Eating disorders article

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08/02/2006 at 09:29
The article says "Eating disorders are more common among male and female runners than among the average population"

I'm not so sure I agree with that statement. I have a history of eating disorders but thankfully it was 20 years ago and I am free of all that now.

'Runners' generally take good care of their bodies and nutrition, so they can continue running and avoid injury.
Whereas, in my experience, people with eating disorders are on self destuct a lot of the time.

I think it's more of a case of people with eating disorders start running to assist the self destruct process and lose weight more rapidly, or enable them to binge more and not gain weight, which is not the mentality of 'a runner'.

Also, there is no real way of gauging the problem as a whole in society because most of it is done in secret.
08/02/2006 at 09:49
I gree with you Trin. My knowledge of eating disorders tells me it is about having a sence of "control" -when a person feel outside of control and helpless in other aspects of their lives. Running is a "tool of control" for them people I guess. It can support binging by giving some sort of license to binge. Runners could develop eating disorders when weight is a struggle -especially when they want to get times down - but that possibly is a result of wanting to control and win at any cost.
08/02/2006 at 10:41
I, too, had an eating disorder, about 15 years ago. I wasn't a runner at the time. In fact, you wouldn't have got me anywhere near any form of exercise - so low was my self esteem and so great was my hatred of my body at the time.

I can, however, absolutely see how some runners could be affected by an eating disorder. I can quite easily imagine how a young, high-achieving athlete could get sucked into the whole control thing (which HG rightly says is at the nub of an ED) and end up abusing food.

The right nutrition is key to performance at a high level. Focussing on 'good' vs. 'bad' foods is likely to make these young people more aware of foods than perhaps your average young person. I became very aware/obsessed with food because I had a period of extreme food intolerance between the ages of 9 and 15, which was controlled by an exclusion diet. That focussed my mind on food - the things I *was* and *wasn't* allowed. I can see how the same process could take place for an athlete. Restricting diet, excluding certain foods, denying oneself what one wants to eat - then becoming obsessed with it, and either bingeing or starving. Yes - I can see it happening easily.

Often, youngsters with EDs will be high achievers - academically or otherwise. They want to be the best, and this can easily translate, I would imagine, into being the thinnest, if that is perceived, as it sometimes is in sport, as being 'better' than being bigger.

That feeling of desperation - of feeling so unsure of yourself and your abilities. Of feeling the pressure of competition - academically or physically. Of needing SOMETHING you can be in control of, when everything else is down to many sets of variables. Those are all things that I felt when I was suffering, which I should imagine could affect a young athlete, desperate to be successful.

I've said 'young athlete' throughout - mainly because most people with EDs do tend to be younger. But there's no reason why it *shouldn't* also affect the more mature athlete...

I only started running about 6 years ago -long after my ED was sorted out. And for me, running *is* about control - but not in an unhealthy way. It helps me to control my weight, certainly. But it also helps me to feel 'in tune' with my body, which I find enormously helpful. For the first time ever, I think I now accept the lumps and bumps and saggy bits (of which there are plenty), because - in spite of them - I know I'm fitter, healthier and in better shape than the majority of the population. And that'll do for me!
08/02/2006 at 15:51
I havn't read the aforementioned article (any link?) but I would suggest that they may be referring to elite junior and senior runners who do suffer an above average incidence of eating disorders. Before the introduction of the Sport England and English Institute of Sport it was generally down to the coaches to provide nutrition advice which appeared to detrimental to female athletes (lust look like Liz McColgan etc to get the times) esp. (e.g. is 5 out of 7 female junior athlete lost performace/quit elite running due to ED's - 1 of the 2 female athletes to have success is Paula Radcliff). Now hopefully us sports dietitians are getting to more athletes through the academies and referal by coaches to help prevent ED frequency of past.
09/02/2006 at 09:17
I agree with everything that been said above. I had an eating disorder problem about 8 years ago but exercise was what was help me get out of the cycle rather than into it. It provided a way of focusing on my body that was not self-destructive and helped me to get my feelings about food back into check.
09/02/2006 at 10:05
I was wondering if there is some element of addictive behaviour that crosses between eating disorders, other addictive behaviours like self-harming and running? The "control" thing is definately a factor personally.

