Back in the 80s and early 90s, there wasn't the social media craze you see today. Running groupies read articles in magazines or newspapers to get a glimpse into the lives of other runners, and only the most successful athletes were featured in these publications. I remember reading about one ultramarathoner who claimed she ran through her injuries. Since she was one of the best, I'm sure other people took her boasting about being tough enough to train and race through ailments as advice and tried to do the same. Needless to say, this lady is older now and dealing with all kinds of debilitating limitations. It turns out running through injuries eventually gets you more injured. Not all successful athletes give out good advice.
Taking online suggestions seems worse or at least sketchier than reading about the daily routine of a pro athlete because anyone can claim to be an expert, credentials or not, and the amount of advice spewed all over the web is overwhelming. Instagram is probably the best place to get the worst advice, especially when it comes to diet and exercise, but you will find countless people who claim to have come so far, learned so much, and are in great places, often in the same way that Jeremy Mayfield is perpetually announcing he's in a much better place and has his shit together... this time.
Since I landed in the sidelined department again with bursitis, I feel the need to direct my attention elsewhere. Running, at least structured running, is on the back burner for now, so I need a distraction. Complaining seems like a good option. Actually, I shouldn't word it that way. It's more that in the last year or so I have found many groups of people who seem to promote similar ideas that I don't think are beneficial. This frustrates me. Those in the eating disorder recovery community who claim to be encouraging health but actually aren't tend to fall into about six different categories. Those that stood out to me are listed below.
1. Probably the least offensive advisor, because she means well, is the one that uses scare tactics. Saying, "Don't go down this path because here's what can happen!" has rarely prevented someone else from engaging in unhealthy behaviors. If telling someone who is bulimic she might lose her teeth or reminding an anorexic she might have a heart attack worked to cure eating disorders, there would be far fewer cases of these kinds of illnesses.
Eating disorders are not a choice. It never comes down to "just stop" or "just eat" or "just do things differently." There's a genetic component that can contribute to a person developing an illness. There are also physical changes that occur when a person restricts or purges or even binges. These nutritional disruptions ultimately affect the brain and, in turn, a person's decision-making capabilities. Sure, engaging in certain behaviors is a choice, but it's not that simple. Our decisions are the result of our chemical makeup and our responses to our environment. Trying to scare someone into recovery doesn't address the underlying issues that contribute to eating disorders.
2. In sharp contrast to the type listed above is the "in your face girl" who often gets called out for promoting thinspiration and boasts about her athletic achievements while showing off her protruding hip bones. This one will claim that because she can participate in athletics, her increasing scrawniness is nothing others should mention. Her attitude is usually, "FUCK YOU I'M FINE SO FUCK OFF!" These kinds of people usually boast until their illness or a severe injury removes them from their platform, and then they disappear for very long periods of time, hopefully to get some help, but, unfortunately, they sometimes reappear only to demand that others watch them go down the same dangerous path. And somehow they put themselves in the recovery advocate category, usually with recovery hashtags all over their posts.
3. A less extreme version of the in your face girl is the one who keeps declaring how terrible it is that we compare ourselves to others and how damaging it can be while bombarding her audience with daily images, exact calories, macros, and exercises. This one is hard for me to understand because she says she gets it and wants to be encouraging but clearly doesn't give a shit about her audience by continuing to post the very content she acknowledges is unhealthy for others. Perhaps she feels it helps her in some bizarre way, and fuck her audience, or perhaps she's too lost in her illness to edit her content. Whatever the case, stop it. Stop posting images of yourself at your unhappiest, thinnest, and worst, and stop commenting on your fucking macros. Nobody needs to see that. It's your private business, nobody else's. If you want to share it, do so with a dietitian or nutritionist or even a close friend, not the general public.
4. There's also the Keto chick who, after a few weeks on her new diet, raves and raves about how great she feels and insists that her diet is the best one EVER, that everyone should try it. Oh, and by the way, anyone who hates vegetables is a loser. Who doesn't just love vegetables? What's wrong with you that you don't absolutely love to eat eggplant and beef for breakfast? As if food preference is some kind of measure of moral superiority, she throws herself atop her high horse and looks at all the poor slobs beneath her who prefer toast to green beans. Not to be labeled unaccepting, though, this one claims she doesn't really mind those who still eat horrible, life-damaging carbs and refuse to join her on the best diet for everyone. She's just sure that her diet is better for YOU.
5. On the other extreme of the Keto chick is the life coach who promotes veganism and claims that a high-carb diet is good for everyone, including diabetics. She either has some sort of online certification in alternative nutrition or claims she studies health, but telling someone with an eating disorder that the solution is to eat a certain diet is about as effective as telling her to just eat, period. These types often fall into eliminating entire food groups because of their own fears and issues around food and double down if anyone suggests that a healthy diet can include a variety of foods. I have far more respect for those who admit that choosing a restrictive diet is their moral choice or due to their illness. Again, what works for one person doesn't always work for others.
6. The last type on the list is the opportunist who pretends she's an advocate but ultimately rips on those who struggle and goes on to imply that recovery from eating disorders is about willpower or choice. Someone who slams another who's ill while claiming to be an advocate is like one of those racist pigs who claims he's not because he has a (N-word) friend. I look on in horror when people like this boast about how strong they are for not having gone down *that* road and then go on to mock or put down those who did. I have a real issue with people who do this, mostly because they are intentionally manipulative and aware, unlike those who maybe want to help but are stuck in their own obsessions and compulsions and don't know exactly how or those who think they are offering support but really aren't. These are the types who are most likely trying to sell you something or simply like being in the spotlight. Their main concern isn't helping others.
To the people listed above: Y'all are badly missing the mark.
These types might think or pretend they are eating disorder recovery advocates, but that's not the way to help someone in the throes of an actual disorder. The one thing that's apparent is that they are begging for attention, but helping others doesn't involve boasting about yourself, putting those who are struggling down or shoving your ideas about diet down anyone's throat. Remember, many who struggle have difficulty eating enough or at all or feel out of control around food, so telling them to do it your way probably isn't going to be their solution. As some people say, if recovery isn't working, you're not failing; the program you're trying is failing you. In that case, try something else because there is no one right way to recover, and each of us has to discover what works for ourselves.
Part of the problem is that those who haven't gone through an eating disorder can't fully understand what it's like to have one, and those who are too lost in certain aspects of their illness have a hard time seeing that there are many different paths to recovery. They often focus too much on the symptoms rather than the core issues. If you haven't been at death's door and wondered why the path of continuing to starve, binge or purge was pulling you over the will to survive, most likely you will never comprehend what it's like to have this kind of illness.
One way you can become an advocate is to listen and learn from the people struggling and begin to understand what's helpful and what's not. Remember, too, that there are many different kinds of eating disorders, so the vocabulary you use when discussing recovery must address more than one kind of illness.