Thursday, January 19, 2023

Expect The Predictable

Back in 2020, Lindsay Crouse tweeted and apparently later deleted a comment about the popular miniseries The Queen's Gambit, claiming that the actress who plays the lead role, Anya Taylor-Joy, got the part because she's pretty. There's no doubt the actress is beautiful, but she's also very talented. In fact, as a young actress, she won the Trophee Chopard in 2017. Anya started acting in 2013 with her breakthrough role occurring in 2015 in the film The Witch, one of the more underrated movies of our time. It's best to watch this one with subtitles since the language is not authentic even though it's a well-done period piece and the accents are thick. Before landing the role of Beth Harmon, a fictional character loosely based on Bobby Fischer in the Queen's Gambit, she played Emma Woodhouse in Emma, Casey Cooke in Split, and Allie in Marrowbone, just to name a few of her standout roles. 

Anyone who looks at Anya as just a pretty face hasn't watched her act. There's nothing wrong with being pretty and being able to do a job. Crouse seemed to be upset that someone with above-average looks, which are subjective anyway, and who's also talented got the role, and implied that the character would have been better portrayed by someone plain-looking. I actually don't mind looking at beautiful people or plain people on the screen and don't feel the need to judge either based on appearances. Filmmaking is an art, though, and fictional characters can look however casting directors want: ugly, cute, scary, or anything in between. 

It's funny that someone who's known for demanding inclusion, even to the point of discriminating against biological women, is angry and wants to exclude good-looking actresses for certain roles in favor of those who are not, but, in addition to that being unfair, I have a question. Who decides? If not the casting directors, who gets to dictate which actresses are frumpy enough for Crouse's approval?

More and more, I see a trend of people wanting to police language, control conversations, and manage how people react and respond. It doesn’t matter the political party, censorship is in fashion. Online, it can be more subtle than a group publicly demanding what books are banned and which are not, which speakers are allowed to take the mic at events and who should be silenced, and which individuals should be canceled when they step out of line. In fact, I received an online scolding by Lauren Fleshman the other day when I voiced an opinion based on a pull quote from an article in Women's Running Magazine and was confronted, quite smugly, about my response, how wrong it was of me to make a comment about eating disorders based on the quote I read. 

Instead of focusing on the topic or defending a position, those who don't really want a conversation but want to be seen as right resort to condescending jabs. In some cases, people will shift the focus in an effort to control any possible dialogue. Apparently, I'm supposed to read a person's entire repertoire, especially if she's selling a product, before making comments and shouldn't rely on an interview-style article relating to the work. Keep this in mind any time you feel compelled to comment on anything written in a publication. 

I actually stand by my comments and have always been consistent when it comes to eating disorders not being a choice, as Fleshman suggests, intentionally or not, in the write-up. This isn't the first time she has done so or has at least implied people have control over their illnesses. These are very complex disorders, and those who suffer are affected by genetics, environmental factors, brain chemistry, social pressures, comorbidity, and upbringing. Any suggestion of a mental illness being a choice should be addressed. 

If Lauren was misquoted or wasn't clear in her statement, why not simply correct it or clarify the position instead of just talking down to someone? I have called out individuals who present inaccurate information before. In this case, I can't say I would trust anyone who would agree to be interviewed for a weight-loss article full of mixed messages and bad advice after presenting herself as an eating disorder recovery advocate, but I'll try to give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt and consider that maybe she wasn't fully aware of how the content in this other article would be presented. 

Regarding the piece on weight loss, I should add that it's not that dieting is a taboo topic per see, but when you see such cringeworthy and potentially triggering ideas about “flat-belly” breakfasts and advice about skipping post-workout snacks that have been shown to improve recovery, you can immediately determine that this is a piece that will likely cause more harm than good. Kevin Beck recently addressed the juxtaposition of this very article with another one by Runner's World. Women's Running has made similar missteps in publishing potentially damaging articles about weight loss followed by those that encourage eating intuitively. 

That wasn't the only tsk tsk I got from Fleshman, though. I didn't notice it initially, but earlier and quite out of the blue, she responded to a tweet of mine that linked to a blog post by Kevin Beck. Her accusation that Kevin "attacks" women with "threats and abuse" is an outright lie that she absolutely cannot back up with any evidence, none. I'm surprised she hasn't deleted the tweet yet. It's definitely in violation of Twitter's TOS and is a bad look for someone who is promoting a newly written book

My response caused her to block me, though. God forbid she engage in a conversation she initiated simply because she doesn't like my reaction to her lies. I have already addressed my feelings toward her, and her recent behavior has only solidified my thoughts about the kind of individual she is, not a very gracious one. 

I'm sure the two of us can agree on quite a lot of things including but not limited to her apparent support of fairness over inclusion* regarding transgender athletes that Amby Burfoot pointed out, the desire to see a healthier environment for women and girls in sport, and prevention and, I assume, treatment for those suffering from eating disorders, but, regarding the latter, I don't think just anyone can be a good recovery advocate. 

There is an art to speaking about this issue. It takes practice and an understanding of these kinds of illnesses, either by lived experience or by education, to be able to address an audience, online or in person, without inflicting more harm, even if it's unintentional. Too many people step into the role of advocate and give out incorrect information. I always admire Rachael Steil for her ability to discuss eating disorders in a safe, effective manner. 

As far as my upsetting online interaction with Fleshman goes, the way I view it is that someone who lies in order to attempt to manipulate another loses credibility. That's a given. I already had my issues with her before she decided to supervise my tweets and lie like she did. Any remaining respect I might have had for her as a person is pretty much gone. I have a lot of respect for her as an athlete and as someone who attended Stanford (I turned down a scholarship there in favor of attending BYU and don't regret it,) but I can't bring myself to support anyone who so carelessly tosses out false accusations, especially against my best friend. 

On that note, I have to clarify that I don't always agree with what Kevin writes. He can be callous in his approach, but he doesn't ever lie. That I admire. I don't condone his sometimes-abrasive descriptions of people, but if you look at some of the brilliant writers of the past, H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Charles Dickins, etc. he's in good company. 

Originally, I was going to write about the easily agitated people who get offended at the term girl when used in place of woman, but I ended up adding a few extra thoughts on my way to the topic. However, since Fleshman is among these individuals, there is a link to what I previously wrote. In order to tie things up more quickly here, I will briefly jot down my thoughts knowing there's a lot of information on this subject already out there if people are interested. 

A few years ago, Matthew Smith wrote a brief article that included statistics showing younger individuals in England tend to look at "girl" as a more patronizing or sexually suggestive --- which seems weird considering "girl" is, according to those same easily offended individuals, a child -- than older individuals. The actual full definition of “girl” is the following, and keep in mind that young is subjective and often relative:

/ (ɡɜːl) / noun. a female child from birth to young womanhood. a young unmarried woman; lass; maid. informal a sweetheart or girlfriend.

I'm sure there are weirdos who use "girl" as a pejorative, but most normal functioning individuals can tell the difference between someone who's intentionally trying to be disrespectful when calling a woman a girl and someone who's merely using a familiar term. Same with "guys" as in, "Hey guys! Let's go to a party," when referring to a group of friends consisting of both men and women or even just women. More often than not, people don't mean any harm when using these terms, and it's unproductive to assume people who use these words are doing so in order to put anyone down. 

If you find yourself getting upset over other people's use of generally non-controversial words, maybe consider the broader definitions. You don't really see men getting their panties in a bunch when they're referred to as boys. If you think some of the same adult women who claim to be offended haven't at some point said, "I'm going for drinks with the girls" or something similar, you would most likely be mistaken. 

As I caution others to calm the fuck down over the little things, I remind myself to do the same. I'm overly sensitive, so minor incidents can be hugely upsetting to me. My OCD brain spins these incidents around and around to the point of disrupting my emotional well-being. It's a matter of putting things in perspective, but usually, after a dose of blogging since running isn't much of an option these days, I end up feeling at least a little better. I hope others can find whatever it is that helps ease the discomfort that often comes with being human. 

