Saturday, March 24, 2018

That Wild Spring Hair

It seems every year around this time, whether I'm fit or not, I get the wild idea that I want, no need, to do some sort of time trial. Today was definitely not the ideal day for it, but I had already set my mind to doing something, sensible ideas be damned.

I looked back and saw that last year at this time I was excited after running 20:25 or so on my little NCAR road jaunt. Today was not a day for miracles. In addition to the ever-present slight headwind on that road, I had a few mental, physical, and hormonal issues to manage. Also, in case anyone was wondering, swallowing the wrong way while trying to inhale doesn't make a person run faster. Instead of inching closer to that 20-minute barrier, I swung the opposite direction and landed at my finishing point in 20:52, which isn't horrible but shows what a difference fresh legs and a good attitude can make when it comes to going after running goals.

Given today's not so stellar performance, I'm still trying to figure out how a nice, relaxed tempo run on the trails a few weeks ago earned me my fastest time ever, by about three minutes, on one of my favorite little loops up to the Mesa Trail. Considering I was a minute slower to the base of the trail than I was on my fastest day previously, it's hard to figure out how I managed the speedier time. I wondered if my watch was broken, but everything was in working order. I guess not being all that fit leads to unpredictable training and times, but at least I'm running or jogging anyway. I can't say I'm injury free, but I'm not hurting as badly as I was a few months ago. I guess that's some kind of improvement.

I've been trying to think of a way to address pain and pain management. It's going to take some additional thought before I can put everything into words, but I suspect one of my next posts will address this topic. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Please Stop It - A Message To Men

The other day, a friend pointed me to a blog post written by a runner who probably thinks he's smarter and funnier than he actually is. The post, not an article as he mistakenly called it, was about Desi Linden and was written in 2017. In it, the author claims that his readers might have a hard time finding articles about Linden because she's not pretty. That was one of may idiotic statements, but I'm primarily addressing this one since I would likely be here for days if I attempted to get into all the bizarre shit this guy claims throughout his blog. He goes on to explain in his post that he's not really the asshole he's presenting himself to be because he just means she's not as pretty as the truly pretty runners who get more press.

OK. Define "more press" and "pretty." Fortunately, Desi's sponsors don't give a fuck that she's not posing for Vogue in her spare time. They are more concerned and impressed with how well she runs. This guy clearly needs glasses and also needs someone to do a little research for him before he runs off with a whole lot of nonsense in his blogging attempts again.

Sports Illustrated featured Desi Linden in one of their 2016 editions, and an ESPN publication also did at least two write-ups on Desi prior to 2017. Runner's World wrote at least six main articles on her in 2016 alone, and there were well over ten feature articles in a span of two years from 2015 to 2016. That's not including any podcasts, Youtube videos, minor articles, or blog posts related to the magazine. From 2014 to 2016, Competitor wrote several articles on her in both their women's edition magazine and their regular magazine. She has her own Wikipedia page, and she wasn't absent from media outlets such as FloTrack, Salty Running, Adventure Sports Network, and even Bon Appetite, to name just a few, prior to this ridiculous blog post coming out.

Does it seem to you that Desi was an unknown in the running world in 2017? Obviously, she wasn't to even those who don't necessarily follow running all that much. I stopped following running for a long time and purposely avoided looking too closely at results and articles, yet I couldn't help but  notice such an outstanding runner. You almost can't avoid hearing about talent and dedication like hers. You would have had to really go a hell of a long way out of your way to avoid bumping into some news about her many running achievements.

None of this matters, really. People lie all the time online. They say stupid shit to try to come off as funny or informed, or they say something untrue to support their odd beliefs. It's bad enough that the blogger lied about a lack of media presence of an incredible athlete, but then he had to take it one step further and objectify not just Desi but all women runners, as if we really give a shit about his subjective grading scale of prettiness in female athletes. We don't. Stop it.

Every time twits like this try to draw attention to the outer appearance of an athlete, they immediately take away from and diminish the competitor's accomplishments. It's an intentional distraction, a way to keep the focus on women's bodies and away from their strengths. I have no idea why people, men especially, feel the need to do this other than possibly because they are insecure, terribly and hopelessly insecure.

