My experience with disordered eating

This week, as I was logging food into My Fitness Pal, it hit me: I’m at a calorie level I’ve never been at before (while being in control of my food).

I’ve been reverse dieting myself through marathon training and am currently sitting at 2,111 calories a day. That may not sound like a terrible lot to you, especially with running 60-mile weeks, but it’s huge for me. It’s been a long, bumpy road to get here.

When I looked at that calorie number, I teared up. I then found this Runner’s World podcast and listened to it. At work, nonetheless – not recommended, by the way. It stirred deep emotions.

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It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’ve been seeing Instagram posts all week, and each one instantly brings me back to a different place in my life.

I’ve talked about it a bit, but I’m never admitted it out loud to anyone. I am a disordered eater and have been since childhood. I’ve never perfectly fit into one of the categories, but I’ve been through a lot of them:

  • severe restriction (think 500-800 calories a day),
  • binges (where you physically can’t stop eating and feel like you will explode),
  • purging,
  • orthorexia,
  • and different combinations of everything listed.

At one point, I attended Overeaters Anonymous . No one knows this other than those at the meetings. I digress….

I felt out-of-place, judged almost. Don’t get me wrong, everyone was very nice, but I did notice the sideways glances.

“Why is she here?”
“She can’t POSSIBLY know what binges are.”

I can’t know for sure these were their thoughts, but it felt like it. I quit going, but it was the  first step to admitting I had a problem. Even though I wasn’t diagnosed, I knew I had to face my demons, or they would continue to follow me.

My eating patterns came in waves; sometimes, I’d go without restricting for months, but when a stressful situation came about, bam, back to restriction. The same went for all the other food issues.

Binging is the hardest for me. If you’ve ever binged, you know what I’m talking about. Binging is not simply indulging in unhealthy food or even overeating something. When you binge, you physically lose control. It’s like another power takes over. You keep eating and eating until thousands of calories are consumed and you feel physically unwell. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.

It makes you feel so weak…so vulnerable. Then you promise yourself next time you’ll be better. You’ll be stronger.

I feel somewhat okay sharing this, because I know I’m not alone. You cannot judge a book by its cover. If we all knew what others were facing, we’d feel much less alone.

Running has helped my disordered eating, but there are also some things about the running community that could change for the better. Disordered eating is far too common among athletes.

  • Skinny is a dirty word. I never use it anymore. Why do we culturally aspire to skinny or thin?
  • Thin does not equal better, faster, etc. 
  • Running should never be used as a punishment or as a way to “earn” food. Food is not earned, it’s a basic need.
  • The idea that low-calorie diets are healthy. Especially if you’re an athlete, you need to be eating far more than 1,200 calories. Low calorie does not equal healthy. A lettuce salad is not a meal.
  • Empower everyone, especially women, to learn about nutrition. Don’t listen to the fads. Actually learn the science behind food.
  • The whole “negative space” concept. Women are not better when they are smaller, always striving to take up less space. Women are powerful. We deserve to take up whatever space we feel appropriate.

Even though I’m at a place of relative control now, all the same thought and behavior patterns remain. Now it’s a matter of whether I act on them.

The feeling of being so hungry you’re hollow inside still gives me a sick sense of power and being “in control.” I could still easily binge on a regular basis if I had one little slip. I’m not sure if that’s normal, but I think those feelings will be with me forever.

If you are struggling with any type of disordered eating, know that you are not alone. Please reach out and seek help in whatever form you are willing and able to. You are not weak or lacking some special willpower everyone else seems to have.

Please don’t be ashamed. Seek help. You are worth it.

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