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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.

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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Thin Enough? The Athlete’s Dangerous Secret

Following up on the recent bravery of Michigan State University standout runner Rachele Schulist, I want to share my story too, because I think it’s important for all of us who’ve dealt with body image issues to speak up–
and that includes MANY of us.

Let’s examine what Rachele calls, “the lie of not being thin enough”:

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TOP LEFT PHOTO: Being thin for collegiate running got me school records, 6th & 7th places at the national cross country and track meets, and times a minute faster than I had ever run for a 5k. Sounds “successful,” right? It also created isolation, obsession with food, constant hunger, and a disconnect between me and my teammates. My only identity was cutting food and running fast.

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“It Is What It Is” and Second Chances

I am still racing in college–in fact, after coming out about my eating disorder and starting this blog, I am only halfway through my college career. I have two more years!

At this point I see the final two years of college as a second chance–a second chance to compete for my team, to continue letting go of Rawchael (while remembering her too, for she has made me into the stronger person I am today) and to continue to become the best Rachael I can be.

A second chance to be able to live the college life free from (or at least lessened by) the burden of anxiety with food. I can’t believe I’ve been consumed with all of this for nearly four years now . . . and that’s often a short span of time for those with eating disorders. Through research I learned it can last ten years to a lifetime in some cases. And it seems early intervention is the key to recovery. In a way, trying a raw food diet forced me into getting help. But it still took a long time. Once I did receive more help, I saw that writing, analyzing myself, and getting the support and help from friends and family (i.e., talking a lot) sped things up.

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A Glimpse of Where I Am Now

It feels like it’s been a long grieving process; like a part of me was dying slowly before my eyes for the past few years and I had to watch it unfold. I just couldn’t let her go. No matter how mean, how frustrating, how deceiving that voice was, I could not let her go. Hadn’t she given me success? Hadn’t she brought me glory?

Or had I forgotten that there was pain and fear all along?

After gaining the weight back, I felt I had lost the powerful Rachael, the Rachael in control. And now I’m left with a blanket of fat to cover me up. Or is it the eating disorder covering me? Did I just need to let that past Rachael go? I felt like losing all the weight through restriction and gaining it all back plus some left me feeling that I lost a piece of myself. And every day I thought about bringing her back to life.

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On your mark . . .

I cannot say starting this blog is easy, but something within prompts me to share what I’ve been hiding for too long. Something tells me I need to look back at my food log from more than a year ago when I began a raw food diet. By doing this, perhaps I will discover what happened along the way that led me to where I am now. Maybe I can see why I was in denial about my poor relationship with food.

I did not start the raw food diet out of striving for health. I wanted weight loss. After a year of restricting calories, I wanted to continue to lower my weight. After losing over X pounds in a matter of months during my senior year of high school, I was at first satisfied with a lower weight (BMI of 18.5). But once I correlated the low weight to success in my first year of college racing track and cross country, I wanted more. I was determined to drop more weight each year to run faster.

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