It's fine if you have thoughts about someone's appearance. We all do, but most of us are well behaved enough and have enough respect to keep those thoughts to ourselves and not assume that everyone else has the same preference. Talk about a runner being pretty or not has no place in the athletic world. All it does is promote absurd standards that make it difficult for anyone to navigate a world obsessed with looks. We need to stop sending the message that women are never good enough if they aren't also good looking. It's bullshit, complete bullshit.
Related image
The look of an amazing athlete.

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Desi at her wedding looking quite beautiful.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Intuitive Eating and Other Buzz Words

In my book, "Training on Empty," I mention intuitive eating, not in those exact words, but I address how difficult always tapping into our nutritional and dietary needs would be in the chaotic world in which we live. The idea behind intuitive eating is that our bodies have the wisdom to know what and how much we need, not just want, at any given moment. I don't believe it's possible or even necessary to be that grounded and in touch with your body and inner voice in order to recover, and I believe very few people who are normal and healthy do this 100 percent of the time. In fact, believing this is the answer to recovery can get people into trouble because our bodies aren't always 100 percent reliable when it comes to hunger cues, let alone signaling complete nutritional needs.

In saying this, however, I don't want to discourage anyone from being in touch with his or her internal signals. I'm all for giving yourself permission to eat what you want. I'm sure some will argue that they do fine eating intuitively, and I'm OK with that. It's great. I've always encouraged people to do what works for them. I'm just throwing out a word of caution for those who are in recovery to be aware of how difficult tossing out all dietary guidelines except your body's prompts can be. It's my strong opinion that using both intuitive eating along with some kind of relaxed meal plan is the best approach, especially for those taking their first steps toward recovery.

Once you're more solidly recovered, you have every right to choose what style of eating best serves you. Until then, it might take some work in order to understand and gather enough information to fully read what your body is telling you. Even then, I'm not entirely convinced that people can completely separate physical hunger cues from emotional cravings entangled in years of what society throws at us. My concern is that missed cues can lead to more missed cues, and that can lead to an increase in potentially dangerous behaviors. That's a lot of pressure on anyone. Learn to trust yourself, but also rely on sheer rational thought. The two work well together.

People like to claim that all children eat intuitively. They don't, or at least many of them don't. Parents unintentionally teach their kids to ignore their signs of hunger and often use food in some sort of a reward and punishment program, withholding food for bad behavior and offering goodies in exchange for good behavior. Even from a young age, kids are manipulated by a media that attempts to shape their food cravings. Commercials for sweets and fast food target youngsters. Big companies like McDonald's know how to direct content toward kids as young as four years old, and it's estimated that these kids see well over 200 of that particular corporation's ads each year.

I never ate intuitively when I was young, ever. Like many others, I was an emotional eater from a very young age. I was like one of those abandoned stray dogs that finally comes upon food and eats and eats and eats with no "I'm full" alarm alerting me to stop. As far back as I can remember, I had an intense hunger, at least I perceived it as hunger, that I couldn't seem to satisfy, and I never felt truly full. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that kids can't be wise about what they need, but reading hunger cues doesn't necessarily mean a child or adult will always eat the right foods in order to get adequate nutrition.

When not targeting young children, the media is busy promoting some fantasy or miracle plan for your diet and weight-related goals. On the one hand, we are encouraged to look a certain way, yet we are bombarded with images of decadent food and the false idea that we can eat whatever we want whenever we want and be thin. Oprah boasts about eating BREAD and PASTA every day while supposedly losing weight, like carbohydrates are some sort of taboo fare that only the very thin are allowed, and people suddenly think Weight Watchers has the answers to all their dietary needs. False.

