Saturday, April 26, 2014

Guest Post for Running in Silence

When I first got the offer to write a guest post for the blog Running in Silence, I was both excited and honored. There are so many topics I would like to address, but I feel I should break the post down into a limited number of points I believe will help others most. Since I have already shared my story in my book, Training on Empty, I decided to give only a brief history of my career as a runner. The reason why I feel this is necessary at all is to show not just what I have survived but how my past played a role in both the eating disorder and my recovery.

In exploring what led to my eating disorder, I discovered that, like many others, I used eating or not eating as a way to cope with uncomfortable situations and my feelings. I was a sensitive child and got overwhelmed easily. Given my tempestuous living situation with an alcoholic father and peers who constantly criticized, it's no wonder I had a hard time self regulating as a child.

At first I over ate, stuffing my hurt feeling down as far as they would go, but by the time I was 13, I started restricting, which brought about a false sense of control. I couldn't control what was going on around me, but I could force myself to eat a certain way, taking my attention away from the chaos in my life. In the early 80's, anorexia wasn't well understood, and it certainly wasn't discussed. I didn't even know there was a name for what I was experiencing until a few years after I started my extreme diet and exercise regimen.

Shortly after I started losing weight, I found running. It was an exercise I used primarily to keep myself thin, but I was also immediately successful when I entered races. Within a few years, I became one of the top mountain runners in the world, setting records on nearly every course I ran, including the grueling Pikes Peak Ascent. I also had tremendous success in road races and in varsity cross country races in high school, and I was only 16.

But my career was cut short due to my ever worsening disorder. I was plagued with illness and injury despite some outstanding showings in races. Eventually, before I hit my mid twenties, I was forced to give up running altogether. At one point, I was so weak, I could hardly stand on my own two feet.

Since numbers related to weight can be triggering, I won't mention them in this post. Instead I will say that during the throes of my illness, I was having seizures and headed for disaster. One night, I was rushed to the hospital with chest pain, and doctors predicted I had only hours to live. My health had gotten that bad. The main doctor in the ER told my family to prepare for my passing and stated that I probably wouldn't make it through the night.

But I did make it, and I went on to recover.

There is no secret formula or pill that will cure an eating disorder. Everyone must find his or her own way out of the illness. There are, however, key factors to address during recovery.

Unfortunately, a lack of food contributes to an increase in distorted thinking. Re-feeding and stabilizing the body is an essential part of recovery from anorexia, but it is only one aspect and can't be done in isolation. A person must be seen in a whole way. One must address the emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual bodies together.

Diane Israel, a former elite runner herself, makes it clear that there are four main points to consider in regaining health.

1. Reclaim the self/Identify the self.
2. Heal the family/Move away from the family (if healing can't occur)/Heal or address past trauma
3. Community support/community involvement
4. Give back/Charity/Service to others

I want to focus on number one, because for athletes, this step, while being probably the most important, can be the most difficult. It's bad enough that eating disorders cause us to lose ourselves, but for an athlete, finding your true identity can be complicated by the fact that athletes so easily define themselves through their sport. For me, I was so overly identified as an elite athlete, I didn't know how to exist without running. Worse, I felt tremendous guilt and undeserving when I didn't run.

Naturally, when I couldn't run, I lost myself completely in the eating disorder. I didn't know who I was apart from both the illness and the running. I was either Lize the runner or Lize the anorexic. At times, I was even Lize the anorexic runner, but I was never just Lize. I didn't even know who Lize really was anymore. In order to recover, though, I needed to find and reclaim myself, and that was not an easy task. Most of us are not taught that we are OK just as we are, and we are not taught how to truly know who we are. In this society, we are what we do instead.

So what does it mean to reclaim yourself? It means learning to appreciate who you are and your physical body apart from anything else. It means being comfortable and secure in your own skin and balancing all aspects of yourself.

This doesn't usually happen overnight. For me, I had to start with the basics. Rather than focus on what I was eating or how much I was running, I had to turn my attention inward and ask myself what my passions were. I needed to rediscover what I liked and disliked, what my beliefs were and what stirred my emotions. In doing this, I started to better understand how I could move away from the labels that had bound me for so many years. I had to fight the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones too. My mantra became, "I am OK and everything will be OK," because I had so many fears and old beliefs that things would never be even close to OK, let alone good, especially if I couldn't run.


Take time to analyze your specific set of circumstances and explore activities that you were forced to give up due to the illness. Ask yourself how this disorder has served you and how you can replace the harmful behaviors with healthier coping strategies. Tackle new experiences and prepare yourself for change. Allow yourself to FEEL and know that strong emotions will pass.