*ETA: It looks like I may have been mistaken about Fleshman’s stance on transgender athletes, but a lot of people were as confused as I was about it. In this interview, she seems to suggest inclusion over fairness while acknowledging biological differences, though it's a wishy-washy comment that could be taken either way: ...but then she came out with this absolute mess, which sort of clarifies her stance that inclusion is better but also that girls go through different changes than boys during puberty. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Allegations of Misconduct at CU

If you've read "Running With The Buffaloes," you probably won't be surprised at the allegations of misconduct related to CU Boulder's cross-country program. I've never written much about the team because I was part of the organization well before the "legendary" coach Wetmore took the reins. It was also a dark time for me back then. Though the environment wasn't healthy for me and several other women on the varsity team, coach Quiller was a nice guy and never pestered me about my weight or body composition. He seemed to be aware of the dangers of being too thin. Several transfers were coming from programs that were downright abusive, so in comparison, things were pretty nice at CU. 

Aside from an assistant coach who ran the 800 and who was very clearly on some kind of performance enhancer, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on that I was aware of, just too many miles prescribed and too much speedwork for my body. I wasn't alone there. 

Coming from an extremely safe, clean, honest, and healthy BUY setting and working with one of the most sensible coaches on the planet, CU's methods at the time struck me as far from perfect but not terribly damaging. Nothing in the article about the ongoing investigation points to anything outright evil either. Still, I have my reasons to suspect there's more to the story than a former athlete upset about having her body composition tested, and, as one individual pointed out on Twitter, perhaps the reason why more people didn't balk at the methods described in "Running With The Buffaloes" is because it's a story about men and that kind of severe training was more accepted and not seen as anything all that unusual at the time. Maybe it should have been a red flag for more people, and it was for at least some of us. But things are very different now. We recognize and can define wrongdoing more quickly and accurately.

Training or overtraining aside, weight and body composition can provide a coach with valuable information. When I was at BYU, our coach weighed us, but the team setting was probably one of the healthiest running environments I had ever experienced. It's not so much that anyone in a position of authority gathers this kind of information; it's more how he or she goes about it and also what he or she does with that information.

Part of the reason why I have avoided sharing my suspicions about the darker side of the CU cross-country program that consistently produces successful runners is because all that I know about Wetmore and his training methods is hearsay. I know at least one person who was coached by him before he was the head coach at CU, and I know a few people who filled the role of assistant or volunteer coach while he was there. One of these ladies told me that Wetmore had all of his female athletes go on the pill. I thought it was weird, but she insisted it was to help prevent bone loss in runners who were "naturally" thin. But shouldn't going on birth control be a decision between a woman and her gynecologist, not a running coach? And all of them? Really? Again, it all seemed strange to me.

I also know other coaches who trained former CU athletes who ran under Wetmore's guidance. In fact, when I was writing my memoir, I interviewed a coach who was working with two CU alums who were too afraid to talk to me about their experiences there, even though I assured them that I would protect their anonymity. No go. Whatever trauma they experienced and privately confessed to their new coach would stay hidden from the rest of the world, but it was enough for me to wonder about his coaching style. And knowing some of the unsavory comments he said to at least one of his former athletes is enough for me to know that whatever facade he presents to the world probably isn't the full picture. Most likely, he's private and avoids interviews and the spotlight for a reason, and it's not because he's shy. 

Shortly after the article about the investigation was published, I noticed that Joe Klecker posted on Twitter about his experience at CU under Wetmore. He suggested it was fine, nothing to see here, folks! Because he didn't experience anything that upset him and he was referred to a dietitian and other professionals rather than discuss weight or mental health with his coach, which is how it should be, he seems to imply that his experience can serve as a standard for everyone else. People respond differently to different types of stress, and what's not upsetting for one person might be unbearable for another. That's why a good coach takes into consideration individualistic experience and aims to provide a safe environment for everyone. 

Another person on Twitter suggested that coaches should be able to tell who has an eating disorder, which is absolutely ridiculous. More often than not, you can't tell who has an eating disorder or who might develop one. Don't play guessing games when it comes the mental health of individuals. 

What both posters are missing is that anyone at any given time can be susceptible to developing an eating disorder or can be dealing with a mental health issue. Just because one person's experience seems OK, it doesn't mean that the program overall isn't toxic, and just because one person found the environment unhealthy, it doesn't mean it's a bad program overall. That's why it's important to conduct an investigation and uncover patterns that can help determine what, if anything, needs to be addressed.

Regarding mental health in the running community, things have definitely changed over the years, and, fortunately, those in positions of authority are starting to become more aware of the issues that plague so many runners, especially when it comes to eating disorders. 

In the 80s, there were plenty of unhealthy college running programs, probably more unhealthy ones than not, and it was mostly accepted that people, primarily coaches, would talk about weight and the importance of maintaining a certain physique in order to perform well. Over time, though, it became apparent that thin doesn't always mean faster and most definitely does not mean healthier. In other words, the more disaster struck young athletes, the more coaches learned that those who are too thin or end up engaging in other unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to control weight often end up experiencing more injuries and can't maintain health. It's better to have a little extra muscle mass or even fat than risk dieting to the point of not being able to run well or at all. 

Of course, there are other ways for athletes to remain extremely thin while engaging in demanding, consistent training, but I'll stick to the topic at hand here and save additional speculation for another time. 

Despite some programs softening their "don't get fat" stance, plenty of coaches still foster unhealthy athletic habits and contribute to an atmosphere that encourages eating disorders. Because the investigation is ongoing, we don't know the details of what the athletes at CU believe to be toxic conditions, but one of the more important messages in the Runner's World article states:

But body composition testing can have harmful effects on collegiate athletes when not conducted responsibly. Testing frequently, conveying results without appropriate sensitivity, or aiming to manipulate these numbers can trigger disordered eating and eating disorders, and contribute to a condition called relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S), a mismatch between energy intake and expenditure that can lead to menstrual irregularities, weak bones, and other injuries and long-term health problems.

What's concerning is that there are others calling the investigation a witch hunt. It's hard to imagine that when at least five individuals find certain methods toxic there isn't something controversial going on behind the scenes. The idea that there were comparisons of body composition between current and former teams suggests that methods were questionable at minimum. Because of my history of eating disorders and also knowing some of the snide comments Wetmore has said to one former athlete, I might be assuming the worst, but I also know that, despite improvements, there aren't enough checks on programs. There also aren't sufficient mandatory training programs or evaluations for coaches. As one local professional coach put it, "Certification for coaches is a joke. Pretty much anyone can become certified." 

With the investigation, it's important to listen to both sides and try to encourage more awareness around safer coaching methods. One of the best ideas is to have athletes work with registered dietitians and mental health professionals. It takes a village, so to speak, to raise a healthy athlete. Because eating disorders are so prevalent in runners, coaches really need to work on their approach with athletes. Even if only one person on the team is more sensitive, a coach should be cautious with how he or she addresses everyone.

This is a little bit rushed and probably contains grammatical errors, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there immediately in response to the article, something  I rarely do anymore. It will be interesting to see what comes of the investigation, and I hope some former CU athletes who have been successful offer their insights. Then again, most people already know that those who are running at the top are often treated differently than those who aren't winning races. Like it or not, coaches are human and fallible. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022


At the risk of repeating myself regarding the issue of transgender women competing in women's sports categories, I'm going to go ahead and address the topic again because I see a trend in the running community, one that's telling. With both older studies and new research emerging that show transgender athletes maintain a physical advantage even after hormone therapy, those who were previously the loudest when bringing up the subject and also the most hypocritical of others are suddenly awfully quiet. Unlike simple surveys or polls, one consisting of only of eight individuals, that were passed as research previously, the studies put out by several scientists including Dr. Emma Hilton that have addressed this matter more recently are much more formal. 

From Erin Strout who insisted the research on fairness is still developing without offering any actual research to David Roche who tweeted but later deleted "Trans women are women" to Alison Wade who cheers whenever a DSD or trans athlete displaces a female athlete to Lindsay Crouse who lied about poll numbers related to what the general population would like to see happen, all have gone radio silent.

