NEDA Focuses on Athletes and Eating Disorders

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I hadn’t realized this was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and that in particular today is focused on Athletes … and by that they are not talking just about professionals – they are talking about US.

The focus today is on “Athletes and Eating Disorders”

Body image problems, disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders are common among athletes. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding, gymnastics, and running, which tend to place an emphasis on the athlete’s diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements.

In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa (Johnson, Powers, et al, 1999). In weight-class and aesthetic sports about 33% of males and up to 62% of females are affected by an eating disorder (Thompson, PhD. 2010). The good news is that with information and awareness, coaches, parents and teammates can all play an important role in confronting eating disorders and ensuring that athletics are a positive experience for everyone.

Laura wrote a great post about this yesterday, and Meghan did as well today.

On Laura’s I wrote a comment: “I didn’t lose more than 100 pounds – twice – without being pretty messed up regarding my relationship with food.

I say I have ‘disordered thinking’ – and that it is PERMANENT.

And that is how I feel about eating disorders – they are like alcoholism except you have to eat every day. You are never cured of alcoholism, and I believe you are never cured of an disordered eating.

I am now at nearly 3 years within +/-5lbs of target, which for someone my size (6’1″, played line in high school football) is a pretty small and tight distribution. I eat 3 meals every day, enjoy chocolate and ice cream and pizza and even occasional fried foods. But as you mention, I am incredibly aware of what I am eating not just NEXT … but as a ‘5 day rolling average’ – and how it correlates with how I am feeling and my workout schedule.”

It took me until I was in my late 40s to realize that it was more than ‘just being weird about food’, or about being a ‘former obese person’, but that I had an unhealthy relationship with food … and that it extends to my relationship with exercise. It is something I feel I am in a good place with right now … at least relatively speaking. I find awareness is key.

I have to be honest that I see WAY too much disordered or borderline stuff out in the running and ‘healthy living’ community, and it is something I deliberately pulled back from in recent months. I have tried commenting and even the occasional message … but as I know myself, change must come from within.

I hope everyone reading takes a minute to look inward – maybe you have no issues, which is great. But maybe you are always hopping on the latest fad ‘diet’ – even if it is a non-diet like #eatclean or the latest fad cleanse or Paleo-based restrictions that seemed to be on half of the books at Barnes & Noble when we stopped in after Christmas.

Maybe you hop from obsession to obsession – diet to exercise to clean eating to … ? Who knows. Maybe you are constantly ending up injured for no good reason or have other warning signs. Maybe you have no warning signs and just feel everyone is out to get you. Maybe like another comment on Laura’s post said you want to be ‘just a bit too thin’ but not really too skinny.

Whatever it is, take a minute and think about yourself and your relationship with eating and exercise … and ask for help if you need it.

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30 Days of Gratitude – Day #3, Feeding Frenzy

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, perhaps coupled with post about visiting the doctor in some ways, is my ability to eat pretty much anything I want without fear of allergy or other bad bodily response … but that my natural inclination is towards healthy foods. I have talked many times about my history of disordered eating, and that I never believe you are ‘cured’, merely ‘currently successful’ in dealing with it … this is different.

Day #3 – Eating What I want … but making good choices

Because I was born in the 60s, there was a still a large ‘quick food is the future’ sentiment, and we had canned veggies most of the time. I loved fruits and things like carrots and celery and tomatoes, but not much else. Then she traveled for work when I was in high school and my dad introduced us to something called ‘steamed fresh veggies’ … and OMG.

Thing is, throughout my life I never had to deal with ‘food I can’t eat’. Beef, poultry, pork, seafood, shellfish, soy, legumes, wheats, fruits and vegetables … I never had to worry. Spicy foods? Not a problem. My young adulthood was a culinary adventure filled with all kinds of great stuff. I had no idea about food allergies or intolerances until I was in college.

Then I started hanging out with Lisa and made us a big fruit salad for a hike full of things she couldn’t eat due to allergies and intolerance issues. I learned that dealing with spicy foods was about more than just handling the heat – the spices used in many dishes are reactive for some people.

Personally, I found out that I had an intolerance to clams after spending the day at the Boston Chowda-Fest one year … and have never been able to go back. That is my only food issue.

But through the years I have learned just how fortunate I am – I can eat or drink pretty much anything I wanted without being concerned about after-effects. I think most people I know have to work around their food issues one way or another, from what to how to when they eat. The last few years I have seen so many running / healthy living bloggers with eating disorders, digestive issues, allergies, tolerance issues, or foods that they just plain hate … wow.

