5 Things the Running Community Should Know About Eating Disorders
We as runners love to over-analyze every bit of our training and performance: how much we sleep, what kinds of strength training we do, what we eat, etc. A poor diet certainly won’t help you reach your audacious running goals, but the opposite extreme isn’t healthy either.
As someone who recovered from an eating disorder, I’m passionate about this topic. And with the exception of pieces like Dani Stack’s brave post on her personal struggles, the running community doesn’t talk about eating disorders very often.
But we can’t ignore that they’re a part of our sport at every level — from high schoolers to elites. Here are 5 things you should know about eating disorders.
1. They’re more common than you think
A study of NCAA Division I female athletes (from all sports) found that one third reported attitudes and symptoms that put them at risk for Anorexia. Nationwide, about 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point during their lifetime.
A lot of times, someone battling an eating disorder doesn’t look sick. What’s more, some of the traits that can make a person a great runner — being focused on improving race times, religiously following a training plan, and being stubborn when it comes to backing off from training — can also make him or her prone to developing an eating disorder.
2. Your stereotypes about eating disorders might not be accurate
Eating Disorders don’t just affect females or teenagers. A person also doesn’t need to be underweight to be suffering from an eating disorder, either.
Sometimes medical professionals are slow to pick up on the signs of an eating disorder in a runner because some of the symptoms, such as a low resting heart rate, are also associated with being an athlete in general.
3. Being skinnier makes you faster … to a point
Lose weight, run faster. The idea can be alluring, especially to a young athlete. But too great of a calorie deficit can be detrimental because of what physicians call the Female Athlete Triad.
Disordered eating behaviors can cause menstrual irregularities, which can lead to decreased bone density (and oftentimes stress fractures). It’s a vicious cycle that can be incredibly difficult to emerge from.
4. Eating disorders can have serious consequences
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but physical symptoms can include;
- electrolyte imbalance
- bone density loss
All of these can potentially cause long-term issues, which is why it is important for coaches, parents, and friends to be vigilant for the signs of an eating disorder.
5. Recovery doesn’t need to be a solo journey
If you’re reading this and have struggled with food or body image, I hope you take one thing away from this post: There is hope. There are also many talented, caring professionals in the Twin Cities (including those at the Melrose Center and The Emily Program) who can guide you on your journey to a healthier relationship with food, your body, and exercise.
My own recovery journey included unwinding a love/hate relationship with running, but with the help of a dietitian, counselor, family, and friends I became a stronger, healthier, happier runner.
If you are someone who has struggled with these things and doesn’t know where to turn, contact us and we can help connect you with some resources.