders

After my presentation at the cross country and track coaches clinic in Illinois (ITCCCA), I was told that one of the coaches who attended my talk appreciated the presentation, and had heard “nothing like it” before. In fact, she thought it to be so unique and important, that she wondered why this wasn’t being told at all the other conferences.

That’s the obstacle right now. Many people don’t realize the monstrosity of the issue, and we are still at the beginning stages of awareness. We still have very little discussion on it, and most of the time the only coaches attending these kind of talks are those who know one athlete on their team who struggles with an eating disorder.

What I’ve been proposing is that this is an issue all coaches should be aware of, and openly talk about with their athletes each year. We cannot afford to wait for an athlete to approach us about an eating disorder (if they ever do bring it up), or only “look” for it in a skeletal frame. Most eating disorders don’t even necessarily HAVE an “appearance.”

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What I’ve Learned in One Year as an Author (and Speaker!)

A year ago today, Running in Silence was released.

The best way to sum up this year would be that it has been a huge learning experience. Writing and getting a book published doesn’t suddenly make everything easier–I had a LOT of work ahead of me. The more emails I received from those who went through similar journeys, and the more people that attended my talks and spoke with me afterward about their struggles, the more I realized I needed to get out there and keep hammering the message.

As a recovering perfectionist (striving to be an “imperfectionist”), writing a book and having it published without being able to make big changes or adjustments when I overthink scenes or experiences in my life has been terrifying. I see ways in which I can grow as a writer, but I’m thankful that I’m not still laboring over the same piece a year later. My perfectionism might’ve left me with this book still in only my hands for the fear of publishing something I might STILL deem not completely “up to par.”

The reality is, I had to get it out there. It was time.

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The Race Many Coaches Have Yet to Run

This weekend I spoke at the MITCA (Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association) cross country coaches clinic to share my eating disorder story (as a reflection of many stories), my recovery process, what may cause eating disorders in running, and of course, how coaches can address this topic each year with their athletes.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous for a presentation in my life. Speaking for an audience I’ve wanted to reach for years made me want to get it down “perfectly.” I am aware that I have other opportunities ahead of me, but I also know that each time I get in front of a group, as someone who has been through an eating disorder, written about it, and coaches as well, it is my responsibility to reach these coaches in the right way.

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Coaching: The More We Speak Up, the More They Will, Too

My “senior year” of cross country coaching finishes up in a few weeks with Jenni Callendar, and after that I will be speaking to Michigan cross country coaches at the MITCA clinic in November to discuss the prevalence of eating disorders in runners, how to approach the topic within our own teams, and why we should speak up every year. I’m in year 4 of coaching and still learning so much; my own methods of raising awareness on the team hasn’t come easily, and the first year I thought just having the knowledge was enough. If I wait for them to come to me, they may never come.

The more we speak up, the more they will, too.

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

Promote a Healthy Attitude About Sport and Fitness

EDCare recently designed an infographic that I believe very well describes 12 signs that an athlete or fitness enthusiast is closer to injury and illness than health and wellness–many of which are associated with eating disorders. It also includes tips for parents and coaches on how to spot signs of obsessive exercise and unhealthy eating patters. Thus, I was glad to have them share it in this guest post. Please check out the post by EDCare below, and at http://eatingdisorder.care/index for more information and resources!

Young athletes may dream of becoming the next Serena Williams or Tom Brady, but most know that it’s just that — a dream. They come to realize that top athletes are a rare breed. Even so, they press on. They still want to see how far they can go with their own physical abilities and mental stamina.

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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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“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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Weight Loss & Running Faster: Beyond Fuel

“But Rachael, you need fuel to run well.”

“Your body is a machine. You are the driver. The body needs fuel and maintenance.”

“If you burn it, it really does not matter what you put in the furnace.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these comments, and easily dismissed them in the depths of my eating disorder while running. I knew how important food was. In fact, I knew everything about food. When anyone assumed I didn’t see food as fuel, it was tough for me to give them much credit since all they knew about nutrition was that you eat to have energy.

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