Yet in spite of being able to eat just about anything, when it is snack time I grab an apple or pear, I love a fresh tomato, and pretty much any fresh whole food is what draws me in. That has been a tremendous benefit for me losing and maintaining weight through the years, and keeping my fueling on target.

Eating and food thoughts?

Part Two of My Weight Loss and Running Journey at The Gluten-Free Treadmill!

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The other day Laura at The Gluten Free Treadmill posted ‘Part 1’ of my weight loss and running journey, which took me from childhood through my post college weight loss and start of running through 2007. You can view it here.

Today she has posted my story from 2007 through today. You can find ‘the rest of my story’ at The Gluten Free Treadmill.

Thanks again, Laura!

Thought for Thursday – Rewriting My Eating Disorder Story

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As I have said before, if you were to look at my eating habits at this point ‘on paper’, you wouldn’t take a second glance. If you saw me on the street, there wouldn’t be an ‘OMG get him a cheeseburger STAT!’ reaction. If you compared my workouts and my food intake, you would not think they were out of whack. According to my doctors I am at a healthy weight and all of my blood levels are solid.

Yet if you could look inside my head, you would know that I struggle. I struggle with eating because I don’t want to become fat again. That fear is a major driving force in my life; for a long time I stayed right around 200lbs, but after getting all the way back to 275 after my thyroid died, I am now concerned about maintaining my fitness and weight loss. That doesn’t always lead to the best behavior or choices – but I like to think that awareness also prevents me from going too far in the other direction.

That is why I say I have ‘disordered thinking’ – I have never been diagnosed, am neither binging nor restricting, but I will always have a ‘complicated’ relationship with food.

My initial intent was to write about handling this relationship on a daily basis, but in the last few days I have come across a few great posts that have inspired me. Someone on Twitter linked to a post called You Get to Choose Your Story, and the next day Danielle posted about rewriting her post-divorce story.

Then Cori posted a great image in a post called ‘insecurities’ (since the image IS the post, I won’t put it here … worth a visit for sure) that had me thinking about how my own body image issues impact those around me. And finally as I was finishing this post up this morning there was an inspiring post at Snack Therapy called ‘You’re Allowed to Love Your Body’. Yes, yes you are.

Choosing My Story

Here is the thing – rewriting your story doesn’t mean you get to rewrite history … you just change your viewpoint on events. Danielle and Sarah discussed it in the context of relationships, and of turning from looking at the outcome as a product of their failures, but instead as a milestone that allows for learning. They do this by looking at two different stories. So that is my approach:

Story #1: I will always be the fat kid – I was obese until 23, got really heavy again by 45, and am one bad choice away from heading right down that path again.

Story #2: I have left behind my obese childhood, and lost my post-thyroid weight and have a plan. I am in the best shape of my life, and lighter than I have been since before I stopped growing (i.e. before entering high school). I have learned so much about eating, fueling, running and myself that even through my life will likely have hills and valleys in the future, I have left behind the disordered approach to weight loss and maintenance through extreme restriction and replaced it with healthy choices and proper fueling.

My choice? I choose Story #2, and am going to OWN that story.

It seems obvious – but it is not easy. It is easier to point to our shortcomings than to our victories, easier to look at how we might fail rather than how we are succeeding.

But it is REALLY important to choose the story that empowers you rather than drains you; gives you inspiration to move forward rather than a fear of falling back. By choosing our story we enable ourselves to develop a clearer vision of where we are going and where we want to be headed.

So I choose to look at where I am now in life and be happy – happy that I have learned, that I am healthy, happy and loved and supported, and that I am in a position to stay in good health enjoying my favorite hobby for the forseeable future while enjoying the foods I love!

How are YOU Choosing Your Story?

My Guest Post at The Gluten Free Treadmill

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The say you can’t play favorites … but who cares what they say anyway?!? The reality is that as a blogger and blog-follower you develop friends and favorite sites – and pretty often in this small corner of the running/healthy living world the two coincide.

Of all the blogs I have followed and read these last couple of years, I can count my absolute favorites on one hand. And one of those is Laura from The Gluten Free Treadmill. It is easy to find reasons – her ‘this was thirty’ personal story series that was just … well, incredible; the way she details her life in North Dakota is great to follow; her ‘live-blog’ of her 31 mile run was one of the best things I’ve read this year; and her weight loss story is inspiring.

But a blog is more than words – it is the heart and soul of a person poured out on the page. So when she started a series of guest posts and asked me to contribute, I was thrilled and honored, and accepted.

You can find my story at The Gluten Free Treadmill.

Thanks Laura!

Five Things Friday – Can We Be Honest Here?

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Have I ever done a ‘stuff that bugs me’ post? Apparently not … and as I tried to do one I realized WHY – not all that much really bugs me enough to make a worthy post. But as always, I have thoughts … some good and some not so good – so let’s just jump right in!