But, running is such a positive thing for mental health, physical health and stress relief.
09/02/2006 at 10:39
Although I can see how running could have helped in the first few posts, my experience is rather different.

First of all, I was an anorexic for about 3 years between the ages of 15 and 18. I was not a runner back then. Between the ages of 18 and 23 I still suffered with an “obsession” over food, and although I was not starving myself, I still had abnormal attitudes towards food and eating. At 24 I started running, in the hope that I would be able to become fitter and healthier, and in the hope that it would help me with my eating. However, 3 years on, I am still running, but I am still suffering with abnormal eating.

Running has made me focus on food as fuel, i.e. the physical responses of the body to certain foods, the benefits that some foods provide and the foods that are best avoided for physical exercise. However this has just furthered my obsession over food. This distinction between “good” and “bad” could be an unhealthy one. Without going into details about my eating habits, I can say that I try so hard to consume the “good” foods in order to improve my running (and loose weight), but inevitably binge on the “bad” foods because I feel I deprive myself of some of the pleasures (this is describing it VERY simplistically).

Also, running has furthered my negative self image. I have always felt rather big (even though I have a BMI of just under 21, which is bang in the middle of the “normal” range for women), and self critical about my body. But since joining a club and participating in more serious races, I have found myself comparing my body to other runners’, and feeling even worse. I feel that the “better/faster/more serious” runners look down on me, because carrying a few extra pounds makes me a less fast, less serious runner. Again, this reinforcement of a negative self image is a major contributor to the development (or exacerbation) of an eating disorder.

So, as it has been in my case, I think an eating disorder can push one to running (i.e. running is used as an aid to boost the poor self image, or further weight loss), but, vice versa, running can promote eating disorders, as preoccupation over food and body and striving for perfection and control may induce disordered eating.

The feeling of “control” is a major issue in both eating disorders and running. Similarly, the want to push yourself further and further. Of course, the relationship between eating disorders and running can be a complicated one (which is why it has helped some but made others worse), perhaps governed by external factors, which could also explain the fact that the link between EDs and running is present for some and not for others.

This is my experience of the association between the two, EDs and running – a vicious cycle, which I am so desperately trying to escape. One would think that running, such a natural, endorphin-inducing healthy pastime would be beneficial, but for me it has and is only making things worse.
09/02/2006 at 11:35
Sorry to hear about your situation.

It sounds as though you could really do with some help with this. Maybe think about contacting the EDA on this, since they are featuring it now. You may feel that you don't deserve to or need to because you 'look' normal and aren't really thin. But if your life is being made a misery by the battles you are having, you DO deserve to be able to get it sorted.

I can identify with much of what you say, even though my (now long past) ED and my running are in two distinct boxes in my life.

I think that's probably what I was trying to express in my post - certainly the good vs. bad food (I know EXACTLY what you mean, leading to denial, then bingeing, then self-hatred, then denial etc etc); the focus on food initially as fuel and then as a weapon; and the pressure (even if it is purely from within) to be thinner in order to fit the image of the runner and/or to be faster.

I'm just so lucky that I have my running as something which isn't linked with my food insecurities (and I do still have some although it no longer has any hold on me). I really hope that you are able to achieve the same sometime...
09/02/2006 at 13:59
((JoG)) -CM is spot on -yeh please seek help on thes issues of your-life aint meant to be so miserable. I can only imagine some of what your going through.. However, i have dealt with people with similar issues and myself went through the comfort eating, self hatred and need to correct things cyle(usually through induced vomitting). Find value in yourself "as you are" -this may be a hard journey but I know it is worth it:O)
09/02/2006 at 14:18
absolutely, HG.

JoG - you may think you will *never* be able to accept yourself as you are. you probably think you don't even want to, because you aren't happy with it. if someone had told me 15 years ago (when i weighed about 5.5 stone) that i would be 'happy' to weigh 11 stone, i would have ridiculed them. but i weigh that now, and i only know that because i had to be weighed for a medical for a job two years ago.

it's possible to get out of this vicious circle, but it's very very difficult to do it on your own.

i had a lot of help and counselling, and it still took me the best part of 5 years from the point at which i was forced into accepting help...
09/02/2006 at 15:15
I've read this thread with interest and I sympathise with you (((JoG))). You're post brought back some memories of a horrid time in my life. I was anorexic during the age of about 15 to 17, followed by 10 years of bulimia. I ran during those years too but only as a way of controlling or losing weight. I then stopped running and didn't start again until I was 38.

