For Coaches, How to Help Athletes with Eating Disorders (Q&A with Paula Quatromoni Part 1)

Ever since meeting Paula Quatromoni at the Eating Disorders in Sport Conference last August, we have been in constant communication. Paula even had me come speak at Boston University to talk about my eating disorder experience, recovery process, and the book Running in Silence, which she endorses as a great resource for athletes and coaches, along with the information she provides below (including a downloadable PDF guide).

Paula has been especially helpful for me since I am not an expert/professional in the area of treating eating disorders. So as one of the leading experts in this field, it is a privilege and an honor to have Paula answer a few questions to help coaches better work with athletes who may have eating/weight struggles. Stay tuned for another Q&A with Paula in the near future!

Q: What can coaches/parents/sports programs do if an athlete is resistant to going to an eating disorder therapist or dietitian, but very clearly struggling with an eating disorder?

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We Must Speak

I want to tell you that it is okay to ask for help. That even now I still struggle to do it myself. That just the other day, when I finally admitted to myself that the eating disorder was worsening again, that it was okay to say something.

That I must.

I want to tell you that no problem is too small to keep to yourself. That you deserve to speak for your body, and that perhaps those of us who suffer from eating disorders or other modes of self-harm have some of the toughest times asking for help because we have learned to speak with our body instead of our tongues. That we do speak, but in a language of silence when we leave the dinner table too soon, when we skip lunch, when we creep to the kitchen at midnight to fill our bodies too quickly and too guiltily, when we stow away to the bathroom after every meal–because doesn’t it feel like your eating disorder will always be there for you? That it will keep you company when you feel your worst, and no one else will get hurt but you? That you don’t have to “wear anyone down” but yourself when you feel stressed and hurt and angry and frustrated?

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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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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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Hungry to Speak

You ask me why I eat in secret.

I wish you couldn’t see me eat. I wonder how much you think about what I eat. I decide what I will eat next to make it look like I am not eating too much. I wait until it is noisy enough in the room so that you may not notice how much I am eating when I grab more food.

I sit there acting like nothing is wrong because I don’t want you to notice I am screaming inside. I don’t want you to know how embarrassing this is for me.

You ask why I can’t have more self-control. I tell you, it is because I used to have all the control in the world.

You ask me why I take food out of the trash. I tell you, it is because I used to spit my food into it.

You ask me why you find food wrappers, empty cans of vegetables in strange places around the house. I tell you, it is because I pushed food away for so long–and now there is a shaking, anxious girl inside of me that is terrified she will never have enough.

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Weightism: Eating Disorders and Mental Health in Obesity

“They almost treat me like a leper, really. Like I don’t deserve a place in society because I’m obese. You know, I must be so fat that my heart doesn’t break when people say things.”
~Jean Marie from “Fat Doctor,” Series 3 Episode 1

Weight discrimination: It’s real. It’s happening.

And I’ve been guilty of it.

I used to be one of those people who said, “They just need to have more control. They just need to eat healthier.” Just because it was easy for me. But once I fell into the pit of food obsession, once I endured the overwhelming cravings and seemingly never-ending restrict-binge cycle, and as I’ve gained weight despite every intention to try to lose weight again, I feel as if I’ve had a glimpse into the world of an overweight person.

Not only have I not endured the physical disabilities that come with being obese, but most of all I have not faced the torment, the never-ending weight discrimination that haunts many people for the rest of their lives.

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Self Worth: How Have I Learned to Love Myself More?

Q: Self worth – How have you learned to love yourself more?

I believe that self exploration helps us to find our self worth. Without knowing ourselves on a deeper level, we can’t learn to appreciate who we are.

I thought that after admitting to my mom that I had an unhealthy relationship with food, everything would improve. I thought I had gotten it all out, that I would just move on and lose weight again, get back on track, and try to forget all the bingeing that had been a result of restricting for so long.

Not exactly.

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Doesn’t Every Woman Have An Eating Disorder?

It’s amazing how many of us are obsessed about our weight. This does not, of course, exclude men (men getting eating disorders, too), but it seems typical–almost normal–to see nearly every woman out there on a diet, attempting to lose weight, or at least never feeling satisfied with their body. It’s an unfortunate truth, and it’s a big problem in our society. With all the fat-shaming, and especially a bias against women (see just one of many articles about the subject here), it makes eating disorders that much more common.

We can’t just blame the media, either. Eating disorders are not caused by the media, but media images/pressure can act as a ‘trigger’ to someone who may be predisposed to developing an eating disorder. It wasn’t like one day I looked at a skinny woman on a magazine and thought, I want to be skinny as her, and developed the eating disorder.

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The Power of Fear

Q: Even though running was your primary goal, when it became evident that the diet was detrimental to running it still pulled you back in. Why do you think it still gripped you even when you knew it wasn’t the direction you wanted to go?

One word: Fear.

When I continually tried to stay on the raw food bandwagon (especially the fruit-focused diet), I felt that I “just wasn’t it doing it right,” that I had worked too long and hard to learn everything about the benefits of raw food (and its connection to weight loss) to stop. After all, what would that leave me with? Cooked food would only cause me to binge more–or so I thought. I was afraid of my own appetite, afraid of how “out-of-control” I would feel eating any cooked food (it just tasted too “stimulating”–now I would happily say, DELICIOUS!). I feared gaining weight, feared putting all the hours of research to waste, feared that if I didn’t at least try this raw food diet, I would never reach my running potential. Wasn’t eating only raw food going to get me to the top? After everything I had learned, wouldn’t it be a waste to just go backwards?

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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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