OK, first the picture – yeah, another selfie … but I always seem to take them in my house or driveway, so today I was different! This one I took at the end of the development across the street where they are trying to squeeze just one more house into an area with poor drainage and water table issues. It is a cool street and doing the loop is nearly a perfect mile, which of course I always think about. Then I thought rather than a shoe/short pic I would try an action shot! It is crap, but I laughed at myself and had fun, so you’re stuck with it! Now back to the post!

1. Pro Tip: Cardio ISN’T a Food Group!

OK – I have many thoughts about eating, health and so on, but here is one thing: runners are a pretty screwed up bunch when it comes to eating. We claim ‘clean eating’ then fill ourselves up with pills and powders out of chem labs; we claim we’re listening to our bodies, yet ignore them when it is inconvenient and end up injured; and we talk about fueling but then restrict ourselves to feel super-lean!

And let me be even more clear … before I stepped back a bit and did serious ‘spring cleaning’ on my RSS feeds, Bloglovin’, WordPress and email subscriptions, I would estimate I was subscribed to 3-4 blogs where the bloggers had ‘active’ eating disorders.

OK, that is fine – I have talked about my disordered eating as have many others, and I pointed out the whole series T-Rex Runner did on her struggles. Should we be surprised that people are actively struggling?

Of course not – nor should we be surprised that some of those struggling either don’t realize it or aren’t admitting it to themselves.

As fellow bloggers there is only so much we can do – make comments, send emails, mention it to others who might hold more sway … well, that is pretty much it.

My concern is when I see people on other blogs I follow, commenting on these ‘bigger’ blogs and emulating them … and falling into some fairly obviously disordered patterns (what was that book with the meals of baby carrots and plain mustard?).

Do I have a point? I actually do – I have been saying that I don’t like that there is very little frank discussion on blogs, and that all of the comments are super-nice and super-positive – and those that are critical are seldom acknowledged in any real way.

Well, WE control that! It is up to US to be more frank, more honest, more direct. And it is up to us as bloggers to at least LISTEN when someone calls us on out on our own crap.

So that is my pledge – if I think you are disordered, I will say something (gently of course); if you are being a phony, I will call you out. And if you are awesome, I will tell you that as well.

What about YOU – can you join me and try to do this?

2. And … the REST of the Story

Here is something that will shock exactly no one – not a single blogger tells us EVERYTHING about themselves; nor does any running blogger tells us everything about their running life. Sure many of us reveal personal details – and some tell things on their blogs they have never actually said to anyone else before (I know I have done this!). But it is still controlled – by us.

So what does it say when we learn something fairly significant about someone whose blog we follow through a comment they make on a different blog? Something that contradicts what they say on their own blog? Do you call them out on another blog? (personally if someone did that to me I wouldn’t be pleased), email privately? say something on their blog randomly? forget about it?

This is a tough one – because I think it is up to the blogger to control their own story – but at the same time if the thing we learn is potentially harmful (addiction, child-neglect, self-harm) then we owe it as good citizens to do SOMETHING.

What do you think? (and yes, I have specifics, but none of them were at the level mentioned above).

3. The Continuing ‘Shape Magazine’ Saga

The other day I wrote about Brooke, who refused to change the image she submitted to Shape Magazine for the ‘after’ image of a Success Stories feature. She had lost 170lbs and had loads of loose skin.

Her story has blown up on social media and was picked up by Buzzfeed, and there are now thousands of comments in a variety of places about it.

And this week it has been the comments that have intrigued me. And in particular those from other women. Now we don’t have a fair comparison, because I would estimate that the female:male ratio on comments is ~99:1 … but all of the comments from guys I’ve seen have seen have been either ‘throw-aways’ (‘wouldn’t hit it before, still wouldn’t hit it now’ was one that made me sigh and roll my eyes) or supportive.

But comments from other women have been more interesting, and I think speak broadly to how women see other women and themselves.

Some are very supportive – and much more specific than anything from any of the guys (as I would expect). They talked about the struggle and the pride and about really owning yourself – and also about standing up for something you believe in and so on.

But some are absolutely brutal. There are three basic lines they follow:
– You lost weight and that is a source of pride, but your body is disgusting and you should be ashamed of it and keep that stuff covered up.
– The body you have is a symbol of the abuse you have put your body through, nobody wants to see that – it is NOT beautiful.
– I am losing weight, and if THAT is what I have to look forward to … why even bother. I applaud Shape for not showing that disgusting and non-inspirational body.

Wow … just wow. Not only that, but there were a few commenters who took on anyone who challenged their position that Brooke is disgusting and totally wrong. One in particular basically says ‘she should be proud of her accomplishment, but put on a shirt – no one things that looks good’.