I identify 100% with CM... and i'm lucky to have my past ED and my current running in two distinctly different boxes as well. Now I run because I enjoy it and I eat healthily to fuel my body so I don't get injured and can continue to enjoy running and racing.

Having said that I guess I still have a different view of my body size to what everyone else sees...but I accept that and I think many women (and probably some men) have the same insecurities, without having an ED. The difference is that I accept and love myself today.

JoG... seek help, because you can recover from this.
09/02/2006 at 19:19
I am also managing an eating disorder at the moment. it has been an ongoing problem since my early teens. I have only admitted to it in the last year.

i was never sporty at school, but secretly I used to run up and down stairs/sneak out to run when my parents were out. That was when i was still at school. Then, all exercise was geared towards my eating disorder.

i started running in May last year with the aim of one day completing a marathon. At the time I was really struggling, and deep down my main reason to run was to fuel the eating disorder.

Now, a few months later i am doing much better. As my running improved i joined a club and have entered races. That has boosted my confidence. My body has changed - which is hard to cope with. I am hungrier more often which is an ongoing battle.

Ultimately, I now have a reason to eat. If i don't eat I can't run. If I can't run I'm grumpy!!

Now, still struggling, but I'm eating much better. And I'll be doing the london marathon. It won't be easy. But I do have the support of my family and friends.

I am at the start of a long road to recovery - I'm waiting for counselling. But one thing is for sure, running has fuelled my eating disorder in the past. Maybe it will do so again. In the back of my mind it is always there when I run. But now, at least, the running is helping. I feel proud that I am able to run now without the fear that I might pass out.

Duck Girl    pirate
09/02/2006 at 20:18
(((JoG, tortuga)))

I had anorexia between 13 & 17, & spent most of my GCSE yr in hospital.

Ath the time I abused running in the same way i did everything else - it was just another form of self-harm, and i'd run with no intention of paying any attention to what my body was telling me.

I only stopped running when i was in hospital - and even then i'd climb out of the laundry window so i could run to burn calories, or excercise in secret where i wasn't physically prevented. running (burning calories) & controlling food were the only things i could think about.

When i got out of hospital & started getting better, i realised that i had to give up running for a while becuase it was just another means to self-destruction.

while i was at sixth form i didn't run much at all, though i did cycle to get round & living in the country kept me quite fit.

After i left sixth form then i started running again as my parents had moved house & i no longer needed to bike everywhere, and i was living near the sea in an amazing place for running. i think that by then after nearly 2 years, the compulsive aspect of excercise wasn't such a problem any more.
About a year later i did my first marathon more-or-less by accident, and since then i've done 7 maras (i'm now 22).

running in a positive way taught me that my body could do interesting & useful things, & that i didn't actually want to detach myself for it. it gave me a lot more confidence in myself (because i am dyspraxic, i was always last at games in school). and on bad days it gives me a reason to eat sensibly, because i know i need to eat to run. it makes the relationship between what i put in and what i get out of my body a lot clearer than if i was just sitting at a desk all day. i don't worry about the odd bit of junk food, 'cos i know i need to eat lots. it gives me another framework to see myself in than academic or social success - even if i don't get straight A's all the time, even if i'm not perfect, i'm still a marathon runner :) i've also made some good friends through it. & the endorphin buzz means it's good for my mental health to be out in the fresh air and sunshine, it helps with my depression.

i think maybe to some extent the sort of people who are likely to be successful at running (highly motivated, self-disciplined, prefer doing things alone, tendency to be perfectionist, etc etc) are also likely to be drawn to running. running's also a good match for self-harm in other ways - lots of the chemicals released in the brain are similar, which i think both contributed to my abusing running, and helped me switch from self-harm to more healthy running.
09/02/2006 at 20:21
perfectionism is really a key factor -it carries so many shoulds and associated anxieties.
10/02/2006 at 15:13
Hello all