From Dr. Emma Hilton: graph showing changes in muscle strength in transgender women pre- and post-testosterone suppression vs. women 

In 2021, when Amby Burfoot wrote, "All clear-thinking individuals believe that transgender women and men should receive the same social, cultural, educational, financial, etc, rights as others. Not all agree about athletic rights," he hit the nail on the head. It's estimated that 73% of Americans believe transgender individuals should be protected from discrimination. Wanting protection for transgender people and wanting fairness in sports can both be true. Regarding women's competition, Burfoot was also correct when he mentioned that there's "plenty of science, event history, and barroom understanding that men are significantly stronger and faster than women." People who have suggested there wasn't enough evidence for ruling bodies to make decisions about excluding transgender women from competing in the women's field had no problem allowing those same agencies to make rules for inclusion, and anyone who disagreed with or even questioned this decision was immediately labeled transphobic, a TERF, or worse. The fact that these insults are so freely tossed around is incredibly upsetting.

The other day, I worked with some repeat clients who live out of state. Their son lives here in Boulder, but the parents and their trans daughter live elsewhere. After assisting them and saying our goodbyes, complete with affectionate hugs and well wishes all around, my co-worker and I talked about how much we enjoy working with them. Sometimes assisting people can be an absolute pleasure, and the warm feelings linger long after the patrons have left. I don't have the same connection to every family, even though I aim to give everyone the best service I possibly can. Some people just make a positive impression. They are the kind of great company that leave a lasting memory. In short, these particular clients mean a lot to me and are more like friends, family even, than customers. 

Typically, I prefer to leave my personal life out of these kinds of posts, but after being thrown into the "transphobe" pile because of my desire to see fairness in sport, I want those name-callers to know exactly how insulting their comments are. 

I have another close friend who transitioned a long time ago. She was able to marry her girlfriend after laws in her state changed back in 2013. She has been successful in more areas of life than most people can even imagine, from athletics to music to law. When I think of her, I see an incredible human being who's smart, witty, fearless, and incredibly generous, as is her partner. She's someone to be admired for a variety of reasons. We have sent each other care packages, and I consider both of them true friends, much more than social media acquaintances. Obviously, I want the best for them and would fight to make sure they have the same rights as everyone else. The only caveat, and I believe they agree, is that one group's rights should never infringe on anyone else's. 

Unfairness is what's happening when women are no longer allowed to have a voice and aren't allowed to retain women's only spaces. Most of us don't have a problem being in gender-neutral spaces or being around transgender individuals, but it's not transphobic for a woman to choose who offers her healthcare or who is allowed or is not allowed to be in intimate settings with her. Transphobia has a specific definition that does not include merely disagreeing, wanting fairness for women in sports, or wanting to retain some women's only spaces. Again, if one group is discriminated against in the process of trying to appease another, a more workable outcome needs to be presented, but simply asking for fairness, safety, comfort, and respect is not transphobic, not at all. 

So far, having three categories or three distinct areas for men, women, and transgender individuals seems to be the best solution, including in sports. Men's only spaces and groups that don't place women at a disadvantage have existed for a long time and still do. Those that discriminate versus exclude are generally called out, and appropriate legal action usually follows. This should also be true of women's spaces. We should have the right to create women's only spaces that exclude biological men without specifically discriminating against them.

The basic problem with transgender rights in today's world is extremism. A few aggressive and hostile individuals tend to speak on behalf of or represent everyone in their community. This hostility comes out when anyone suggests caution before permanently surgically altering a young child's body, for example. Suggesting parents slow down before allowing their kids to go under the knife is not the same as denying the child healthcare, but the same people who yell the loudest say that parents don't need a second opinion for major, life-altering surgery. They insist any concern is denying the child. 

Basically, if you don't agree 100 percent, you're a bigot. Anyone who thinks, "maybe a second opinion wouldn't be such a bad idea," is again labeled transphobic and lumped together with extremists on the right. Those who suggest gender reassignment surgeries are no different than a teen getting a nose job need to explain why a parent wouldn't want a second opinion in that case, too, just to be safe and sure. A second opinion is standard, but suddenly radicals on the left think it's unnecessary for children who are considering a major, irreversible operation. 

All I'm saying is that gender dysphoria is a complex issue, and nobody, especially children, should be rushing into surgery that permanently alters an individual's body before exploring alternative treatments. If that makes me some kind of extremist, so be it. I think transgender minors need more consideration, acceptance, and emotional support before jumping into radical surgery. If surgery is what they prefer after weighing both the pros and cons, then that's a right they should have, but I don't think anyone should ever rush into surgery, especially youngsters.    

On this same issue, I wasn't surprised to see Erin Strout publicly claim that Jon Stewart gave a great interview when he confronted Leslie Rutledge, the 56th AG of Arkansas, on gender-affirming care for minors. No matter what you think of the woman's politics or views (I disagree with most of her politics and don't fully agree with her ideas on gender-affirming care or the lack thereof for minors), she should at least be given a chance to speak. Instead, Stewart talks over her and shuts her down before she can finish pretty much any of her sentences. It comes off as misogynistic and bullying. Notice the contrast in the way he allows a man to speak without interruption in this clip. The former is NOT an example of a great interview. In fact, it's a pretty shitty interview overall, a complete disappointment.
I can disagree with most of what Rutledge promotes and can agree with her adversaries when they say that she wasn't well prepared for the interview, but I don't condone the way Stewart addressed her with all his eye-rolling and interruptions. Imagine if someone on the right didn't allow a trans advocate to speak and kept making faces every time she tried to say anything. As much as I dislike some of the things Sam Harris has said recently about censorship, he has always been respectful of the people he interviews, even when he very strongly disagrees with them. That's how a good interview is conducted, not by bullying the opponent, but it shows how the left is as bad as the right when it comes to liking that kind of shit. They don't want a quiet, civil debate; they want to see someone they agree with ganging up on someone else.

Getting back to the topic of sports, there has been a great deal of virtue signaling in running publications in recent years, with unwavering opinions presented as facts followed by silence when new information emerges to counter the journalists' beliefs. As one conservative reporter put it regarding transgender women competing in women's categories, "This isn’t bigotry; it’s science," and he's right. But people like Strout are more concerned with what pronouns we use than with the women and girls who are forced to compete against transgender athletes. With friends like these, eh? 

All these so-called supporters of women's running are suddenly silent after suggesting those of us who want fairness for women in sports are on the wrong side of history. Why is that? Most likely because they can no longer hide behind vague statements about "evolving data" or can no longer claim that there "currently isn’t data to support exclusion" after people like Dr. Emma Hilton and Ross Tucker have spoken up and exposed any myths surrounding the debate around natural advantages of transgender women in sports. These professionals specifically address why it's important to demand separate categories for males and females. The silence is unfortunate because journalists who are incapable of admitting to being wrong in the face of scientific evidence on the topic end up doing a huge disservice to readers of publications like Women's Running and Trail Runner Magazine.

Unless you are intentionally ignoring what scientists are presenting, the data are overwhelmingly there when it comes to pointing out the fact that transgender women retain an unfair advantage even after hormone replacement therapy. Even Joanna Harper can't deny what Ross Tucker says with regard to transgender athletes retaining an advantage. 

She states, “Trans women who don’t go on to medical treatment before puberty will go through male-typical testosterone levels, a male puberty and all of that that entails greater height, greater musculature, higher hemoglobin levels … more muscle, all of the quote-unquote advantages that men have when it comes to sports,” Her approach thus far has been to point to minor differences such as arm length or a differing dominant side that occur within sex categories and suggest that "meaningful competition" is what she decides is fair, not necessarily what is actually fair. But people have been referencing her for years as if these advantages, which other scientists see as significant, are just fine and, oh, it's also cool that biological women have no say in the matter.

