Disordered eating among women athletes, Take Two

I want to start today’s post by thanking everyone again for the brave, thoughtful, insightful comments on my post about disordered eating among women athletes earlier this week.

I obviously think this is a hugely important topic for runners and other athletes (women and men—disordered eating isn’t gender-specific, even though my Women’s Running story on the topic was!), and I wanted to continue the conversation by sharing some thoughts about just a few of your comments.

Victoria (District Chocoholic) wrote: If an athlete trains appropriately and is getting the right nutrition, their body will adapt to actually be optimal for the sport. Totally. The experts I spoke to for the story all emphasized that overcoming disordered eating isn’t about your body weight meeting “healthy” standards on some chart, nor is recovery about eating a prescribed amount of calories: It’s about training for your sport (not for the calories burned), and learning to eat to fuel that training and your basic functions of living, according to what your body truly needs.

 Kimberly Turner Bouldin was one of several people to share her own experiences with disordered eating/body image struggles, and wrote: I don’t “starve” myself like I used to, but I certainly have issues. Negative thinking, food rules, freaking out if I can’t get my run or workout in. I count calories, though I tell myself it is so that I eat enough, but silently cheer when I am under the rec. amount. Thanks for being brave enough to post this, and for realizing that behaviors that look normal to the outside world aren’t OK if they’re wreaking havoc on your psyche—and for realizing that you deserve to enjoy the sports and activities you love for the pure joy of them, not for the calorie-burning prisons they can become.

Beth at SwimBikeRunDC said: It’s so hard to figure out what is normal and what is disordered. I KNOW. I struggled to wrap my brain around that when I first started researching this topic, too. Here’s how you know the difference: When you think about a given behavior, ask yourself: Does this contribute to my happiness and my health? If you get the sickening feeling in your stomach that the answer is “no,” it’s probably disordered, and you owe it to yourself to scrap it.

From my lovely friend Alexis, who’s gained a totally new perspective on health after battling breast cancer: I don’t think I’ve recently passed up a cookie, brownie, or bowl of ice cream because I felt guilty. If I did pass it up, it was probably because I wasn’t hungry or I’ve already had cookies, brownies, or ice cream that day. One of the experts I spoke to for the story said normal eating is saying “yes” when it’s appropriate to say “yes,” and “no” when it’s appropriate to say “no.” This seems so smart to me! Sometimes, you really don’t want or need the brownie. Other times, saying “no” to the brownie is deeply unhealthy, and can leave you feeling deprived. It’s a huge step toward good health to truly know what our bodies and souls need at any given moment.

Finally, many of you commented on the toxic headlines and information in women’s magazines—even in many running magazines—and in “health and fitness” blogs. This topic could fill up a book, not just a blurb on my blog post, but I feel like it’s important to address it, albeit briefly.

First, I obviously find the pressure to be skinny in certain sports, such as running, gymnastics and synchronized swimming (to name a few), sickening and dangerous. I also find the focus on weight loss in the aforementioned media maddening, *especially* when the weight-loss buzz masks perfectly good information. One example: I got some really excellent tips about perfecting my “eagle pose” from a yoga spread in a certain women’s magazine … but I had to choke back vomit when I noticed the magazine had re-named eagle pose “the thigh master.” Which is what yoga is all about, right?

Second, I just want to point out that this falls into the “we get the media we deserve” category. (Why does cable news feature hours upon hours of crap and celebrity gossip? Because we watch it, that’s why.) But you don’t have to spend your time writing hate-mail to magazines about their stupid advice on getting skinny to be a responsible media consumer. Instead, when a magazine or blog does something right, say so. And when it does something right consistently, keep reading—be the Ghandi of media consumption, and be the change you wish to see in the world (or at least the change you wish to see in your Google Reader and on your newsstand)!

If you missed my story about disordered eating among women runners in the new issue of Women’s Running magazine, I’d love for you to check it out, then join the conversation.


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5 responses to “Disordered eating among women athletes, Take Two

  1. So, we should comment on your article in Women’s Running about how thought-provoking and well-researched it is :).

  2. THE THIGH MASTER!?! well that really itches my noodle!!!

  3. Very good points. I think the key is really being in tune with what your body needs and even wants. I used to have an eating disorder and in order to recover I had to be blind to calories and the number on the scale. Learning to just listen to my body was key– although it was difficult after years rule-based eating. Even today, nearly 10 years later, I am still surprised at the amount of food I eat and can still fit into my clothing. 🙂

  4. I thought your article was really good Amy (and thought-provoking), as was the subsequent discussion. If I was asked in the abstract, I would respond that I think I’m a pretty normal, healthy eater. But then after reading the article I started to wonder if maybe I do sometimes make a disordered decision. I’d like to think that I don’t, but I can’t say that with 100% certainty. Thanks for starting this conversation. It’s definitely given me a lot to think about!

  5. liz

    I have to second Beth’s comment. And I also think about that when it comes to disordered exercise behaviors. Sometimes I read some blogs and wonder if they have an unhealthy compulsion to exercise.

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