Jog - just wanted to say that there is help out there. I was in the same position as tortuga last year on the long wait for counselling through the NHS. Had been on the list for about 6 months at that point after finally hitting rock bottom.
I've had bulimia since I was 18 (classic academic over-achiever, high parental standards, shy at school and hyper critical of myself and totally unable to express my feelings to anyone about what worried me). I went through uni eating and using exercise to control my weight and to combat the lows when depression kicked in. So in a large part i knew exercise could help me feel better. I took up running seriously a few years ago and did the FLM for the last 2 years. In part for the achievement but also because I felt having a training plan justified my obsessions with food and allowed me to indulge them in a way that appeared normal. It was ok to monitor everything and check everything and eat only certain things because that's what poeple in training did.
However, just before christmas I finished 6 months of group cognitive therapy and I can say now that I am in a place where I am happy that I never thought I could get to a year ago. It;s been a hard, hard slog and I have had to make sacrifices in cutting down on exercise etc and sticking to eating plans but I now find myself out for a run as and when I feel like it and not reacting because i have weight to burn or "should" be running 6 times a week because that was the rigid framework I set myself. And really it's so much more enjoy able like this.
I take inspiration from some of the comments above but how their EDs were a period in their life and am aiming to be able to say the same thing in 6 months by continuing with what I've learnt and paying attention to myself. I hope to return to running to a greater degree when I am mentally able to not be pulled into the competitiveness and food obessions that came with it before for me. I don;t know why some people avoid this whilst others are more seceptible - guess running means differen things for all.
So please know that you can recover from this with the right support. If it helps, I can honestly say that I managed to get thorugh the treatment without having to tell anyone I didn't want to know. For various reasons, I couldn't bear the thought of my family knowing or certain friends lest I be judged. But being in my group opened up contact with a strong network of people. 2 girls from my group are good friends now who I can talk to about htings I have never discussed with anyone and get real support in sticking with the plan. I wish you every luck.
10/02/2006 at 16:40
jude - well done you! that's a fantastic post. i don't underestimate at all the amount of mental and physical willpower that has had to go into getting you where you are today. all the very best for the future! you can and will do it!
13/02/2006 at 14:18
Wow. I've just logged on after submitting my post about five days ago - I didn't expect such a bounty of responses!!!!

Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to my post.

I shall have a good, thorough read of each and everyone of them.
13/02/2006 at 14:33
help me please.... i am dying. i have an eating disorder and last week i was ok but this week i am so sad.... does it ever end the counting and the weighin and the saddness. id do anything to b free and feel like i am on the edge i dunno where to go i am so sad its like its all ending in front of me help i think i am dying and want it to finish
13/02/2006 at 14:56
Therese, during my teens, I suffered with an eating disorder. My self-esteem was very low and I became completely focused on what I was eating at the expense of everything else. Thankfully I was lucky enough to have a supportive family that recognised what was going on and helped me to drag myself out of it before it got too serious. Key to sorting myself out was starting an exercise regime. I managed to persaude myself that doing exercise justified eating more than I'd trained myself to. If I exercised I was allowed to eat proper meals, if I didn't I wasn't. I got back to a sensible weight and maintained it, albeit with slightly strange eating habits resulting from still keeping an eye on the calories- I'd have a chocolate bar but then eat meals of pure fruit or veg to compensate for it. I'm now 26 and I can finally say that I've sorted myself out properly. Last year I started going out with a guy that made me realise that I'm worth a lot more than I gave myself credit for. As my self-confidence has grown, my issues with food and weight have fallen by the wayside. I'll always keep an eye on what I eat but it's no longer the demon that it used to be. I never ever thought, back when I was 17 and weighed 6 stone, that I would be where I am now. So I guess what I want to say, and I think everyone else that has contributed to this discussion has said, is that you can overcome this. It's not easy and it will take time and determination but you can beat this. Talk to someone, anyone, because sharing your problem will make it so much easier to tackle, believe me.
13/02/2006 at 15:10
Therese - please use the web to contact the EDA -they will put you in contact with specially trained counsellors that will help you. It has took a lot of courage to open up like you have on this forum(believe me I know). family can be great help but can , out of no fault, be a great hindrance. For example they may have installed beliefs that you "must" and 2should" do this and that. These are power issues and ED's are often rapped up in power issues. I do know what I'm talking about, I am a qualified(on paper and in life) counsellor but this is a specialism I only have some knowledge on.

You sound desperate and I want to hug you-(((therese)). Even you kname "the eejit" says something to me about how you see yourself. For me I see someone being very brave -bet you would struggle to see that.

Please look for help.

take VERY special care

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