And that is the uniting element in the criticisms: ‘no one’ thinks that looks good.

Those commenters claim to speak for everyone, and while thinking on the one hand that we need to see more ‘real’ bodies, that doesn’t include what extreme weight loss looks like.

And I found THOSE people – the well-spoken ones in particular (I can easily dismiss frothing trolls) – disgusting and disturbing. Because these people tell me that the media has won. That while we SAY we want more ‘real bodies’, more ‘real life’ more ‘body acceptanece’ … what we REALLY want is air-brushed bikini bodies of people who have never been more than 10-15 pounds overweight.

And look – being severely overweight is not something that people WANT to do, and it is definitely something self-inflicted in many cases. But the reality is that the ‘obesity epidemic’ is real and a growing problem, and when you set out to celebrate the stories of people who have achieved huge weight loss, why would you NOT want to show the reality of what that looks like? I mean, think about it psychologically – if you have been picking up Shape or Self or More and seeing ‘weight loss success’ stories that are inspirational and make you think you will look like Tom Brady or Giselle at the end of your journey, and you end up looking like Brooke – you will feel like a failure.

And THAT is what I have a problem with. We should celebrate our bodies, celebrate the success of our weight loss, of our friends and family who struggle, and NEVER let ‘body shaming’ of ANY TYPE (including ‘too skinny’ shaming) occur. Speak up, and let us begin to accept people for who they are.

4. What is this HEALTHY thing, anyway?

One of my favorite bloggers, Laura, had three amazing posts to follow-up ANOTHER amazing post. This week it was Healthy Part 1, Healthy Part 2 and The Ugly Parts – and they tell a story of two important things:
– Dealing with weight, eating and food.
– Addressing the judgment that comes along with all of that.

If you have not read these, definitely check them out. It is funny, after reading ‘Unhealthy’ I was dusting off an old draft I had about what healthy eating actually means to me … but I wasn’t getting anywhere that made any sense, then Laura did her posts and I just nodded my head throughout.

Here is a question: which is healthier – Lisa having 2tbsp of fat-free half & half in her coffee, or me having a small bowl of my homemade ‘peanut butter fudge’ (peanut butter, butter to thin, chocolate flakes to mix, and confectionary sugar to sweeten and thicken)?

If you look at fat, calories, and so on the answer would be obvious. But is it so simple? What if one of the ‘healthy’ criteria was how quickly someone ended up in the bathroom? Then things change! As part of the pseudo-Paleo thing we’ve been doing with Lisa, we’ve found that heavy dairy – and particularly stuff sweetened with HFCS like fat free stuff tends to be – has a rapid response in terms of ‘taking the direct top-to-bottom’ route. (TMI, sorry Lisa!)

Also, I tend to go for a peanut butter ‘dessert’ like that when I feel I haven’t been getting enough food in me – I always get plenty of fruits, veggies, and so on – so I go for the fat and protein in those cases.

So again, it isn’t so simple to just label things ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’.

Let me twist it up – would the answer be the same if instead of my dessert I had the same amount of calories, but in the form of a small bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms? Aaah … this is where it gets interesting! Because when I was at my heaviest in 2012 I had taken to having peanut butter M&Ms as a ‘desk snack’ which I didn’t share, and by the end I was eating a ‘large’ (as labeled) bag within two days … and it is a source of shame for me, as it is about 2 days of fat and calories – and I wasn’t active. And also I have found that the processed taste no longer appeals to me.

So while the calories are the same, the mental impact is VERY different. I have fruit (apple or pear) and pistachios as my ‘desk snack’ at this point, and if I ate a bag of peanut butter M&Ms I would be consumed by negative feelings.

That is just a very small example of why we have to be so careful about labeling foods ‘good or bad’, ‘healthy or unhealthy’ – and by extension labeling PEOPLE with those words – bad eating habits, being unhealthy, and so on. It can be emotionally devastating.

And it gets back to something Laura mentioned and Abby has as part of her ‘about’ page – that ‘healthy’ isn’t a number or a weight or pant size … it is a confluence of physical, mental, physiological, and emotional elements that all work together – and we need to understand their particular symbiosis in OUR life to know what ‘healthy’ looks like for us.

5. We Really DO Have a Great Community

Throughout lent and even this past week I have seen loads of people ‘taking an online/blogging break’ or ‘doing spring cleaning’. I myself did a massive clean-up of things I tracked in all areas of interest and took nearly two weeks away and have slowed my blogging pace considerably.