Once you take a leap of faith and start on your recovery path, it's not so much that you can't turn back; it's more that you probably won't want to. You'll become too aware of the contrast between merely existing and actually living.

After 20 years of struggling, my life started to feel different. Over time, I was able to find joy again. I could run again without having to force myself to be at the top.

During this transition, I noticed a strong correlation between my thoughts and speech and how I was feeling. The more I switched my focus away from food, calories and miles run, the more I could allow myself to be in the moment, and this was a way for me to temporarily forget that I was anorexic. I aimed at avoiding triggering statements like, "I feel fat" and instead tried to uncover what this symptom meant. Was I tired, afraid or lonely? Did this translate into feeling uncomfortable? Digging for the cause of the symptom rather than focusing on the symptom itself was essential to my recovery.

Over time, the thoughts that were so oppressive started to abate and move to the background. Before long, I started to notice that those thoughts would completely disappear for short periods. Soon, the periods of time without the distorted thoughts stretched into longer and longer segments until I was more focused on living and less obsessed with what I was eating, how I was exercising or how my body looked.  

There's a saying in AA that goes something like: First it gets easier, then it gets harder. After that it gets really hard. Then it gets easier again, and then you start to live.

This is exactly what happened for me. In the beginning, the thought of change brought some hope, so it got easier to leave old patterns that no longer serve me behind. Then I realized that a lot of emotion and feelings were coming up when I was no longer disassociating through the illness. After that, I had to move through the challenging emotions and address past traumas. This was the hard part. Fortunately, I started to get the hang of it, and before long, I noticed that I had suddenly become a participant in the world. The nightmare that was my life was in the past.

When people were concerned that my illness would come back, I was reassured that I now have the tools to stay one or even two steps ahead of it.

If I could give only one piece of advice to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, it would be to hold on to the belief that a full recovery is possible. You may not know what that looks like, but the more you can imagine how you want your life to be, the more you can strive to make it happen.

I want to thank Rachael Steil for her efforts in raising awareness and supporting other runners who battle eating-related issues. Knowing we are not alone is a comforting thought, and feeling supported can push us to make the changes we need.

Guest Post for Running in Silence - Part Two

Here is the second part of my guest post for Running in Silence:

Sunday, April 20, 2014


What a week. My head is spinning and I can't think straight. I wish I could claim that it was a good week, but this ranks among the worst weeks I've had in recent years. I did have some extraordinary highs, but, unfortunately, they were followed by tremendous lows. I guess life is like that sometimes.

One of the hardest things, aside from all the changes, some planned and some out of the blue, was ending up in the hospital after an allergic reaction. That was bad and scary enough, but my throat is still sore as fuck, and I can hardly swallow. This is five days later.  I know. I have the luck of someone who continually walks under ladders, crosses the path of black cats and lives every day as Friday the 13th.

I see a doctor tomorrow. In the meantime, it has been a challenge to eat right. Because everything hurts going down, I'm not really enjoying my food. I've resorted to eating a lot of ice cream, just because it's one of the few things that is slightly less painful going down. Hell, even water hurts my swollen throat. I've thought about blending a salad, but that doesn't sound too appetizing. I wonder how long a person can live without a vegetable. Actually, I did have some soup that contained squishy carrots and peas. I'll probably survive.

I've dealt with a lot of pain in life. This is bad. I'm at one of those low points where it seems like going to sleep and not ever waking up would be fine. Yeah, things will probably get better, but right now I'm feeling like I don't really care about much. I feel squashed by life. Things probably feel worse because of the lack of proper nutrition, fatigue and emotional upheaval.

I don't know. I often wish I could change my behavior after the fact, but I think I'm trying too hard to be perfect. I'm an emotional being. I know that, and I react on an emotional level before my brain can kick in sometimes. None of this really means a lot, but for someone who likes consistency, my life has been anything but lately. The support I relied too heavily on just days ago is no longer there, so things feel a lot worse. Even ice cream can't fill this hollow feeling.

But it's funny how hitting another rock bottom can force a person to take some kind of action. I needed distraction, so I found an old writing project I had abandoned a long time ago. It takes great effort for me to write, so even opening the darn thing is a step in the right direction. The fact that I wrote a sentence or two tells me that I still have at least a teeny bit of interest in something. All things considered, that's a good sign.

It's too bad I don't write more often when I'm on a high. I could have done that earlier in the week. I remember at least three distinct times thinking, "I'm really happy right now." But in a way I'm glad I didn't, because looking back at that would probably make the lows and this one in particular seem even more fucking low. It's like those highs are a tease when things go black.