People should be able to eat bread and pasta whenever they want. It's healthy to eat what your body craves, absolutely, but you also have to be aware that your body needs a wide variety of different nutrients, from protein, fats, and carbohydrates to vitamins and minerals. That's why having some loose guidelines without strict rules is better than diving into a complete free-for-all. Your size shouldn't really matter, but how your body and your brain operate depend a lot on what you put into it. A good dietitian will help you create a plan that focuses on foods you love and nutrient-dense foods that you might consider adding to your diet to increase overall health. Sometimes this kind of plan really does include bread and pasta on a daily bases. Ture.

I learned the hard way that eating sweets all the time caused me to crave more and more simple sugars, but when I ate a more reasonably sized daily dessert as part of a healthier meal plan, those terribly intense, out-of-control cravings faded. But that's my story. It doesn't have to be yours.

I love the idea of really listening to your cravings and honoring your hunger. I just think that it becomes complicated quickly to always rely on internal cues. It's a good goal to have, but there is no one definitive cue for hunger. People experience being hungry in a variety of ways, and one person can have varying internal cues. Some days, my body signals are clear and obvious, and other days, I have a hard time determining what I'm feeling. If I relied only on internal hints, I'm pretty sure I would miss some of them while navigating this crazy and often stressful reality called life. Sometimes I just have to look objectively at my diet and eat because I know I need to, not because an alarm inside has alerted me.

I'm the type that sees nothing wrong with having ice cream for breakfast or nachos for dinner now and then. I think emotional eating for comfort during horribly stressful times is not the worst thing on Earth, as long as you are aware and don't beat yourself up afterward. Obviously, learning healthy coping skills is better than turning to any kind of truly unhealthy behavior, but I don't see occasional comfort eating as anything abnormal. Those of us who have struggled in the past are so quick to judge ourselves harshly; the last thing we need is more pressure to eat a certain way. My suggestion remains the same that people should use what works for them. If there's no problem, don't fix it, but also don't assume that everyone else should follow the way you eat because it works for you.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


For whatever reason, my dip into the depression pool this spring is deeper and longer-lasting than in previous years. It doesn't help that my endometriosis symptoms have flared up and I'm still dealing with daily pain in my hips and feet. Managing pain on a daily basis is exhausting. Since I know myself well and know where the edge at the bank of the hellish black pit is, I'm not sitting back and doing nothing while waiting for my mood to improve this time. Sometimes riding out the downs on this rollercoaster is a reasonable choice; other times, it's not. It takes a lot for me to reach out, but I have, stubbornness be damned, for now. No, there's nothing anyone outside of the medical community can do. Depression is depression. I know how to keep myself relatively safe. I've been dealing with it since I was a child. Some months are just more challenging than others. Not turning to disordered eating during times like this is challenging, but I'm doing well in not swinging to any extremes.

When it comes to helping others, I often wonder what's most beneficial to those who are struggling with an eating disorder and want to get well. I don't believe there's one right answer. There are many groups that go about helping by simply sharing stories. I never found this approach helpful in terms of actual recovery, but it can be for some. It can also help people feel less alone, which is a step in the right direction. Oddly, when I joined a recovery group in college, I felt it kept me stuck in the disorder. The ladies in the group were so focused on their symptoms and stuck in their stories that nothing else was ever presented. Week after week, the same people would tell the same stories and go into the gory details, almost more to shock others than to offer any assistance. I find that a dialog is more beneficial, but everyone has his or her preference.

The longer I'm in recovery, the more I realize that if people are going to be more compassionate and accepting, it's society that needs to change. We live in a world that doesn't allow people to stray from the norm without being severely punished. This is especially true for women. We can't be too big, but we are also condemned if we swing too far in the opposite direction. At either end, we are called weak, failures, self-indulgent, or any number of other derogatory terms. Women have to walk an incredibly narrow path in order to be accepted, and we're all so obsessively aware of these fixed rules. Women mock themselves and others for having an appetite or being on a diet. People think it's acceptable, funny even, to suggest that all women feel fat, hate their bodies, or want to be thin. It's not. If you participate in this kind of rhetoric, you are so much a part of the problem.