And I am so glad I did – because it allowed me to regain perspective on just WHY I love this community and really want to stay attached to it. The reality I had to acknowledge was that there would always be more cool people than I could possibly follow and still maintain my job/wife/kids/home/pets and so on … so like I do in general I tried to focus on a few great friends rather than a million acquaintances. It is what works for me.

The result is I can focus more on these blogs – ‘good old friends’ like Laura and Megan, Harold, Ann, Danielle, and many more … and of course making new friends like Cori, Lauren, Running Bear, Sara, Carina, and many more!

All of these wonderful people light up my day with their posts, pictures, insights, comments and perspectives. There is no rule – at first when I started out it was one site through a suggestion of a friend (ironically I no longer follow that initial site), then I found a few through comments, and so on and so on.

And even looking at the list (and more new friends like Suze, Abby, Michele, Rachel, Beth and more) there is no common thread in terms of age, marital status, kids, pets, geographic region, or whatever … but there is one VERY important one: they are all REAL, genuine, individual voices. It is great when you read a post and see a subject and know what someone basically thinks, but still relish hearing HOW they will say it.

So yeah, basically I love you guys. You rock.

Bonus: Some honest stuff from me!

1. I will not follow your blog if you cannot buy a drink – yeah, this one sounds weird, but several months ago I had a 17-year old girl follow me and then email me to follow back. I felt like a creepy old dude because that is how old my son is. So, yeah, no. I have seen great blogs by guys and girls in high school and early college years, but in general if it makes me feel uncomfortable in that way … not gonna happen. I DO find it flattering that a few of my kids friends follow me on Instagram and like my running selfies … it is fun because they are kids we actually know and can all joke about it.

2. Lunch is my hardest meal. – ok, from light to heavy … as I have said, for years I would restrict breakfast and lunch and eat plenty at dinner. Since being a ‘real’ runner for the last couple of years I have been more conscious about my eating and eat great at breakfast and dinner and generally also at lunch. But because of how my work stuff is structured I generally eat in meetings, which means a wrap, apple and soda/water. Similar to when I was in Kentucky for work travel so much last year, the structure keeps me ‘in line’.

But if the meetings are canceled, then I will try to eat something, but am not always good about getting enough. I always have fruit and pistachios at my desk, and will head to the small plant cafeteria to see what is available, but often it is not something I am willing to eat, so I end up with yogurt, fruit and pistachios.

And the thing for me is that “something I am willing to eat”. I keep that thought in the forefront of my mind – because it is dangerous.

3. My ‘No Tech in Bed’ Challenge – OK so it was supposed to be for Lent, but I am extending it … and I would rate myself as ‘mediocre’. I have brought the laptop once, but the iPad remains the problem. It is one thing if I am finishing a game for review, but another thing when I then hit up email and web and Feedly RSS and … ugh. So … a work in progress!

4. Where I sit at work right now sucks – every project needs to find some space for seating, and it is best when you can be grouped in close proximity (I have been on projects where everyone is in a different building, and efficiency plummets), but the one I am on now … is technically a great project and important. But we are in the absolutely crappiest location in the facility, too many people in too small space … well, it is just awful. Oh well, that happens – there is no such thing as a perfect project!

5. Diet Cultsthe book is out as of yesterday, and I have it on my Kindle. I planned to have more to say about it … but my brain’s desire to read was outmatched by my eyes’ desire to close!

So what do you think about ANY of this mess? Or … how about your weekend plans?

Take Care Tuesday – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. And honestly, that is some serious stuff. Important stuff. Life or death stuff. So this is going to be a serious post, but it is a serious issue. Eating disorders hit mostly teenage to early-twenties girls, but more and more this is a gender-free disease that is ravaging our youth and leaving them with a lifetime of health and mental issues. The reality is this: even as we struggle with increased levels of obesity, anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders remain a huge and growing problem.

“Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 23rd through March 1, 2014 and we are asking our supporters to Be a VOICE, not an echo! VOICE your own strengths, talents and standard of beauty, STOP echoing back the mass media’s unrealistic standards. You can help ANAD spread the message of eating disorders awareness!”

I have written before about how I have an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with food and definitely suffer from ‘disordered thinking’ and ‘body image dysmorphia’. But I am an adult, and so have a different outlook and ability to put things in context and perspective.

The purpose of this week is to draw attention to the struggle of those who have eating disorders, with the goal of helping them out – and helping them to GET help. Personally I also want to help people realize that because food is part of life, people with eating disorders have a lifelong struggle – while they might be ‘recovered’ now, the truth of ‘one day at a time’ was never so real.

I have written about this elsewhere in the past, so what I will do is quote myself a bit, and also a few important points elsewhere. I invite everyone to comment and share to keep the conversation going.