ETA: At least the week ended on a good note.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


The other day, I found the image I posted below among a bunch of old photos, mostly of my dad and some famous physicists he met at various times during his career. I got a little choked up seeing this one, because it made me realize how distorted my self image was even at that young age. I doubt that anyone looking at that photo would say, "OMG, you were so fat!" but I sure felt it. And it's unreal how relentlessly I was teased by my peers for being "fat." Shit. The names I was called were terrible.

It's also a touching image, because I so rarely smiled for the camera.

Left to right: Lize, Alex and Annie.
It's interesting how I took what others said and, because it was said over and over, incorporated it into my belief system. Whether our beliefs come from society, peers and family members or from other sources, they can feel very real. I had to teach myself that feeling fat isn't the same as being fat, and anyone with an eating disorder understands that what we see in the mirror isn't always a true reflection of how we look. Our minds can distort.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It Happened Again

Another company mocked someone by using an image of a man, Ernest Gagnon, who, through his cycling and diet efforts, has lost over 200 pounds. The man's image was used without his consent in an ad by a company called Boombotix, so the company is lucky the guy didn't turn around and sue them.

Here's Ernest's original story on NPR:

And here's the ad that was reposted by Boombotix on facebook. I got this from Ernest's facebook page:

Unlike Self magazine, though, this company is trying to do the right thing after their mistake and, rather than offer a phony apology, the CEO both publicly and privately issued a sincere one, took responsibility, Made a donation, got involved and made sure that everyone knew he and the people in his company were doing all they could to support Ernest. He also admitted that something like this shouldn't have happened in the first place. He's right. Publicly mocking people is wrong. There's no question about it, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, it seems to happen a lot these days.

Below is the CEO's response, and he went on to say that the company would do all they could to offer Ernest sponsorship money for traveling and competing in his bike races. That's a step in the right direction.

Hey guys, on behalf of Boombotix, I would like to personally apologize for this. This ad has been removed and the designer behind this campaign has been sternly reprimanded. As the CEO, I was truly disgusted when I saw this ad and I'm sorry that you guys had see it. We will take this misstep and certainly learn from it.

Occasionally, action can be taken to help rectify a wrong. Still, the hurt will probably linger. It's not really true that saying about sticks and stones. Words do hurt, and the hurt lasts. Let's hope that companies are starting to become more aware of the backlash that occurs when efforts are made to belittle and ridicule others.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I took two weeks off from doing much of anything. Even my writing was almost entirely on hold. Since the pneumonia or whatever it was is finally coming to and end, and I'm finally done taking the antibiotics, I thought I would get back into doing more than just sit on my ass.

To celebrate feeling better, I went for a little hike/jog this weekend and promptly fell on my face. That was fun. It was one of those moments that reinforced that I really need to stop trying to please everyone. See, this lady was waiting for me to pass her before going through a narrow part of the trail, and this guy was coming up from the other side, about to pass me, which was dumb, as I was going faster and would have had to pass him right back. Instead of going around when I realized I was heading toward the sketchy part of the trail, I tried to hurry and decided to take a teeny leap to the lower trail, which is more stable, in theory anyway. The upper trail I was on is pretty rocky and a mess since the flood.

This would have worked had the city not just poured a huge pile of pebbles on the trail. When I landed on the lower trail, I went down so hard and fast, I didn't even have time to respond. It was just BOOM, on the ground after the pebbles gave way. I smacked my entire right side including the area near my temporal bone pretty hard, and the guy in back of me STILL tried to pass me while I was down. Nice guy. At least the lady was kind and asked if I was OK. I am now very back and blue, but at least the swelling is down. The soreness keeps reaching new levels, though. I'm just glad I didn't completely wreck myself with this one. Jeez. Just call me Grace.

A nice surprise came my way when I got an offer to write a guest blog post. I will save the details until it's actually available to readers, and then I'll post the link. It's interesting, because I also just applied to give one of those TedxBoulder talks, so the post sort of rolled right out of me after weeks of writer's block. It felt good, and the topic I chose is exactly what I will address if I'm given the opportunity to speak. I won't find out about the selections until late summer.

I hate to put it this way because it sounds like something a typical Boulderite would say, but the universe is handing me a lot of lessons lately. What I mean is that through all these challenging situations I'm facing lately, I'm forced to keep my head. I can't manage other people's shitty behavior or ignore my health issues, so I'm having to quiet my overly active thoughts and not take what is beyond my control out on myself.

I need summer to arrive ASAP. I always do better in warmer weather. Right now, I pretty much feel like sleeping forever.