Harper and others may suggest that hormone therapy in transgender women significantly reduces their athletic advantages, but, as Hilton points out, despite a reduced advantage for transgender women in competition, the data still show that transgender women are and remain bigger and stronger than their female competitors, even after three years of hormone therapy. Additionally, many in the science community feel that Harper's initial small collection of anecdotes from 2015 that people reference as a study because it somewhat supports what they want it to is heavily flawed, but, whether she likes it or not, it still shows that there are obvious and significant differences between transgender women and women and also women and men. It's more that Harper deemed these differences between transgender women and women not significant enough. Why can't women just buck up and smile, take it on the chin? So what if competition is unfair and science proves it. Oh hey, that's basically the same stance as Alison Wade of Fast Women.
Image from Kevin Beck

In the end, I truly believe that the majority of people in the world would like to see a workable and fair solution for everyone. We want transgender individuals to be treated fairly and to be protected from any discrimination, but we also don't want to see women get the short end of the stick like they have so often throughout history. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Going Deep

There has been a valuable and eye-opening movement occurring recently in the running community. It involves professional athletes coming forward and sharing their stories and struggles with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, OCD, and mental illness. Finally, the media and company sponsors are allowing individuals to dive deeper into the causes and factors that contribute to these types of illnesses instead of republishing the same boring "help" manual that's never insightful or actually helpful. 

Unlike the many sources that have attempted and failed to offer any kind of deep insight into recovery, the videos and article below are among the first to really hit the nail on the head when it comes to offering a glimpse into the struggle of these kinds of disorders. Too often, the focus is on the tie between athletics and weight when, in fact, eating disorders a far more complex than an individual simply wanting to stay lean in order to perform well. Sometimes the two are completely unrelated, in fact. In one of the most honest and informative interviews on the topic, Tim Tollefson gets to the heart of many of these disorders when he says, " I've spent a lifetime hating myself for what I'm not instead of being thankful for what I am." 

The problem with authors, podcasters, and self-proclaimed professionals who address the topic is that they typically discount the deeper issues in favor of offering superficial advice, and this advice is nearly always focused on the symptoms of the illnesses rather than the core issues. 

I was so angry to see articles in Trail Runner that suggest "Just eat enough!" or "Eat a fucking Dorito!" as if solving a life-threatening illness or disordered eating patterns comes down to forcing yourself to eat. It's such a childish, unhelpful approach, a slap in the face of those of us who struggle. That's why the messages that people like Tim, Molly, Kaci, and Allie are sharing are so incredibly important. In a sea of published information that barely scratches the surface, these athletes and select journalists and producers are willing to dive deep into a place of vulnerability in order to give others a better understanding of what an eating disorder or struggling with mental health is all about. 

And exploring disorders and recovery can land a person in a very dark place. Still, hearing someone open up in a relatable way is far more helpful than anyone suggesting I just eat enough. Listening to what Tim went through and his willingness to address his mental health moved me in a way I haven't been in a long, long time. God, how I can relate to the self-hatred and fear of being seen. Some days, it's incredibly difficult to get out the door, and I don't mean for a run, though that can be equally difficult in certain states of mind. I'm sure I'm not alone. In my own life, these fears have only gotten worse despite my semi-firm commitment to stay at least somewhat healthy. 

I'm keeping this short because the videos and article below speak for themselves. There's not much to add except to reiterate that our struggles shouldn't cause us shame. Everyone has issues of one kind or another. It's how we address them and how we explore the reasons why we turn to unhealthy behaviors that matter. Without understanding the root causes, our own triggers, and the steps we can take to ease the unease we experience in recovery, we will tend to stay stuck or relapse. Recovery isn't about running well when your life is on the line, and healing doesn't come in a pretty, black-and-white package. Most of us live in the gray with occasional dips back into the black hole of despair, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. There is hope.  

Trigger warning for those who are sensitive to eating disorder content and images. 





Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Step Behind

I've mentioned before that this hasn't been the easiest year for me, both physically and emotionally. Due to a cascade of injuries that stemmed mostly from my foot and ended with a big mess in my left hip, I had to take a lot of time away from running, probably the longest amount of time away from "my" sport than I have since I started running, way back when I was just barely a teen. Throughout the extended break, I didn't give up exercising entirely, even when I could hardly walk, though part of me wanted to. I switched to the stationary bike as much as possible, as boring as it can be, and continued doing some Pilates or yoga-type movements. However, I lost inspiration, and my brain ended up in a depression fog. The days and weeks and eventually months of going through the motions bled into each other so much that I lost track of time. Suddenly, almost a year had passed.

For the most part, I didn't feel like doing much, so I watched Netflix, slept, and ate comfort food. More concerning, I lost a bit of weight from what those around me were telling me (I don't own a scale), and a big part of me wanted to check out completely. In the end, I'm not sure if it was simple compulsion that drove me to carry on or if it was the idea that I'd probably feel worse if I did nothing all that was the incentive, but, either way, I kept going, as ugly as it looked and felt at times. Having obligations such as work and an older parent to tend to prevented me from doing anything drastic, that and a fear of death. Experiencing tremendous pain and such extremely limited mobility for so long made me question what it would take for someone like me to overcome my fear and end things. I guess "damn" or "hooray!" for this occasional hope in me that won't be completely squashed; I can't decide which. 

As soon as the tears, pulls, and nerve damage started to heal -- one bone fragment is just going to have to stay lodged near the ischial tuberosity from where it was apparently dislodged because there's no sense in digging around in there and disrupting things with surgery when it probably wouldn't solve much -- I started to jog a little. I can't say it feels good -- my body is all lopsided now and hurts -- but in a way, it has been nice to move outdoors again. It's embarrassing and terrible that jogging anything under an 11-minute mile feels challenging and awkward. 

I have no idea how I ever managed to run 7 to 7:30 a mile just a few years ago in a race, let alone 5:40 pace in races at one time in my life. From my shuffling perspective, those faster paces seem impossible. I try not to get too down on myself, but holy shit it's difficult because an average harder pace of between 9:40 -10:22 when it feels like a sprint, even if it's on a hilly course, is, in reality, fucking SLOW. At this point, though, I can't seem to trust my body. I don't want to break it, so I'm dragging myself around slowly, even on the downhills. It's all very weird. I must look like Frankenstein shuffling around on the streets, only with quicker arm movements. Oh, and because of the nerve issues, I can't seem to run trails unless they're basically gravel roads, nothing technical at all. I'd just trip and probably fall.

In all of life lately, I feel like I'm a step behind. Before I can fully gather my thoughts on a topic to blog about, the world has already moved on. Part of my reasons for delaying a more timely response is the way people react. On social media and elsewhere, it appears as though individuals are incapable of reading opinions without immediately jumping to conclusions, drawing lines in the sand, and lecturing from high horses and soap boxes alike. Either you're on one side, or you're on the other. There's nothing in between. This is the case with everything from the Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp trial to climate change. It's intimidating to jump into any conversations. 

When I initially read about the terrible and tragic case of Eliza Fletcher, a teacher who was abducted and murdered while she was out for a run one early morning in Memphis, I found most people to be sensitive as they offered condolences to her family and friends. Very quickly, though, two groups formed, one that blamed the teacher for running early in the morning, and the other that insisted women's safety shouldn't be discussed because the problem is the criminal. Considering there were about 1.3 million violent crimes and 24,576 homicides in the United States in 2020, I'm pretty sure criminals aren't going to suddenly be rehabilitated to the point where nobody has to worry. I understand the sentiment; it wasn't her fault, but scolding people who offer ideas on safety isn't going to solve anything. Problem-solving is never the goal of loud complainers, though.  

The Crime Junkie podcast has a huge following, and nobody ever claims that their message, Be Weird, Be Rude, Stay Alive, is victim blaming. It's simply advice in a world with a lot of unhinged people living in it. While there were a few people who accuse Eliza and others like her of wrongdoing for running alone in the early morning, something she did regularly, most were doing no such thing. I believe there's a way to discuss how to be safe when running without criticizing anyone's running habits. Though it's not quite the same thing, people offer advice about being careful when it comes to driving, being out in nature where there are wild animals, or any number of other situations where there are risks. It's not meant to be a slam on what anyone does. These cautions come from concern and a desire to be of help, especially after such a terrible incident. 