A Little Background
Let’s start with some scary stats from ThinkProgress:

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, an estimated 20 million U.S. women and an additional 10 million U.S. men will struggle with a “clinically significant” eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or what’s defined as an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). Although many Americans incorrectly assume that it’s easy to spot an eating disorder, the people who struggle with this condition can actually come in all types of shapes and sizes, and are typically adept at hiding their symptoms.

They also note how eating disorders is the most fatal mental illess, and that a “2003 study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to take their own lives than people who don’t suffer from an eating disorder.”

The Obsessive Pursuit of ‘Healthy’

We have all seen or heard about someone whose dedication to exercising several hours per day and being very controlled in what they are eating sounds like it has gone a bit too far – when you read what they write or listen to them talk it is a bit scary. Well, over at the Independent they look at how a slanted and absolute view of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ can feed into someone who already has an eating or body image disorder:

“There appears to be no concept of moderation – going to the gym is considered ‘healthy’, no matter how obsessive or time-consuming the habit becomes. Eating any type of sugary or fatty food is universally dubbed ‘unhealthy’, no matter how much mental anguish and social exclusion the act of refusing that food might cause.

In school canteens, I now routinely hear teenagers claiming to be ‘allergic’ to wheat, dairy, gluten and sugar, or to be embarking on ‘raw, vegan’ diets they have seen espoused by celebrities in the pages of glossy magazines. “

Because there is such an emphasis on the obesity epidemic, it allows teens to mask obsessive behavior as a healthy pursuit. But make no mistake – there is a line between seeking to push ourselves and hit peak fitness and health … and disordered thinking.

What NOT to Say

Most of us who have experienced tragedy of some type have had people with no idea WHAT to say but a compulsion to say SOMETHING – and not surprisingly in the case of someone with an eating disorder, the things you say to HELP could actually be a trigger that makes things WORSE for the other person.

There are many more, but there are discussions of what NOT to say here, here, here and here, including:

“— DON’T COMMENT ON THE PERSON’S WEIGHT / APPEARANCE. This one should be obvious, but even well intentioned people have a tendency to say things like, “oh, you look so much healthier now!” For a person with an ED, “healthy” can very well mean “fat.” The ED person needs to learn to focus on the much larger world beyond food and weight, and constantly being reminded of zir own appearance is highly detrimental to that. Instead of talking about zir weight, ask the ED person how ze FEELS. “

Pro tip – when you have no idea what to say, try something basic such as “I’m sorry, and have no idea what to say, but I’m here for you”.

The T-Rex Runner

Danielle over at the T-Rex Runner did a very brave thing just over a year ago – she laid our her entire life with eating disorders.

Disclaimer: This is a series of posts about my experiences with anorexia and bulimia. Many of the things I discuss could be extremely triggering if you are dealing with an eating disorder, so please read at your own risk. I am not an doctor or a therapist. I am simply telling you my story.

If you follow her posts, you will know that in recent years she needed stomach surgery due to issues caused from acid erosion from bulimia, has chronic heart issues she’ll never get past that came from her eating disorders, and has terrible back issues that have recently side-lined her from running more than a couple of miles … you guessed it, that stem from her disorder.

She is an incredibly funny and warm and genuine person who has struggled terribly with this disease and at a very young age has chronic and serious health effects that will be with her forever. If we can prevent this from happening to one person it will be a victory.

Pinterest and Instagram Struggle With ‘Thinspo’

Just over a year ago I stumbled upon an article at Buzzfeed that talked about online diet programs that targeted anorexic teens, using popular hashtags and search terms. This is what I wrote at the time:

I didn’t think myself naive when I started my first real engineering job nearly a quarter century ago, yet I was quickly introduced to several new terms by a fellow engineer a couple years older than me. I learned the term ‘MILF’ and the expression ‘mind the gap’ which referred to the space between a woman’s upper thighs indicating she was thin and had proportionally wide hips. Neither or these were particularly respectful terms nor anything I would ever find myself using, but sadly they were two of the kindest expressions that I recall hearing from this engineer (misogynist and sexist don’t begin to cover it). Anyway, that was my context for ‘mind the gap’ …

Over the holiday break I encountered an article talking about difficulties at image sharing sites such as Pinterest dealing with eating disorder relating groups. As someone who lost nearly 100 pounds in the last year the term ‘thinspiration’ sounded great to me … until I saw the images associated with it! The terms ‘Pro Ana’ (for anorexia) were terribly shocking … but nothing in writing prepares you for the ghastly pictures of these young women (because it IS a predominantly female problem) who have starved themselves beyond recognition. Apparently ‘mind the gap’ now involves becoming underweight to the point of maximizing the gap between your thighs regardless of your hips of body type.

