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? Why do you think this is and what strategies really helped you to break the mindset?
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 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”; i.e. 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?

I figured that if I just tweaked this or adjusted that, things would improve over time. After months of learning that protein would “leach the calcium from your bones,” that eating “cow pus” and “animal carcass” was supposedly “immoral,” that if you are strong enough to only eat fruit you will never get fat, I had all the reasons in the world to keep adhering to a diet that I thought would make me skinnier, would make me a better runner, would give me ultimate freedom from my abnormal relationship with food. When it got to the point where I gained weight even eating mostly fruit, I had brainwashed myself to fear not only cooked food, but all food.
So what could I eat? I was destined to starve, because nothing edible gave me peace of mind when I ate anymore. They have it right when they say ignorance is bliss.

I Have More Discipline

At the beginning I felt superior, felt stronger than anyone, felt that I had to keep holding onto this raw food diet because after everything I had learned and researched, it had to be the right thing. I was meant for this diet. I thought I had more discipline than anyone else, that this was something my competitors could not and would not ever do. I told myself that I had an advantage over them, and with all my knowledge in nutrition I felt I could do something they couldn’t. After years of toiling away at running, after working so hard and watching as other athletes made it to the top without me, I grew angry. Why wasn’t my body doing what I wanted it to? Why, after all the discipline and weight training and miles and eating healthy (or what I thought was healthy), why wasn’t it working?
I beat my body into submission–first, by restricting.
My obsession with nutrition and “cleanliness” of food slowly strip away everything else that made me a good runner, too. Weight training? Sure, I’ll do a little. Cross training? Yeah, but does it matter as much? If I just eat less, if I just watch my weight…oh, and now eating only raw food will improve my running even more? And it’ll help me to lose more weight?
Unfortunately, the injuries that plagued me at a low weight kept coming with a vengeance as I dabbled into raw food. It came to the point where, when I was injured, I was barely doing anything like cross training or lifting, things that would help with running and staying in some sort of shape. I had fallen so deep into my eating disorder that I began to believe nutrition was behind all of it, that even if I was injured, I could bounce right back if only I lost more weight. When running was not there for me, I only hoped that raw food would be.
It wasn’t.
I thought about svelt Freelee, about ultra-marathoner Michael Arnstein, how this diet had worked wonders for them. I kept imagining myself skinnier than before, that I could promote this wonderful diet. I imagined posting on 30bananasaday about how I had achieved my greatest dreams in running, thanks to them.

The Weight Will Come Off

As I gained weight stuffing myself with fruit, or not eating enough fruit and bingeing on other high-calorie foods, underneath the fear I figured it would just take time, that I had to wait it out. The people of 30BAD encouraged me to just hang on a little longer, that others who had eating disorders went through this phase of weight gain, too. Eventually the weight would “whoosh” right off, as one woman reassured me. And what else could I do? Cooked food was scarier than raw food, so didn’t I have to trust this process?
And then there was the eating disorder. When I understood that my bad relationship with food had a name, I figured raw food would cure me of it, that it was a way to “fix” myself. I thought that if I ever fell back into cooked food I would have to restrict again, that I would grow fatter than ever before. I thought there was no way I could control myself around “normal” food, so I had to stick to raw food.
Once I realized that fruit probably wasn’t everything I had thought it to be, it still took weeks for me to “allow” myself to eat cooked food. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made it so long and difficult to make this change, especially since I was bingeing on the very foods I was scared to incorporate in a regular diet. But even when I did make the change back to cooked food, it was a long, long process—which you will find out in more detail in the book. If I thought raw food was the bulk of the journey, I was mistaken.
I was now facing my fear head-on. Yes, I was dealing with an eating disorder. Yes, I would be eating cooked food again. Yes, I had to learn to overcome the bingeing, learn how to eat “properly” or “normally” again, learn to be okay with indulging myself in the finer foods in life. I had fallen so fast and hard into the raw food eating disorder that I forgot how and what to eat anymore, and I had to act fast–with three or more meals a day and all the running and racing I was doing for my team, I had to learn to eat to fuel my body properly without under- or over-doing it. I had to do things I never would have thought I would ever do again. I had to lash back at every single concept and rule I had engrained in my brain for the past few years, grit my teeth, and move passed them. If I wanted a good relationship with food again, I had to fight for it. And that meant fighting fear itself. The only way to overcome the fear was to face it.
I had a long road of fear ahead of me.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

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2 Responses to The Power of Fear

  1. Kelly Roth says:

    Fear can be a powerful motivator. I admire how you managed to work through your fear though and realize that you needed help. Realizing you have a problem is almost the hardest step. That’s admitting that you have more to fear than just losing weight. You have yourself to fear. It’s admitting that what you were doing previously wasn’t good for you no matter how many times you told yourself it was. And that is terrifying. You are doing an amazing job.

  2. Karen says:

    It’s definitely harder to go back to eating “normal” food when you’ve read and done research on so much of that food. There is something that I read about cow milk that absolutely terrified me of ever drinking cow milk again (i’ll spare you and anyone else reading this the details unless you want me to tell you). I may not LOVE soy milk (I usually only put it in my malt-o-meal in the morning and tea at night), but not drinking cow milk is something i know for sure i will never do again.
    But what i’m saying is, it’s really hard to eat things that you’ve read such horrible things about. And yet, i see veggie friends of mine just stop caring about all those horrible things they’ve read about the item (i’m not just saying cruelty, but just nutrition in general).
    This is normal to have so many doubts about your food, but one thing i’ve learned is that you have to look at the overall picture. That’s the one thing that’ll keep you from going insane.
    karen

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