From what I understand, Eliza took precautions by running familiar routes. Her cell phone and water bottle were found in the area where she was abducted, so it's not like she was completely reckless. I've gone on far more dangerous adventures and simply got lucky. Throughout high school and college, I would dive up to the higher mountains and run solo for a couple of hours, no water, no phone (back then, we didn't have portable ones), only a spare long-sleeved t-shirt wrapped around my waist, and I wouldn't tell anyone exactly where I was headed. Occasionally, I would jokingly tell my roommates or my mom that I was going running in the mountains and to call the authorities if I wasn't back by 3 p.m. Looking back, I realize how foolish this was and how lucky I am that nothing happened. So much of what happens in life comes down to chance.

On an unrelated note, I'm surprised how often publications like Trail Runner publish nutrition advice written by coaches or authors who are completely unqualified to guide anyone on diet. The only people who should be handing out actual dietary advice, especially to athletes who are more prone to developing eating disorders, are physicians (and not random ones, your own physician) and registered dietitians. Articles like this one that suggest athletes just wing it and eat whatever they want discount the dangers of not getting enough of the right nutrients for training. While the article cautions against going to extremes, it's all very vague, and the overall message is "just eat enough," similar to the "Just eat a fucking Dorito" concept in a previous article about eating disorders. For those who struggle, it is not that simple, and I'm sick of anyone suggesting it is. 

What's worse is seeing people who claim to have struggled constantly talking about all the junk food they eat. I addressed a similar issue recently when I commented on people who show images of themselves pretending to eat pasta or other foods that, for whatever reason, are often classified as fear, cheat, or junk foods. If it's true that you scarf down loads of foods that are not rich in nutrients, fine, nobody should judge you for it, but also, nobody needs to see or hear about it. You do you. Enjoy your food and stop inflicting your neuroses or habits on others. 

Mostly, stop being a fraud. I always come back to the idea that it's great to see healthy or recovering individuals share fun food moments, an accomplishment around food, a creative recipe, or a pretty meal at a restaurant. What I don't give a shit about is someone claiming to eat tons of whatever food and isn't that cute! presented as a fucking article. It’s not, and it’s not informative or interesting. 

While I fully agree that food should be enjoyed and that there are no real "bad" or "good" foods, failing to get enough protein or nutrient-dense foods in your diet can lead to undernourishment. I know because this happened to me when I was attempting to recover and eating a diet far too heavy in sweets. I suffered for it and felt awful. By the way, I intentionally linked to a Trail Runner article written by Maria Dalzot, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., someone more than qualified to address the nutritional needs of athletes. 

The saying, "Eat enough, always. Eat too much, sometimes. Eat too little, never." is flawed on many levels. Define "too much" or even "not enough." Too much, according to whom? Given how difficult it is for many of us who struggle or have struggled with eating issues to judge quantity, fullness, and serving sizes, these kinds of cutesy sayings are meaningless. In the throes of my own illness, I remember always thinking I ate "too much" after every meal. Also, there are times when eating too little is required, before surgery, for example. My friend couldn't eat before presentations because she was so nervous that she might throw up. In that case, it was healthier for her to eat too little and then make sure she got enough nutrients sometime after the presentation. It's so important to not get caught up in anyone else's rules around diet. Your diet should be individualized. 

The following is about as vague a statement as one can write.  

My take: people should eat foods that they enjoy to fuel the work they are doing in order to find their personal definition of “strong,” whatever that means for them. 

This is about as helpful as saying, "Eat whatever and be the way you want, whatever that means to you." No shit. But then don't say that and then pretend like this wasn't a previous caution by the same author, Eating enough won’t prevent every case of training-overload/OTS."

Social media and, apparently, running magazines are terrible places to look for guidance on diet and training. I mentioned this in my last post. Many of the ones trying to appear ever so fun-loving while doling out advice are often just publicizing an underlying and unhealthy fixation on food and body. It is not helpful at all. It's contradictory that Trail Runner links to a more sensible article on diet within this failed attempt at professionalism. It makes me angry. Why publish something so off the mark when there are clearly better writers for the job? It's potentially dangerous, too. People who struggle with eating and body image issues can be very sensitive and influenced by what others suggest, as can nearly anyone on the Internet. As a blog post, it's a different story, but presenting articles as if they are written by people who know what they are talking about when they clearly don't is careless. 

It gets worse, too. In the passage below, there's no clear explanation about why cholesterol can be higher in those who have or have had eating disorders. And this incorrectly implies that it's fine for everyone to have a shitty diet as long as you eat enough. This is flat-out dangerous. How many is "many" when it comes to athletes who eat what they love, and do they record their dietary intake for the author, their coach? How does one know they eat what they love and don't also eat what they know they should for optimal performance? I'm assuming the author's observations don't count as an actual study, so why bring anything up as if it's fact anyway? 

For a variety of reasons including genetics, hormone levels, exercise patterns, and the way the body absorbs fats and nutrients while in a state of starvation or the binge-purge cycle, people with either anorexia or bulimia can, indeed, have high cholesterol. So can anybody else. And diet can be a very important factor when it comes to cholesterol levels whether or not you run a lot. It's not accurate to suggest that runners and athletes can eat anything they want and have low cholesterol.

My co-coach Megan and I have seen thousands of pages of blood work for athletes over the years. Whenever a high cholesterol reading comes back, we ask for the athlete to talk to the doctor. And the most common time we see that flag for athletes has nothing to do with cheeseburgers–in fact, many of the athletes eating whatever they love have the most optimal blood work of all. Instead, those high readings are often for athletes with a history of eating disorders

Lastly, a few friends pointed out this gem from the same Trail Runner article: Every physical accomplishment starts as a dream. But the biggest, longest-term dream can only become a reality because of a satisfied stomach.

No. Dreams don't become reality because of a satisfied stomach. That's like saying I won Pikes (my big dream) because I drank enough fluid. Absolutely, one needs adequate nutrition in order to achieve one's goals, but fueling the body isn't the reason a dream becomes reality. Who the fuck edits these pieces? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Running Magazines And Diet Culture

The last blog post I wrote started one way and veered in a completely different direction than I had intended. I had one subject in mind initially and, instead, switched course to focus on something else. Kill off your little darlings is good advice I didn't follow. My first topic had nothing to do with running, but it's something that has been gnawing at me for a while now. It actually ties back to what I mentioned, that certain people in a given group where I live are presenting themselves as something they're not. I'm not quite sure how to tackle the subject matter yet, so I'll have to save it for another post. 

Recently, I've spent some time criticizing running publications. In fact, the other day I called out Women's Running on Twitter for once again promoting weight loss by restricting food intake after just telling readers to eat intuitively. Don't worry about calories! It's not that weight loss is necessarily a bad thing; it's that these types of articles don't offer any guidelines or cautions about who "should" and who should not be losing weight, and there's no sensible suggestion to speak to your doctor about a weight-loss plan before considering one. These types of rags will promote nearly anything to get more readership, I mean money. 

Women's Running pretends to be concerned about the health and mental health of female athletes, but the reality is that its writers contradict themselves all the time. For example, despite using someone coached by a man as a standard of health after continually pushing the idea that women make better coaches for female athletes, which hasn't actually been proven, the publication's overall stance seems to be that we need more female coaches in order for women to be successful and remain safe and healthy. Note that being a good role model in this case is not the same thing as being an effective coach. Forget all the examples of successful, healthy female athletes coached by men or any cases of abusive female coaches. I've mentioned this before. Women are no better. 

Being a good coach isn't related to sex. Both men and women can be good coaches for female athletes, and both can be terrible at their jobs. On social media, writers associated with Women's Running have spent a lot of time addressing the topic of male coaches who create unhealthy environments that potentially encourage women to have eating disorders, but then they push garbage about weight loss without any disclaimers or cautions. In the same breath, they suggest being plus-sized isn't unhealthy and then suggest weight-loss tips. What does it say when they promote dieting (trigger warning because of all the numbers) and restricting intake after claiming being heavier is healthy?