It isn’t just Pinterest, they were just the last to adopt new content rules prohibiting Pro Ana groups. Other sites such as Tumblr already have such rules in place, or like Instagram have warnings in place for when you search certain tags.

In the last couple of days the topic has come up again at HelloGiggles and more disturbingly at BuzzFeed. Each points to the rampant increase in the content in spite of the rules from the sites, with HelloGiggles noting:

Instagram, the popular social media photo-sharing app, has recently brought a very serious issue to light. It seems that some people (mostly teenaged females) have been using the photo service to share ideas and images that are pro anorexia. [snip] Once you click “see images”, a sea of images bombards you. Over 306,000 and counting for #Ana alone.

Over at BuzzFeed they look at how weight loss programs and sellers are specifically TARGETING these Pro-Ana keywords on social sites in order to push their goods. Here is some of what they have to say:

Tumblr (and Pinterest) have grappled with how to handle its pro-ana community, and both ban the content, deleting it when it’s brought to their attention. But ads for FatLossFactor.com, a site that sells a weight loss program, continue to be posted by stock accounts against targeted keywords (tags) associated with pro-ana content, like “thinspo” and “starve,” so they appear beside images of extremely thin young women.

Looking at the program (FatLossFactor), BuzzFeed finds that it really doesn’t stand out in too many ways from the other myriad weight loss schemes – they push their service through a variety of advertising methods, bombard social media, and even (like the infamous MyPadMedia) associate positive reviews with web searches for ‘FatLossFactor scam’. The site uses affiliate marketing methods who are incented to drive traffic regardless of the methods.

The other truly disturbing thing is the association of ‘cutting’ with the Pro-Ana groups. It is (unfortunately) not surprising, as both of these things are more related to control than anything else … but it is tremendously sad to think of beautiful young women doing such damage to themselves. Both of my high school aged boys know girls who either had eating disorders or who have engaged in cutting or other self-destructive behavior. It is horrible for them to have watched these friends in such terrible states, and I can only imagine the impact on the girls and their families.

These groups have been around longer than the internet, and those looking for them will eventually find them. But with social media and visual social media in particular, the ability for these ideas and images to propagate quickly is easier than ever. And … more dangerous. If you have kids, even in elementary school, it isn’t too early to start talking to them about body image and reinforcing that beauty comes from within, not according to a scale or (Photoshopped) magazine image. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes.

It is very interesting what I have seen, read and learned in the meantime. It has helped me understand my own struggles and patterns, and also those in others. It has helped me realize that eating disorders are not some one-dimensional problem, there is no universal solution, and once you start dealing with one you will be struggling in one way or other for the rest of your life.

Food Is Fuel

I was surprised when I started reading in early 2013 just how much of a problem eating disorders are for runners. Of course, we discuss it openly here and many of you have shared your own thoughts and feelings – and struggles – and have just been amazing. And that brought me back to the one contrast with those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction: people with eating disorders need to cope with their problem while simultaneously having to use the object of their difficulty multiple times a day. The reason is simple – food is for fuel and is essential to life.

Here is a bit of what I said at the time, using my own story as fodder:

While HOW I started running – being a 375 pound guy who decided to start running and immediately kept it up 4-5 days a week – is not exactly standard, WHY I did it – to lose weight – is very common. In fact, it was the reason I picked up running again last year after 5 sporadic years. But as I frequently say, this time I went from being someone who ran for weight control to being an actual runner who was always training and pushing to run better, longer and faster. I eat better than ever, run faster and further than ever before, and as a result I am in the best shape of my life. Also, I eat LOADS of food, but I have completely rebalanced what I eat and when.

When your goal is simply weight loss and maintenance, exercise is often a ‘diet augmentation’ – in other words, you are not training, not really seeking to hit any exercise goals unrelated to weight loss, and very often heavy workouts are a part or excuse to a reward system based on … yep, food. And generally our ‘rewards’ are not proper recovery food, but instead ‘junk food’ we feel we have ‘earned’. I know that for many years my running allowed me to eat a pint of ice cream as part of lunch, have a bag of M&Ms in my desk, and so on.

What I never really thought about was the content of my diet – because I never stopped living in ‘weight loss mode’, so food was always both the enemy and the ultimate reward for me. In other words, I never saw food as simply ‘fuel for living’.