It's unfortunate that we can't see the deeper issues behind being too big or too small and what "too" really means in each case. Who defines that point that goes beyond health, physical, emotional, and mental? How is the stereotype of "normal" identified? Who sets the parameters of how a body, someone else's body, should be? One out of many problems with the way our culture affects women's decisions around aesthetics is that those who fall even slightly outside of what's acceptable to the majority are pushed to the side more than those who walk the narrow line when both should matter and should be heard equally. The voice of someone who's considered too fat or too thin by an arbitrary and quite often absurd cultural standard still needs to be acknowledged, maybe even more so than those who fall in line and accept the status quo.

At my age, I never thought I would be dealing with anyone making unkind comments to me. Though it's not the same situation and unrelated to my weight, this kind of occurrence puts me right back into being the fat little girl who was relentlessly teased and bullied. I don't want anyone to ever have to experience the kind of torment I did or other people do for whatever reason. My childhood experiences left me afraid of confrontation, awkward around people, and uncomfortable in my own skin, no matter what my weight. As a society, we really, really need to stop focusing so intently on what others look like and appreciate more who they are and what they do.

Success really isn't a number on a scale, and you don't have to be a superhero to be successful. Another problem with society is the way it views achievements. The fear of mediocrity can keep anyone stuck or backsliding. What's so wrong with admiring people who participate in the daily grind, who get up day after day, go to work, keep their shit together and are generally decent people? The public is very greedy, needy, and self-centered. It's no wonder there are so many people who turn to eating disorders and addictions to cope. I wish I knew how to heal our very broken society.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Little Compassion, Eh?

Last week was eating disorder awareness week. I noticed both positive and not so beneficial messages on social media throughout the event. As an eating disorder recovery advocate -- not an eating disorder advocate, a term I saw a few times and questioned -- I find myself looking closely at how others talk about recovery or about eating disorders in general.

It might seem like I'm straddling the fence on some of the issues I'm attempting to address, but these matters are complex. When it comes to the different types of illness and the different movements emerging, I can see the various viewpoints and the concerns of each. What worries me is the increasing lack of compassion with which people are voicing their ideas. I understand the outrage. Hell, how many times have I angrily hit the keys as I typed a blog post about people on Instagram promoting disordered behavior under the guise of healthy living? I keep looking inside to see where this anger is coming from, and while I know I want desperately to protect the world from the damaging shit that's out there, and there's just so much shit, I'm also willing to look at the possibility that the anger might go deeper than that.

Here's the thing; I will never know what it's like to navigate the world in your body with your mind, and you will never truly know my struggles. That being said, I'm not going to discount what you're going through simply because I haven't experienced your life first hand, which is exactly what some people, people I usually respect and admire, seem to be doing. Those of us who are advocates generally speak from the heart about where we are and where we have been. It's not always going to be all-inclusive, but it doesn't mean we are ignoring the reality of others.

I don't know the details about what went down between Geneen Roth and several other recovery advocates, but I assume this had something to do with diet culture, the assumption that Geneen wasn't using the "right" terminology when addressing weight. I saw a few posts from several different people indirectly addressing Geneen and wondered why, if these people were so offended, they didn't confront Geneen directly. I fully support HAES and the Body Positive Movement. What I don't support are those who try to tear down others who have been instrumental in helping people recover from life-threatening eating disorders, people, like me, who might be dead had they not read one of Geneen's books. For me, reading what she went through, even though she didn't have the same illness I did, gave me the tiny bit of hope I needed to keep going. Even if her language isn't perfect (and whose is?) she doesn't deserve to be attacked.

I love Geneen Roth's reply to one of the individuals who attempted to vilify her:

I’ve heard (thank you, those of you who have let me know) that someone who calls herself an emotional eating expert is posting aggressively unkind Facebook ads about my work and that they are popping up on your pages.
I’m sorry to hear this and would like to take a moment to respond, not to her particularly, but to the notion that tearing someone else down will build us up. That being mean and aggressive is a winning strategy.
We’ve all tried that one. We’ve all blamed and fought and, from a lost or lonely or desperate place inside, cut other people to shreds. Or at least, I have. And when I wasn’t doing it explicitly, I was thinking about doing it. Blame was one of my favorite strategies and make no mistake: tearing someone else down is a way to blame. It’s a way not to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own decisions, our own actions.