Women have always had to walk a fine line in order to be accepted in society. Whether it's their weight, self-expression, or overall beliefs, any extreme quickly draws scorn, and scorn often comes anyway, even to those who appear to fall in line. This isn't a suggestion that women should be beyond reproach, though. Women cause harm, too, and those who are liars, abusive, grifters, careless, or manipulative should be called out. 

The Believe in Me film that was released on Amazon Prime recently addresses toxic environments that some athletes have endured. Alison Wade, founder of Fast Women, when she discovered that it was a female coach who was in charge at TCU when allegations of an unhealthy environment for runners there arose responded by immediately holding men responsible for any misconduct perpetuated by a woman. People who blame others for causing eating disorders don't understand the complexity of the illness, but blaming a man for an unhealthy situation a woman created is shameful. Toxic environments can contribute to the development of the disorders, but it takes more than stressors in the environment for someone to end up with one. If a female coach is contributing to an unhealthy setting, though,  by all means, hold her accountable. 

Trail Runner is no better when it comes to the mixed messages they send around weight and diet, though more and more, they have avoided directly suggesting runners lose weight. Still, writers there have told us that excess weight is a disadvantage in running and have offered suggestions on how to lose those pounds, only to be followed by advice on ignoring the scale with no trigger warning about numbers mentioned in the form of BMI, even after mentioning how flawed using BMI as a guideline can be. Try to keep up with that! There was also an attempt to address body image issues in runners that misses the mark by linking to what's supposed to be an article listing the many causes of body image issues and, instead, lands the reader on an article with a focus on eating behavior in adolescents. 

The one time David Roche could mention something extreme regarding the risks of losing too much weight, he forgets all his previous hyperbolic chatter and simply suggests it could be bad, with no mention that disorders associated with body image dissatisfaction can actually lead to death. He also mentions tummy rolls and looking in the mirror without mentioning body dysmorphia, a separate disorder that has some overlap with eating disorders. Just like telling an anorexic person to eat isn't very helpful, neither is telling someone who has a more serious dislike of her body to just love it. Healing from this kind of body dissatisfaction takes more work than faking it until you make it, though it's not a terrible idea to incorporate some positive thinking in any recovery plan. What's more important than engaging in tactics that focus on the symptoms only, is understanding why these unpleasant feelings and an abnormal focus on the body have emerged. 

Then there's an article about eating disorders that suggests those who struggle can just eat and implies that those suffering would want to get well because otherwise they won't run as well. I will say this until I'm blue in the face: at its core, disordered eating is not about looks or gaining success. I understand the good intentions behind these types of articles, but this kind of advice is about as effective as telling someone addicted to smoking that they might get cancer and to just stop with the cigarettes already. While the article in the above link is better than many others relating to eating disorders, it still misses the point in a bad way about both why people struggle and the path to recovery by focusing on the symptoms instead of the deeper issues and the complexity of these illnesses. I appreciate that the author at least suggests to those who might have eating issues to seek help. 

And lastly, imagine how the "NO BODY TALK" crowd, those who insist that nobody should ever comment on a woman's body, would react if the adjectives used in this article were applied specifically to women. And why is nobody upset that this perpetuates the supposed myth that elite runners at the top are always lean? Doesn't the article start out by saying exactly that, and isn't body composition a taboo topic? It seems pretty obvious that individuals who write running-related articles that point to what other people do and eat as a general guideline are rarely registered dietitians and probably shouldn't be giving out dietary advice to anyone. 

Ultimately, running magazines are no better than any general fitness magazine trying to lure readers. Their target audience is anyone who will be attracted by a flashy headline. Deep down, their editors believe that weight loss is a topic that will draw in an audience, and it doesn't matter how susceptible their reader base might be to disordered eating. Careless advice can actually be dangerous when it comes to addressing anyone who's prone to developing an eating disorder. It's highly unlikely anything will change, though. Readers will still be bombarded by weight-loss suggestions, followed by encouraging articles that tell us to fuel up and eat what we want. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

When Advice Is Worse Than None At All

Boulder is a place that attracts a surprising number of fakes. The types of imposters here in Boulder are ones who cling hard to a label and boast about who they are but, in reality and probably without realizing it, show they are the opposite of whatever identity they claim to be. The yoga community is rife with people who like to look down on others, despite the philosophy of the practice in which they engage including teachings related to detachment, self-awareness, and spiritual knowledge, traits that, in theory, lead people to become better versions of themselves, not ones who prompt judgment and hubris. Here, yogis like to flaunt their fancy apparel and the fact that they attended Burning Man more than they focus on any spiritual advancements. 

People who genuinely engage in the practice of yoga, on the other hand, are the opposite. They don't have to flaunt anything or use any kind of signaling, virtue or otherwise, to be admired. Being adored is not their goal. Their activity becomes part of who they are and isn't seen as good or bad. It just is. It's the same as if they didn't engage in the practice, because who they are is more important than what they do, how they dress, or how they look. They don't have to advertise what they do to anyone in order to feel content in the world.

It's easy to forget some simple rules of life -- you don't have to put on an act in order to be appreciated, and contentment isn't found outside yourself -- with the mess that occurs on social media, everyone screaming for attention. One of the best yoga teachers I ever had was overweight according to standard American weight charts, smoked, rode a motorcycle, and played in a rock band. He never wore flashy clothes and didn't have to adhere to any American stereotypes around the discipline; he was just really good at yoga and a top-notch instructor. He's a model for what it means to be authentic.

I view the running community at large the same way I look at the yoga community here in Boulder. Within the sizeable group, there are pockets of individuals who do good, sometimes really good things. They are inspirational and out to become the best version of themselves. These are people who create inclusive communities or foundations, or are skilled at what they do, or are simply kind and thoughtful. Most of these types are athletes or coaches, or people who want to do good in the world and limit their time on social media.

When it comes to running, Addy Bracy and also the Roots Running crew set a great example. Then there are a few who can balance a hearty dose of social media with a life away from the computer. Sage Canaday comes to mind. His social media content is informative, but he has fun with it and doesn't take himself too seriously. In sharp and disappointing contrast are the many self-appointed experts who like to offer bite-sized bits of imagined wisdom without really saying much. The ones who make up this last group are primarily writers, fans of the sport, and influencers. 

Whether it's on social media or in a published article, people in this last group love to pretend the content they are sharing is fresh and new, but it's almost always information that has been presented before, usually without reference. Condensing complex ideas into pithy little sayings is rarely helpful, and using hyperbole to the point of absurdity is equally unnecessary and uninteresting. Stephen King cautions against writing past your ability, yet so few are willing to take his advice. They think using as many adjectives as possible is the way to go, even if the modifiers are used incorrectly or make readers cringe. Don't fake being a virtuoso if you can't play the scales. Instead, work on your technique and try to enjoy the process. That's what I do. 

Many errors could be easily corrected in published material if a qualified editor would step in, but running magazines seem to have a shortage of competent editors, Runner's World being the occasional exception, and anything by Alex Hutchinson being the consistent exception. Really, though, it's not fully the responsibility of the writer to offer up a perfect final piece. It’s unfortunate that anything goes these days. 

Some of the more bizarre life and training takes I have seen online and in publications recently include the following:

1) A coach claimed that rest is different for everyone. He suggested that for some it’s a day off, but for others it’s a 15-mile run. A few of us corrected him on Twitter, saying that 15 miles, even at the most leisurely pace, isn’t even a recovery day since anything that long is going to take a toll on your body. It can be an “easy” day for some but definitely not a rest or recovery day, even if it might seem like a piece of cake to very fit individuals. Rest is rest and means just that. “Active rest” means engaging in low-intensity activity for a limited duration and allowing your body to recover, not breaking it down further. 