I am certainly not alone in that regard, as evidenced by the spiraling obesity statistics in our country. Rather than looking at food as fuel to be eaten in certain amounts at specific times for maximum effect, how do we use food?
– For pleasure
– For comfort
– As a painkiller when we’re sad, depressed, or hurt
– As a social tool
– As a sexual tool/toy
– A reward
– Just something to do when we’re bored
– As Gifts

Food is equated to health, it can become an obsession, and an addiction that can ruin lives. Our economy has many billion-dollar food-related industries that are constantly trying to sell us something quick, easy and highly profitable for the company that is really not great for our bodies. Through the years, it has become harder to know what is REAL and what is a ‘lab recreation’. We hear about how so many ‘multi-grain’ foods are actually highly processed grains reconstituted with added components and nutrients to meet labeling standards. We know that very often the cheapest foods are the least nutritious, as they are filled with chemicals that deliver taste and shelf-life without actually delivering the full nutrition of ‘real’ foods such as natural yogurts or fruit.

My story of learning the importance of ‘food as fuel’ has been told before, but looking back when it was fresh it is more interesting – and more scary! I had no idea what I was doing – and it could have had disastrous results:

It was mid-August 2012, and I was already under 200 lbs, having dropped more than 75 pounds in about four months. I was running 8-10 miles a day 5-6 days per week, most weeks easily exceeding 50 miles per week – and I really didn’t know that was a lot at the time. I had signed up for a half-marathon, but I really had no clue how to prepare my nutrition or anything about ‘tapering’. In fact, all I did the day before was to ‘take it easy’ with a 6 mile run the day before. But I had run 12 miles in a single go before and wasn’t overly worried about the distance – and I knew I would need something during the run, so I had bought a few Gu packets. I had a small breakfast a while before the run, but at that point all I was having was yogurt and fruit.

Boy was I ever in for a surprise! On race day, I forgot my GPS watch so had to go on feel, which I was still developing. As a result I went out fast – WAY too fast. That pace was tough, but I kept it for the first half, and when I came to the turn-around point I had a Gu with water. Yes, water, because I didn’t want all of those extra calories, which was the same reason I only used one Gu packet. Soon enough I felt myself starting to slow down. I didn’t fight it too hard, as I knew I’d gone out too fast.

But later in the race I was getting exhausted, and by mile 11 I was seriously concerned that I couldn’t finish the race. I was afraid that if I stopped to walk I wouldn’t be able to start again, so I kept running. My joke is that I ran a 8 minute mile for the first half and an 11 minute mile for the last half to end up with my 9:24 overall pace. But how I felt crossing the finish line was no joke – I didn’t feel good. I had run out of fuel long before the end of the race, and my body felt like it was tearing itself apart to give me energy to keep going.

It took running a full marathon and another half marathon in the following months for me to understand just HOW BAD I felt, and it was not good. I didn’t want to be touched, had a hard time eating anything, felt muscles tightening, so I didn’t stop wandering around. Of course, I did my best to just shake it all off and get into the car to head home after a short time, my family still concerned at how I was feeling but assuming since it was my fastest pace yet that I was just spent.

Bottom line: I went to run a half-marathon in the midst of a restrictive diet that wasn’t balanced for my running needs, and neglected to remember to fuel up as part of my training plan. I learned a lot that weekend, and put it all into practice in later races and ever since. Now when I eat, I approach it from a totally different perspective: fueling heavily in the morning, sustaining mid-day and using more vegetables in my dinner fare.

I keep coming back to Setting Goals as a cornerstone: as I have said, many people who exercise at a gym or pick up running or go on a diet have a goal of ‘weight loss’, but that is a bit vague, and it results in looking at food as the enemy to be minimized and avoided, rather than as an essential part of the REAL goal which is ‘healthier living’.

The Take-Away

In that half-marathon I just described I learned about ‘food as fuel’, something I knew instinctively but clearly didnt’ understand. But I learned something else – I learned I had an unhealthy relationship with food, that I suffered disordered thinking … and that I would struggle with it forever.

I have also learned that I have a terrible body image, and even this morning I saw myself in the background of a picture my son posted on Tumblr … and was surprised at how thin I looked (naturally I could find ‘fat zones’, but was overall surprised).

At the same time – I am lucky. My issues are self-contained. I don’t feel the pressure to look like someone else, don’t get external pressure from my wife or kids or friends or family to be something I am not. At this point in my life I am fully surrounded by the positivity of unquestioning love and acceptance.

But for millions of young women and men – and very likely at least a few who will read this – it is a different story. For millions, each meal is a struggle every trip in front of the mirror is an ordeal, and every social situation is additionally stressful due to the fear of judgment and feelings of inadequacy.

So this week, reach out to those around you – let them know that they are OK just the way they are, that you love them, and that you are there for them no matter what. As is true for so many things, people with eating disorders need to decide for themselves when they need help … all we can do is let them know that we are there for them without judgment, only with love.

Let’s take this week and focus our efforts, and try to make eating disorders a thing of the past.