It’s challenging not to go to war, either with ourselves or with someone else. It’s challenging to notice when the voice in our heads takes over and says, “War is the only option. Being unkind is the way to go. It’s my turn and I deserve to win, no matter the cost."

Everything—and this situation is no exception—is a chance to question where we stand.

Do I feel personally attacked? No.

Do I feel the need to write to her and call her out? No. (See below about taking action.)

Do I notice that the tactic she is using is familiar to me and that I’ve done it many times myself? Absolutely.

Can I find the place inside me that wants to go to war with myself? Fight with the parts of myself I think would be better vanquished? (That’s the war part. "Let’s destroy what we don’t agree with and what will be left will be only the good parts." How many times have I done that, starting with "let me lose weight and what will be left will be a happy, relaxed, thin person").

At least a million times…

Which doesn’t mean I don’t take action or speak up for myself. I do. Often. Although in this case, many people have already contacted Facebook about the aggressiveness. Also, the ad has not popped up on my page and I would need to be served the ad in order to report it.
The bottom line is that in any situation, I look and see what action I can take and if it feels in integrity, I take it.
And all along, I keep questioning what in me gets triggered and reactive, turning towards those feelings with as much kindness as I can muster. And I keep strengthening my resolve to untangle what’s left of the web of self-loathing and blame because the less and less I do it to and in myself, the less I do it with anyone around me.
It's working. Sanity and clarity are constant companions these days.

I'm a straight, white woman. The only thing missing for me to be the ideal typical stereotype of an anorexic is my youth. I'm older now, so I no longer fit the stereotype. I'm also in recovery, but you get my point. Whatever your eating disorder, it's as painful, as potentially deadly, and as difficult to address as mine. It might even be harder in many ways if it means that you are also experiencing prejudice and discrimination. I fully understand that and want to help raise awareness around these issues and change the way society views anyone with an eating disorder, no matter what his or her size. What I wish others would understand is that talking about what I experienced is in no way meant to put my needs above anyone else's. I don't see anorexia as some kind of top illness to discuss at the expense of other disorders, and I know that straight, white women aren't the only ones struggling with eating issues. Eating disorders affect all genders, all races, and all ages.

I used to think we were all in the same boat, that anyone who could relate to the suffering associated with an eating disorder would show compassion toward others battling their own illnesses. The way social media is, people constantly spouting this or that belief or thought without any filters, I can understand why people feel vulnerable. I thought anyone who had lived through an eating disorder or witnessed someone else wrestling their demons would show complete compassion and understanding toward others. Instead, what I see is a lot of anger and resentment directed at an entire group of people, exactly what most recovery advocates claim to rebuke. I see that and a lot of shameless self-promotion. Self-promotion isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of the actual cause, I take issue.

The big thing now is to post about anger being a great motivator, which can be true in one way, but it's an energy that burns out quickly. I ran in anger for a while. I was fierce and determined, but I was far more successful when I came at it from a place of forgiveness and love. This is a hard topic to address because I don't want to make it seem like I don't understand the hurt and frustration of living in a fucked up society that shuns people based entirely on how they look. It's more that I want to point out that trashing someone else isn't as effective as simply stating your argument.

People talk about Roxane Gay having a sharp tongue, but her memoir "Hunger" is one of the most poetic, moving, honest, and thought-provoking memoirs I have ever read. Her tongue isn't really all that sharp; she's just more direct and truthful than most. At no point does she feel the need to unnecessarily tear anyone down, even those who nearly destroyed her, but she has no problem defending herself with her words. In her memoir, she simply shares her story, but this is a book that absolutely has the potential to change the way society looks at anyone struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating or even anyone who's different. I highly, highly recommend everyone read it.