2) On Twitter, a well-known athlete announced that there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-fueling or not getting enough rest. My response to that is: bullshit. Overtraining is doing more than your body can safely manage at any given point. You can eat and sleep well and still do more than you are physically or emotionally able to handle and land in doing too much territory. Sure, in the big picture, most training issues can be resolved by getting adequate nutrition and rest, but we are complex beings. Any kind of maladaptation to stressors can lead to overtraining syndrome, so it's more complicated than a hasty one-liner designed to generate lots of likes on social media can convey.  

3) One of the more shocking declarations I saw was from an account called Anorexia Myths on Twitter, in which the poster suggested that all anorexic thoughts center around food and implied that eating food will fix the problem, which couldn't be further from the truth. This mother of two anorexic children is taking a symptom of the illness and calling it the cause. Eating disorders are complex, and recovery doesn't come down to "eat a sandwich!" This kind of take diminishes individuals who struggle and suggests that eating disorders are a choice when, in fact, they are not. In her attempt to debunk myths around the illness, she's actually perpetuating them. 

4) It's hard to imagine that there were two articles, one in Women's Running and the other in Trail Runner, that focused on strength training by suggesting individuals simply lift heavy shit or do some body-weight exercises now and then. This bright idea was promoted by a coach and writer on Twitter as well. A more interesting and realistic approach would be to discuss muscle activation, strength specificity, and structural strengthening, but that's not as appealing to writers who want to attract the attention of the general masses on social media. It takes too much thought and is too narrowly focused on runners to get into why and how athletes might benefit from an actual lifting or strength program. Just lift shit is easier to convey, isn't it? 

Instead of bad advice in running magazines, here's a link to someone who knows how to assist athletes with individualized strength programs: KPPerformance

5) In the same vein as "just lift shit" is a recent article in Women's Running with the groundbreaking message: Just move a little. Women's Running and other running publications are now in the habit of publishing what looks more and more like blog content than actual articles, which could be interesting if the authors thought a little bit about their target audience and didn't present everything as if either the world is ending or everything is idyllic. Seriously, writers go from You can be all you want to be! to You'll get slow and need to avoid snacks, and that will be dark as hell when you... go through puberty or go through menopause or go through a pandemic or get old, or get injured, etc.

If you're writing for a running as opposed to a fitness magazine, the "Here are a bunch of exercises anyone can do. Fuckit if they relate to running or not" approach isn't best. If a reader searches hard enough, she might find a helpful concept -- that people should exercise for their health, even if they're not going to race -- in these types of overly general articles, but most are lacking so much in depth that the sentiment is nearly lost. People benefit from information that's to the point, not from overly vague concepts. 

If the topic is transitioning from being a competitive runner to being a jogger, discuss the psychological aspects as well as the reasons why some might need or simply choose to make the switch and how the change can affect a runner. Claiming something is depressing without explaining why or getting into how to address it isn't helpful. 

Those of us who have raced, even if it's not at an elite level, are likely to have difficulty with identity as shifts in training volume and intensity occur, forced or not. Imagine how I have felt the last year or so not being able to walk at times, but even I have adapted. Kara Goucher, in a brief update in February this year, brought up the difficulty of being faced with a life-altering condition as a runner who identifies as such. Her short post resonates with more readers than many so-called articles because she allows herself to be vulnerable and lets people know that she's embracing the unknown in her situation. She takes each day as it comes, acknowledges her fears, and does what her body and mind will allow. 

Even though we are creatures that no longer hunt and, as adults, rarely play, our bodies and souls still crave movement and a challenge. As a species, we do better if we are active, but when we can no longer hit high mileage or intensity goals, there are ways to satisfy the inner longing to engage in exercise, even if it's no longer all that vigorous. 

There is a way to transition to cross training or jogging or walking, whatever activity your body can manage, and create beneficial physical and psychological challenges while still being gentle with ourselves in order to reduce the risk of injury. If life pulls you in a different direction, it doesn't mean you have to say, "fuck it!" and let go completely. And if you do, there's nothing really wrong with that, either, as long as you're making some effort to maintain health, however you and your doctor define that. Sometimes a complete break is not just fine but necessary. Exercise is something you can always return to.

A terrible message and one that's likely to scare individuals into not trying at all is that starting an exercise program is difficult and unpleasant. I see this over and over again. On some level, this may be true that starting or starting over may be difficult. Any change can be hard, but a new beginning is also exciting and rewarding, especially after a forced break. Yes, fatigue might hit you hard initially, but you can measure progress fairly quickly. 

Besides, training doesn't have to be done in extremes. Life doesn't come down to either working toward race goals or sitting on the couch. There are plenty of options between the two. 

Even without structured training, you can still run or bike time trials, jump in fun runs, race for charity, do relay-type races with teammates, race for the sheer pleasure of it, or map out an adventure run for the heck of it. There's no rule that says you can't hire a coach, either. It's fine to receive guidance even if you have no racing goals. 

What's very much lacking in the articles I see in most running magazines around change and reduced activity, especially in older athletes, is the mental and emotional aspect of running and how deeply former athletes are affected by not being able to engage in the sport they love. 

In an interview I did with Suzy Favor, we discussed depression and how not running at a high level after spending years training hard can affect a runner's mental health. Simply saying "my identity was once a runner and now I jog" doesn't go into how to most effectively manage any upheaval that can occur when transitioning or being forced into a less athletic role. 

Not one running-related article of this type mentioned processing strong emotions that might come up and even grieving the loss of your former self. For some of us, losing the ability to race or train hard is like losing a best friend, and every time we go out and can't reach our potential, the sadness is there, lingering in the background. It's not easy and can take a long time and a lot of work to accept where you are and stop looking back. I still struggle with it. For Suzy, therapy was helpful. 

6) The last topic I'll cover is that of a coach and writer who basically suggested to his audience that a good approach to training is to do what a great athlete (who's probably doping and has a team working with him) does. If he doesn't lift weights, drop the barbell! This is some of the worst advice anyone can give. 

Copying a professional athlete is an approach that's not individualized, and how someone else achieves success might not work for you. For example, if you're an athlete with some muscle imbalances, lifting might help prevent injury while avoiding strength work because someone said a certain pro skips it could increase the chances of getting hurt. Lifting can help increase overall strength including supporting muscles, which also helps prevent injury. "You do you," not "You do someone else" (you know what I mean) is the best advice here. 

I'm really glad to see that Sage Canaday started a coaching program. I think he will offer athletes some great advice based on his experience, knowledge, and his ability to have fun. Also, he seems to have assembled a great team to assist him. 

I don't have an editor, so I'm sure this doesn't read as a brilliant article. Still, I hope it inspires some thought or offers some guidance to readers. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fuck Your Plate of Pasta

There's no question that I have tremendous empathy for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Knowing what it's like, I wish anyone who has starved, binged, purged, hated themselves, or self-harmed well. These are terrible illnesses to manage and my heart aches for anyone in the throes of any illness. 

My empathy for anyone having a hard time, however, doesn’t negate the anger I feel when I see individuals, some who probably mean well and others who are clearly opportunists -- those who prefer being seen over doing what’s right -- post misleading information or outright misinformation about either these kinds of disorders or their recovery. 

Unfortunately, with the Internet, anyone can dump a heap of words into an article or blog post, proudly waving the newest word salad shooter, and act like he or she is some kind of expert in a given field. 

I see this all too often when it comes to eating disorder recovery. What a shame that with a recent movement encouraging others to share their story, whatever it might be, there wasn't also a disclaimer insisting that people be both honest and considerate. As a result of a world that's more focused on appearance and less and less on skill and good intentions than ever before, we're stuck with individuals cramming their falsehoods in our faces under the guise of a bona fide university lecture. 

People who desperately crave attention don’t think about how their words might affect others. Their main concern is increased notoriety. They want to be pointed at and adored, and many will take a few crooked steps to achieve this. 

With everyone being able to declare themselves anything they want these days, even editors who are hired for publications when, for example, they don't know the difference between who and whom, incorrectly use it's instead of its, have never properly used a semicolon in their lives, and don't think there's a difference between every day and everyday, it's easy to understand why misconceptions about illnesses so quickly and easily spread. It's alarming what some running journalists and their editors present, especially when it comes to content related to eating disorders. 

