So often, I feel the need to show some restraint on this blog, but the more I look on social media, the more pissed off I become. The misinformation people spew makes me want to vent, uncensored and hard. It's difficult enough to understand the journalists, "experts," influencers, and former elite athletes who fib on a regular basis, but what I just don't get are the loads and loads of fans who cheer their shit on, especially when there are so many truly inspirational people to be found.
Perhaps this need to constantly like whatever is filling up a person's social media feed stems from wanting to belong. It gives a person a sense of being part of a team. These days, the "it" team is The Elect. If you're not with them, you're against them and also a bad, morally corrupt person, but if you're with them, agreeing or even giving the appearance you agree gives you a sense of belonging.
Initially, I was going to dive facepalm-first into the worst of the worst "influencers" on Instagram, especially one in particular who claims a healthy regimen is to "intuitively fast" (there's no such thing) from late evening until sometime in the afternoon the following day and then drink celery juice and shit before consuming what the fuck ever compost on toast meal of the day. Hey, if you choose to restrict and exercise, that's your right, but don't shove that crap in other people's faces and call it healthy. And don't post videos of yourself trying to exercise using poor form and tout that as helpful. It's not. It's potentially dangerous, in fact.
I think I can address a few topics at once with a letter to my former self style post, a different one filled with more accurate advice than one I already wrote.
Maybe this isn't so much a letter, just some truth I feel the need to spill.
Dear whomever this may concern or whoever wants to read it:
1. You can fuck right off if you feel the need to share your story and can't refrain from putting others down. For example, you're not a hero for avoiding an eating disorder and don't need to suggest that those who have one are weaker in any way. You were born genetically and biochemically lucky and were probably fortunate enough to be placed in environments that weren't conducive to developing one. Congrats on that. Same thing if you run well. Hard work goes into it, but success comes down to a combination of raw talent, hard work, and timing. Some good support and guidance can't hurt.
2. I'm repeating myself, but eating disorders are not a sign of mental weakness. Some of the most successful athletes including Nadia Comaneci, Dara Torres, and Bahne Rabe, for example, suffered from eating disorders while they were competing at an Olympic or world class level, so stop with the bullshit that those who struggle are somehow not as mentally tough. Again, it's not that having a life-threatening illness gives you any kind of advantage; it doesn't. It's more that you can be both mentally tough and suffer from mental illness. Getting lost in an eating disorder makes everything more difficult and riskier. You have to be mentally tough just to survive the fucking hell of an eating disorder. Think about it. Your mind is so powerful that it's telling you to deny or get rid of the very substance that is life sustaining. Having this kind of illness is not about trying to gain some small advantage like a slight increase in VO2 Max. Increased injury risk, muscle fatigue, depression, and risk of death aren't exactly advantages.
3. You can't tell if someone is sick by looking at her, especially when considering eating disorders. Plenty of people who struggle are at what most consider a "normal" weight. Mental illness is not visible to others. Don't pretend you can tell who has an eating disorder just by looking. Assuming will lead nowhere and reveal nothing.
4. Coaches don't cause eating disorders. They can definitely foster an unhealthy or a healthy environment, but mental illness doesn't come down to one factor. That means a person can contribute to someone developing an eating disorder, but that's not the same thing as someone actually causing it.
5. Stop promoting the idea that "strong" women don't get eating disorders and that "confident" women can look at numbers objectively. Fuck that. That's like me walking into an AA meeting and telling a group of alcoholics how amazing I am because I don't find myself unable to stop drinking when I start and have the willpower to just say no. If this is your response to someone who has an eating disorder, you clearly do not get it. You just don't.
6. Puberty and menopause don't have to be events to fear. The more you tell everyone that your world gets turned upside down during these transitions, the scarier it is for young women. Stop it. Every single person is different, and you do not know how someone will react just because you experienced things one way or saw a few people go through some shit. Just let people have their individualistic experiences and stop trying to predict what will happen to someone else. Maybe instead of trying to terrify young athletes by telling them they will have a rocky transition through puberty, offer some guidance on how to manage through any major transitions. "Riding it out" tells an individual nothing, and it's a myth that performance has to drop during this time. I like what Elizabeth W. Carey and other experts have said about zooming out to see the big picture during this time, a concept others have copied, but it's useful advice. Also, don't plagiarize. That shit is bad.
Here are some words of wisdom to help get through puberty:
- Talk to your doctor
- Talk to a therapist
- Get plenty of rest and listen to your body
- See a registered dietitian and make sure you are getting the right kinds of nutrients, especially minerals like magnesium, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids
- At the advice of Melody Fairchild, use this time to build strength by doing things like lifting weights and cross-training
- Make sure you are still enjoying the process
7. Speaking to athletes, should you decide to "give up" and pursue something else. Good. You should always go where your heart is calling you, and if running isn't it, there is nothing wrong with that. Running is a sport that will always be there down the road if you change your mind. Don't be afraid to let it go, temporarily or for good. It's something you do, not who you are, and you don't have to force it. People have this warped idea that being a top athlete is the main goal in life. It need not be.
8. I get tired of saying it, but developing an eating disorder isn't about being the fastest or most beautiful. These illnesses are so much more complex than that. Eating disorders are not fueled by dreams of "short-term success". Success might be a temporary byproduct of the initial phases of losing weight, but nobody lives the absolute hell of an eating disorder simply because she wants to run faster. Also, not all eating disorders lead to weight loss anyway. Weight might be one very small consideration of running, but so is muscle strength and leg speed. Remember, people who develop potentially deadly disorders have a genetic predisposition. Perhaps if you don't, you shouldn't speculate about the reasons why others get them, unless you have studied these disorders in-depth, not just on the Internet.
9. Your observations and personal experiences are not everyone else's.
10. You don't need to be so god damn fucking condescending to others who struggle. I think I already said that. Shit. I could have had ten points, but now I'm making it 11 because I need to say this again.
11. Men, especially male athletes, develop eating disorders, too. This is not just a female problem.
By all means, if it make more sense to like and amplify the words of the latest body-image guru of your choice, go ahead. The Internet is a fucking free-for-all, but maybe take some time to think about what feels right, deep down in your heart, before doing so.