Eating Disorders: Confessions of an Anorexic Runner

Today, I wanted to share a story, brought to you by a runner who struggled with anorexia during her running career. It’s one of few out there, released this past year on Minneapolis Running, by a previous collegiate runner, Dani Stack. It’s one of my main inspirations for starting Strong Runner Chicks, and takes an inside look at a far too common issue in female runners that remains under the radar.

You can read the article below:

Confessions of An Anorexic Runner

According to recent statistics by ANAD:

• “91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
• 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.6
• Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
• 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8
• 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
• The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
• In a survey of 185 female students on a college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight, and of the 83% that dieted for weight loss, 44% were of normal weight. ”

As a current Division I collegiate runner, I’ve struggled with being a bigger runner in the pack and have tried cutting carbs/dieting along with increasing mileage in an attempt to become faster, only to find my body can’t handle it. I’ve envied those at the front of the pack, knowing that if I ever were to be up there, it would take an extreme amount of discipline and restriction (probably to an unhealthy level for me) to get there – as hard as it is to accept, my body just isn’t the skin-and-bones type, and to be honest, I’m not sure that anyone’s naturally is.

At this point, I’ve come to terms with my sprinter/soccer body and just tried to make the best of it in as healthy of a way as possible, and have grown to love my stronger body type. Rather than focus on a number on the scale, I strive to improve myself through fueling right to run more and strength training, which keeps my body fat percentage low and builds a stronger body to handle higher workload. My trainer called me “meso” for my mesomorph (muscle) body type, and I’ve actually come to appreciate the nickname 🙂 Of course, I still do struggle with mindset issues related to this, and struggle not to compare myself to top runners with smaller body types. It’s tough.

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Quadzilla coming through!

Runners World article states, “The condition is far more common among female runners, mirroring the trend seen in the general public. It’s estimated that three out of four American women between ages 25 and 45 practice disordered eating, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. A 2009 report in the Journal of American College Health showed more than a quarter of female college athletes exhibit disordered eating patterns. And in surveys of collegiate athletes, some 55 percent of women tell researchers they experience pressure (both external and self-imposed) to achieve a certain weight, and 43 percent say they’re “terrified” of becoming too heavy. Between two and three percent of female college athletes have a diagnosed eating disorder, which is about the same for the general population.”

As quoted by Runners World article “Running on Empty,” prolonged eating disorders can lead to: “anemia; loss of muscle strength, endurance, and coordination; more frequent injuries, including stress fractures; longer recovery time after intense workouts and races; anxiety; and fertility issues in women. The most worrisome consequence, however, is the onset of a full-blown eating disorder.”

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Dani’s story really shows how much struggle one can go through to reach the top, and how the eating aspect can consume one’s life entirely. I find it sad that a lot of coaches care more about performance than the runners themselves and these issues go unnoticed far too often. On some level, it almost seems expected, as if it’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule amongst top runners, teammates, and coaches. When a runner goes from a 19 + minute 5k to a sub-17 over the course of a year and everyone is asking, “How did she get so good?”, it might be because she dropped pounds, and often, a lot of them. But they hardly attribute it to that part, at least publicly. And it often doesn’t last. Injury, a broken body, and a suffering mind take over soon enough.

Although Dani’s article title reads “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” I don’t know what I would consider “good” about an eating disorder. Although girls may experience a new PR or make the travel squad this way, the success is short-lived and ends in more detrimental effects over the long-term. It seems like the more and more successful runners I see and admire from afar, the more often I hear from one of their teammates about the eating disorder they have struggled with and hidden. On the track it may look glamorous, but behind closed doors, it’s anything but.

A girl I knew of back in high school won consecutive state titles over four consecutive years had an eating disorder that sadly followed her into college. It was crushing to watch it consume her year after year, especially knowing what other girls were going through when striving for that same title. Of course, the titles didn’t last forever and there were many ups-and-downs along the way. The permanent damage to her body made a much greater impact than the short-term success.

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I really hope Dani’s story encourages others to open up and share their story. Strong Runner Chicks aims to help bring this issue to the forefront of the NCAA and help prevent high school runners from falling into this path.

Do you have a personal experience with an eating disorder/body image struggle, or know someone who has gone through an eating disorder that would be willing to open up? It can be anonymous if you prefer and we will not reveal your info with anyone. Share your story for other girls that may be facing the same struggle – you could really make an impact.

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Author: Megan

Founder of Strong Runner Chicks. Avid steeplechaser, distance runner and certified personal trainer. Lover of coffee, carrot cake, and anything avocado.

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