In a 2007 article, for example, one author of a piece on female athletes and eating disorders mentioned triggering numbers, incompletely or wrongly defined anorexia and bulimia, and suggested coaches should identify eating disorders in athletes by looking at the runners' bodies, which wouldn't really help detect any other disorder except possibly severe anorexia. 

Remember, how someone looks and even what someone weighs doesn't tell a complete story. According to ANAD, less than 6 percent of people with eating disorders -- about one in seventeen -- are medically diagnosed as underweight. Then again, this is a writer who made a fat-kid reference in a failed joke attempt on social media, so her understanding of these illnesses and her compassion for anyone struggling appear to be lacking. And, despite more authors avoiding potentially triggering numbers these days, information on eating disorders presented in running and other magazines is still quite often inadequate at best and potentially harmful at worst. 

Disclaimer: I make mistakes, a lot of them. Long before it was established that numbers can be triggering, I wrote my first book and used them, but I have never published content online without a warning if I feel anyone might be triggered. I’m also not an editor and don’t consider myself a great writer. I have dyslexia, which is why I would never consider taking a job as an editor and also why I tend to blog more than actually write material to submit to publications. 

My content is truthful, though, and my goal has always been to help others find a way through the darkness of an eating disorder. But more recently, my goal has shifted to include pointing out frauds and those who, intentionally or not, give people the wrong idea about what it’s like to suffer from a potentially deadly disorder. 

It's one thing to lie to yourself. But when you lie to the public, you risk harming specific individuals in a venerable community. 

Mark Twain was correct when he said that a lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots. Twitter and social media in general speed up this process even more so. Just the other day, a political pundit reposted a statement about Trump that was obviously false, though with news relating to Trump it's often hard to tell. Still, this was far-fetched enough to cause any normal, rational person to say, "Hang on, there, Billy," and look to Google for some clarification. Instead of this person's followers questioning it, though, they all started retweeting it and commenting on it as if it were true. 

That episode and countless like it demonstrate why someone with a very large platform presenting herself as an expert in dealing with eating disorders despite having no credentials can end up doing a lot of people a disservice, and can even cause harm by giving out misinformation: That misinformation spreads so quickly and within a community in desperate need of true information and rational, compassionate guidance.

While I'm not surprised that misinformation spreads, I find it strange, given the availability of information on the topic, how many individuals still insist that there's no big difference between disordered eating and an actual eating disorder. I just read another article in which the author brushed over the difference and lumped the two together, no-big-deal style. There is a difference, and it's important to know that because there are different approaches for dealing with each. And once a person crosses into eating-disorder territory, it can be extremely dangerous and could require more immediate and intensive care. 

Disordered eating is playing with fire, but having a full-blown eating disorder is like walking into the flames. Both should be addressed and taken seriously.

I've mentioned before that when Lauren Fleshman and others like her imply that eating disorders are illnesses that mentally tough people can more easily avoid, they give people the wrong idea about these kinds of disorders and recovery. 

Imagine being in the throes of such a dark and overwhelming illness and seeing someone with a large platform suggest that people who struggle lack mental toughness. But errors in judgment when it comes to content can be more subtle than someone confidentially and incorrectly suggesting she's mentally tougher than those of us who have struggled. 

There's no doubt that having an eating disorder makes life more difficult and decreases your chances of truly excelling in a given area. A chef who doesn't taste his food for fear of weight gain won't be as successful as one who can adjust flavoring in the moment, just as athletes who are improperly nourished will likely suffer injuries, possible muscle weakness, and might also experience emotional burnout more quickly than someone who's well nourished. But nowhere in any of this are signs of a lack of mental toughness. It's important to distinguish between the harmful effects or side effects of these illnesses and grit or fortitude, which isn't usually lacking in those who struggle, especially distance runners. 

It's actually not uncommon to see dishonesty, even in recovery circles. When you think about it, it's not all that surprising since those with eating disorders become skilled at lying and manipulating, just like any other addict, in order to keep engaging in the behaviors that feed their obsessions and compulsions. Much of the time, subtle fibbing online comes from people who let slide with their words that they are still unwell, but post images of themselves sitting in front of a plate of pasta pretending to eat mounds of those high-carb ribbons. It can also come from writers who publish articles in which they push the idea that they eat loads and loads of junk food, just massive amounts of it while sitting on the couch, and isn't that hilarious and cute? 

It gets old seeing that shit, and it's not nearly as funny as the images of women laughing alone with salad but equally unrealistic to think that an image of some food suggests complete recovery or happiness. 

What and the amount of food people eat is all relative. I used to call what looks like a snack to me now a huge meal when I was sick, and sometimes I would exaggerate descriptions of my portions when I wanted to get concerned relatives off my back. 

Strangers on the Internet don't need to know what or how much you eat. There's such disregard for people struggling by individuals who claim to want to be part of the recovery solution, but nobody needs to see your "what I eat in a day" video or read about how many bags of potato chips you eat while sitting on the couch. It’s just not helpful, and, as I've mentioned before, I’m excluding people who share fun recipes or post nice images of a meal they fixed. That's innocent enough and not what bothers me. I’m talking about people who are trying to push a narrative, either to fool themselves or the public or both. 

Nobody promoting recovery needs to imply that getting well means eating nothing but junk or massive amounts of a given food. True recovery is about so much more than what you eat. It’s about honoring your body, having compassion for yourself and the struggles you have endured, feeling emotions, healing past trauma, being more flexible, and engaging more fully in the world. It's about living, not simply eating something because training hard gives you that right.

That's another problem with people who may mean well but entirely miss the mark: Too often, food is presented as fuel but with the implication that it's really the reward, a treat for expending energy instead of a necessity, sustenance for living, not to mention a way to connect, to enjoy life, and to honor family or cultural traditions. 

Nearly every athlete-turned-writer I have seen publish a piece on eating disorders, whether they realize it or not, suggests that you can eat "fun" food if you exercise hard enough. What they don't get into is that you need food whether or not you are training. You need it if you're injured to help your body heal. You need it in order to function as a human being. 

I often wonder if people who write in a way that suggests food is to be enjoyed more if you're an athlete realize how much they advertise their own insecurities. At least be honest. 

With so much deceit in the world, even in the running world  -- dopers, cheaters, frauds, grifters, and liars -- trust in society in general is waning. Lying isn't just bad for those witnessing it, though; it's detrimental to the one pushing flase stories. Though the brain of a liar changes and ultimately makes spewing falsities easier, not being truthful ultimately has consequences. When I was in the hospital being treated for my eating disorder, a nurse who was in recovery for bulimia told me the key to recovery is being honest with yourself and others. She was right. lies hurt others, but lying to yourself also causes harm.

This isn't to say that those struggling, me included in all the ways I do, can't be of service to others. My attempt in this post is to point out how unhelpful it is to yourself and others when you're not honest. Self-acceptance doesn't come if you present a false version of yourself to the world, and recovery doesn't come if you take a stance with friends, relatives, and therapists that basically states, "This is who I am, fuck your advice and observations about my behavior!" If that's your plan in life, fine, but don't share it as advice and pretend this is a useful path for others to follow. 

Sharing stories can be a really great way to help remove the shame around eating disorders, but not if those doing the sharing are misrepresenting what they are doing and where they are in their process and, in the same breath, dictating how other people "should" manage. 

This is not helpful. At all. Recovery is a process, but, as an author, if you "yada yada yada" over the important parts, like whether or not you're truly recovered, the deeper issues that contributed to developing your illness, what helped you recover, and how you maintain recovery through life's ups and downs, you're not contributing very much to recovery conversations. 

If your main goal is simply to say you struggled, don't hide the details of where you are in your process behind a plate of never-to-be-eaten pasta. When you let people in and are authentic, that's when true healing can begin. I may have a ways to go, but I'm not hiding where I am behind images of food or suggesting I'm further along than I am by posting a plate of noodles that proves everything's just fucking fine. 

Photo by mahdi chaghari