Eating Disorders - Positive Steps

Food and diet are an essential part of a runner’s training programme. It’s perfectly normal to try out different foods and eating patterns – do you eat an hour before you run, or two hours? Do you switch from cow’s to soya milk, or increase your carbohydrate intake? – to find out what works best for you.

Many people start running to help control their weight, and soon find that as they get lighter, they are able to run faster or further. The trouble with keeping on trying to lose weight is that the returns – the increase in speed – diminish as your weight falls. Excessively restricting your dietary intake will leave you under-nourished and under-fuelled for your training. Extreme eating patterns – whether it is cutting down on how much you eat to as little as possible, or binge-eating and purging or excessive exercising – will impair your performance, and can damage your health permanently.

Eating disorders are more common among male and female runners than among the average population. Sometimes it affects existing runners; sometimes people with eating disorders take up running specifically to lose more weight.

The long-term effect of under-eating can be devastating – in women it can cause menstrual and fertility problems, and osteoporosis is much more likely in both men and women with eating disorders. It can cause problems with your digestive system, your kidneys and your bowels, and can even be fatal.

If you think that you, or someone you know has an eating disorder, don’t try to cope alone. There are plenty of places to get help, especially through the Eating Disorders Association (EDA). If you want to know more about eating disorders and running, you can download one of our information leaflets – there are a series of three:

If you think you have an eating disorder that is tied up with your running, but don’t feel ready to tell your family or your doctor, you might want to make use of the EDA’s self-help network. The network puts people with eating disorders in touch with former sufferers and carers who can offer support and information. You can ask for email, postal or telephone support; it is all totally confidential. Contact details are below.

The EDA also welcomes volunteers. If you have previously suffered from an eating disorder, or cared for a sufferer, and think that you are now in a position to offer support to someone who is currently going through what you did, you can find out what volunteers do here.

Contacting the EDA

Website: www.edauk.com
Email: helpmail@edauk.com
Telephone helpline: 0845 634 1414
Postal address: Eating Disorders Association, 103 Prince of Wales Road, Norwich NR1 1DW

Do you recognise any of these signs?

ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Psychological signs:

  • You feel fat even when you are thinner than other athletes
  • You set high standards and want to win every time
  • You are only interested in running, weight loss and food
  • You want to train on your own, and lose touch with friends
  • You can't concentrate

Physical signs

  • You have lost a lot of weight
  • Your periods have stopped - or never started
  • You have difficulty sleeping
  • You suffer from stomach pains, a bloated feeling and constipation
  • You notice a layer of soft hair appearing all over your body
  • You feel cold all the time and get chilblains

Behavioural signs:

  • You are pushing yourself harder than ever in training
  • You lie about what you have eaten to your coach, parents, family and friends
  • You weigh yourself a lot and think that an extra pound will affect your running

BULIMIA NERVOSA

Psychological signs:

  • You feel emotional and depressed and suffer from mood swings
  • You feel out of control of your life
  • You are scared that people will discover your behaviour

Physical signs:

  • You suffer from sore throats and infections regularly
  • Your periods are irregular
  • Your skin is dry or in a poor condition
  • You feel tired all the time
  • Your salivary glands – at the side of your face – are swollen
  • You have trouble sleeping

Behavioural signs:

  • You eat large amounts of food periodically
  • You make yourself sick after eating
  • You take laxatives to try to lose weight
  • You are secretive about your eating habits
Becoming an EDA Volunteer

If you have personal experience of an eating disorder, either as a sufferer or a carer, you will know how vital it can be to have someone to talk to. Volunteers don’t offer counselling or professional advice to sufferers, but provide a contact for runners with eating disorders to talk to about their feelings. If you think that you have the time and commitment to become a volunteer, please read the introductory guidelines, below, and then get in touch with the EDA.

Volunteers should have, or be willing to develop, the following skills:

  • Knowledge and understanding of eating disorders and running, either on a personal or professional level
  • Ability to offer support in a non-judgemental and impartial manner
  • An understanding of boundaries and confidentiality

The EDA asks that:

  • If you have a personal experience of eating disorders, you will need to have been in recovery and out of treatment for at least two years
  • You can commit to a minimum of one year
  • You complete an induction training programme
  • You are over 18.

Ways of Being a Volunteer
Telephone volunteers take telephone calls for a set period each week. They are trained to listen to and support callers and to offer information about other types of help available in their local area. Telephone volunteers cannot counsel or advise callers but can offer a sympathetic ear to callers in distress.

Postal and Email Volunteers
Many people find it helpful to write to someone about their problem. Although e-mail is almost ubiquitous, some people may prefer to write with pen and paper. You should reply to the person you are supporting in the same way that they contact you. Like telephone volunteers, postal and email volunteers cannot counsel or advise callers but can offer a sympathetic ear to sufferers.

Training
The Eating Disorders Association runs training programmes for all its volunteers. The mainstay of induction training is role-play: members of the EDA’s self-help network team will take the role of a runner with an eating disorder, and will send you letters, call you or email you, and give you detailed feedback on the way you respond.

To find out more about how to become a volunteer, contact the EDA on 01603 75 33 10 or send an email