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.


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

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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Life-Saving Imperfection

After another dose of editing Running in Silence, I’ve set aside my book yet again, hoping I won’t have to go back to it too much more now. The staff at Koehler Books get to handle it at this point, which is a relief because I have to let them take it away from me so I stop trying to find more to “fix.” But as my editor Dean Robertson said, “Remember: the book is about recovering from the quest for perfection.”

So I have to stop trying to make the book “perfect.” I figure that if anyone finds fault with it, I’ll just tell them that those imperfections are because the book is exactly that–imperfect! It was my intention all along. :)

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The Eating Disorder and My Disappearing Social Life

I felt happy for most of my high school years. I can’t say it was a joy ride, but it certainly wasn’t bad. I mainly focused on running and schoolwork, but I also built relationships with my friends and made a few new ones—until the connection between weight and running became the sole focus in my life.

During my final semester of high school I counted calories as teachers taught lessons in class. I ate lunch alone. I wore baggy pants and sweatshirts because I couldn’t muster the energy to wear something nice, and because those were the warmest clothes I had for a body that constantly felt chilled. I dragged myself through the hallways in silence and fatigue. I ran my track races with the main goal to please my coach and to try to feel a greater sense of worth.

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In college, things would change, I thought. With each run leading up to that first college semester, I assessed my body and yearned for energy again. I hoped I would find happiness. College was supposed to be the period where I could start over and show the real Rachael I had always wanted to let out.

College was a great transition for me. I wrote to my parents and family friends about how happy I was, how much I enjoyed the freedom, how great it was to run the fastest I had ever run in my life. But as I got further and further into the college scene, I began to realize how tough it really was to be who I knew I was deep down—the person I had hoped, by then, would come out. I searched for opportunities to bring the real Rachael out at last, but even though I attended events on campus, shared my knowledge of nutrition, and won races, I still could not seem to connect with my own teammates on a deeper level than just running. I made friends with my classmates, but in reality, they were probably more just like acquaintances for those first few years.

Reaching Out

During my sophomore year of college I emailed my friend Sharon about my food difficulties. And now, four years later, I recently told her how sorry I was that our conversation back then was probably the extent of my connection with her; that I hadn’t talked with my childhood friend Jackie in months; that even with the other few friends I made in college, I had good times with them but my mind was so occupied with the eating obsession, that I never had time to be there for them when they had taken so much time and energy to be there for me.

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Working to recover from the eating disorder was the path to bring out Rachael. The Rachael deep within screamed to be heard, demanded to be exactly who she was. But it was a mess–it was like a rebirth, and not without the complications and “yuck.” It meant ups and downs with the emotions, dealing with the torrent of bingeing to periods of restriction, letting my fear drive me to bulimia, and losing everything I ever thought I had wanted in life—the thinnest body I could achieve, success in running I had only ever dreamed of, and pleasing everyone around me with my performances.

Coming Into My Own

College ended up as a five-year period of forging a new relationship with myself. While I had sunken into the eating disorder for my last semester of high school, now in my last semester of college I rose with a stable energy and a newfound joy in simply being. And suddenly, I discovered it was easy to be open with others; that I was no longer just talking about running and nutrition; that it was effortless to share my opinions and practice confidence; that it was okay (and even kind of funny) to make mistakes—and that my body was not a mistake.

And with all of that, stronger friendships developed.

I could say that I found myself too late; that now that I have graduated college and I am happier than ever, I had lost many opportunities to be all of myself during those college years and develop great relationships. But it took the eating disorder to force self introspection, development, and to be the wakeup call I had needed for so long.

Thank you to the friends who stuck with me through the worst of it–when I wasn’t the happiest, most exciting friend–and stayed with me through the end.

When Loved Ones Can’t Understand Your Eating Disorder

When I first told my mom about the eating disorder, she seemed to continually ask the wrong questions and make the wrong suggestions (“Well let’s step on the scale to see where you’re at!” and, “But did you throw up all your food?”). It’s tough to get off to a good start when someone hasn’t experienced an eating disorder. My dad probably had one of the most difficult times trying to break it apart.

“How can you physically keep stuffing in more and more food?” he asked one night when we had agreed to sit down to talk. “I mean, I get to the point where enough is enough in one meal.”

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Today, I Graduate

I entered college anticipating a chance to start over—a chance to bring out the person I had always felt had been trapped inside. I left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that I still couldn’t let it all go.

I didn’t know how to let it all go.

I reached my dream in running with school records and All-American finishes as a college freshman, only to realize that this was not as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be; that as everyone praised me for my efforts, fear of the dissatisfaction I felt and a yearning to go to extremes haunted me in the loneliness of the disorder and perfectionist mindset.

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Mom Speaks: Her Thoughts on My Eating Disorder Journey

We love food in this family. My husband and I look forward to meals and plan out fun things to eat for days at a time. We go out a lot. We shared our love of food with our daughters as much as possible. We were always encouraging them to try new things and laughing because we were all physically active and did not need to watch what we ate and communicated this clearly with the girls.

My mom couldn’t have explained our family’s attitude towards food any better than that. I grew up in a household where food and the love of it was encouraged. We ate everything in moderation. We weren’t banned from desserts. We had a healthy portion of processed food with healthy whole food dinners. I would say that perhaps the bad attitude about bodies/physical shape in general came more from the similar attitudes society had towards overweight individuals: “Fat,” “looks bad in that dress,” and “lack of discipline and control” were not uncommon phrases heard inside and outside of the home.

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Food Fights and Friends: Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder

I often think about one of my high school cross country teammates who may have dealt with an eating disorder. I couldn’t understand it at all back then and tried to encourage her to eat foods like cheese (“It has calcium for strong bones!”) but our discussions never went much beyond that. I didn’t know how to help her, and she never fully confessed to me about her possible eating disorder. I only know from mutterings here and there that she had some nutritional issues and couldn’t race a few times because of it. I can only guess that if we had talked about it more, I would still have been at a loss as to what to do for her. Thus I believe it takes a very special person to have sympathy and patience for someone with an eating disorder. This post hopefully not only gives insight into what it takes to be a supportive friend, but it is also a thank-you to the amazing people in my life who have been there for me with my own experiences with the eating disorder.

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Me, Alina, Rachel

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A Father of Food: My Dad Dealing with the Eating Disorder

My dad loves food. Like, loves it. He has encouraged this same love for food in our family by cooking us meals and taking us out to fancy, unique, and cultural restaurants. Thus, going on my raw diet and eventually telling him about my eating disorder probably wasn’t his idea of a fun relationship with food with his daughter.

But, my dad has prevailed. Our relationship is still strong, if not stronger–and it is thanks to his support.

We have a great father-daughter relationship. But the eating disorder? He doesn’t get it. He tries, I’ll give you that. But it is no easy task. I had a long conversation with him about it last summer, which didn’t get us much anywhere, but it was a good effort on his part and a good way for me to practice being more open with him about it.

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My Relationship With My Mom: Eating Disorder Triggers

Months ago I watched a video clip on YouTube of a woman who had anorexia being interviewed by a reporter. When the woman revealed her daily food intake, the reporter commented by saying, “Well that’s actually more than I thought it would be!”

I stared, shocked. The reporter had no idea what she had just done, but I knew instantly how the woman must have felt hearing that. I knew the woman’s internal thoughts, but I also knew that the reporter had expected to see something like only a half an apple a day, instead of the (still) measly portions the woman was allowing herself.

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