Several times recently in my real life, not on social media, people have responded to me in unkind ways. I'm sensitive to this kind of behavior and don't react well to it. I tend to shut down. I will never quite understand when someone continually takes little or not so small digs at someone else or goes out of his or her way to make an inconsiderate comment. People tell me the problem lies with the one who chooses to be unpleasant, but it's hard to not take mean-spirited or judgmental attacks personally, even if I assume the issue really isn't me. I sometimes wish I could respond, "You, sir, may fuck off!" (Crime in Sports reference), but that's only because it would make me laugh, not because I aim to be as nasty back.

I guess all this rambling I've stumbled through is a long-winded way of saying, "Have a little compassion, eh?" 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Binge Eating

Recently, I was part of a panel giving a talk on eating disorders. The event was open to the public, so we got a nice mix of adults and children in attendance. Things went well overall, but some of the questions during the Q & A segment were a challenge to answer. This isn't because we didn't have the knowledge to answer but more because we are all products of our society and there are deeply fixed beliefs around eating disorders. It's incredibly difficult for anyone, struggling or not, to move away from the mindset that food is not the main issue when it comes to eating disorders.

Of all the illnesses we addressed, binge eating was the most challenging. Finally, there seems to be a better understanding around anorexia, that you can't simply force someone to eat. Unfortunately, with binge eating, people, even loved ones, are more likely to try to control the binge eater.

At one point during the evening, I brought up one of Geneen Roth's books in which she describes a child who kept gaining weight and whose mother was worried about her daughter's health. Geneen told the mother to give the child a pillowcase full of the girl's favorite snack food, which was M&Ms. Initially, the girl carried the pillowcase everywhere and ate as she pleased. She gained some weight in the process. When the mother kept reassuring her child that she was still loved and trusted, the child eventually began consuming fewer candies and leaving the pillowcase behind. I'm pretty sure some of the people in the audience were assuming two of us on the panel were suggesting that they give their kids unlimited amounts of candy. That wasn't the point of the story, and it's not something I would actually suggest. The story does illustrate a point, though.

What the story offers is a way to find out what the food represents to the child. Some believe taking the problem food(s) away is the answer, and others believe providing it in abundance is key. In the case of the girl in Geneen's book, the M&Ms represented trust and love, especially the mother's love. That's the underlying issue, but with binge eating, those close to the one struggling are desperate to find a way to fix the symptoms and fix them quickly. Nobody wants to see their child suffer, and the fear is that anyone who binges won't fit into the ideal beauty standard, the one that's unrealistic to begin with and generally unhealthy. There are also health concerns, like with any illness. We're all looking for that the magic pill, and parents can end up wanting to limit what their child eats. They want desperately to protect their child from experiencing ridicule and potential bullying if she ends up different.

I believe this kind of thinking, wanting to control someone who binges, is, in part, because of the way society looks at anyone who doesn't fit the "thin is beautiful" false narrative that's ingrained in our society. There's also the recognition that anyone, no matter what her actual size, who eats in secret, eats large quantities of food, or sneaks food probably experiences much guilt and shame, possibly for even eating at all and taking up space. You can imagine how being called out for these behaviors must feel to a child. As a society, we really need to remove the shame and guilt around our struggles.

Binge eating, any disordered eating actually, is never about willpower or self-control or a lack thereof. I can guarantee that anyone struggling with an eating disorder is tough. We have to be just to make it through the day sometimes. While I may not have the specific answers for each individual, I can assure anyone reading that the more the focus is on the food and trying to control it, the more progress will stall and backslide. In the last few years, there have been therapists who have spoken out, cautioning that a focus on the symptoms will only make matters worse. Their suggestion is to avoid all talk about food and weight and, instead, address the underlying issues. If the issues haven't been brought to the surface or are unidentified, focus on general likes and dislikes, look at identity, and practice goal-setting (related to life, not food) and saying positive mantras.

It's not an easy path for either the one suffering or the parents and loved ones. I often suggest that the family get therapy or support separately from the one struggling. Don't give up hope, though. As difficult as a supporting role can be, it's an essential one in terms of recovery. People with eating disorders need advocates. They need guidance and love, and they need reminders that they are worthy, no matter what kind of illness they have.