Monday, July 24, 2017

SJRNRHM Week 4 of 14: More like it (+ some thoughts on disordered eating in sport)

While in Tahoe over 4th of July, Don & I got into talking about the extremes of disordered eating that pervades our respective (current & past) sports--rock climbing for him, distance running & (in my younger days) gymnastics for me. We'd been talking about rock climbing & how a friend of his had mentioned how she'd recently lost like 5 pounds and how it made a real, noticeable difference in how easy climbing felt, & from there about the siren call of weight loss in endurance sports in general ("If I can just lose 3/5/7/etc. pounds, x/y/z will feel easier/I'll be faster/more powerful/etc.") & how then depending on your personal background, psychology, & environment, it can be such a short, slippery leap to really dangerous, misguided stuff like skipping meals and cutting out entire food groups and intentionally not fueling your workouts in order to create a larger calorie deficit.

Then completely coincidentally, this Outside article popped up in my Facebook feed the very next day, which I found fascinating and sent on to Don. Some of it was not exactly news (What?? Elite endurance athletes are super driven & get eating disorders way more often than the general population??) but I found it very interesting to read about how many men in endurance sports (including Tyler Hamilton & Jesse Thomas, to name two) suffer or have suffered from eating disorders and how it's generally way undercounted in men, not only because they seek treatment less often but because the world in general is so used to viewing disordered eating as a female issue that it honestly just does not occur to male athletes and their coaches to make sense of the behaviors they're doing and seeing as eating disorders.

I also thought the quote from Lauren Fleshman (and I remember listening to this interview with her somewhere) was important, about how in college every season some girl would come out of nowhere, newly sinewy & svelte, win or podium a bunch of stuff, and then disappear forever for health reasons. I thought it was important because a central part of the message young female athletes get about unhealthy weight loss (at least in my experience) is "don't do it, it doesn't work," which a lot of girls blow off, because, frankly, we all know that it does work. So to me it came across as more credible for Lauren to say, yes, dropping a bunch of weight at any cost will make you faster--for a short period of time, and at a very high cost.

I also found it super upsetting and gross to read about elite-level coaches implicitly or explicitly pressuring athletes into disordered eating because the athlete's weight loss became such an urgent, high priority thing for them, especially in terms of how coaches of girls and women have gotten a lot more educated and sensitive about how they talk to athletes about food and weight, but since discussion of disordered eating hasn't been as common and open among male athletes and coaches, it's still way too common for them to be like, "Hey, if you can make it without dinner tonight, that'll help you lean up."

Which was why I found it so refreshing to listen to a recent episode of the Strength Running podcast where they talked about nutrition & had people send in questions to ask the nutritionist who was on as a guest. They definitely acknowledged the importance of eating for performance (to the extent that you care about your performance & working on the nutrition side is something you're willing and able to undertake) and the reality that, no, it is just not possible to compete at your best and also eat cake for breakfast and four cheeseburgers for dinner with a vat of soda on the side. But, over and over again, they also came back to ideas like eating filling meals that pull from a variety of food groups. That you can't eat for weight loss and performance at the same time. That wolfing down a box of cookies at 4pm is maybe sometimes because you ate nothing but kale salad and half a chicken breast for lunch. That training sometimes makes us hungrier because our bodies are *literally* trying to rebuild themselves from scratch, and that takes a lot of energy.

It makes me wonder, sometimes, if there is something woefully wrong with the way with some endurance coaches are prepared for their jobs, because some of this seems like really, really basic biology. (Then again, I am still bitter that in spite of years of semi-competitive sports and taking Health class in school, including many units on nutrition and exercise, I still did not have an even remotely accurate understanding of the basics of nutrition and how it interacts with exercise until I was a grown-ass adult and decided to finally educate my own damn self via my school library. So maybe I shouldn't be that surprised.)

Anyway. On to running stuff!

Friends, I am feeling a bit better about things this week. I still failed at getting the gym at all this past week for a variety of reasons (boo), but I DID get a decent amount of running done. This is the first week I've been over 40 miles since before PrideMeet, and it feels great.

Sure, there was the unfortunate matter of attempting & then having to drop out of another 5K, but apparently I quit soon enough because my calf has been fine ever since. (Though, I have learned not to assume that just because it feels fine running lots of easy miles and even track workouts it's completely 100% healed and ready to race!)

* * * Rock 'N Roll San Jose Half: Week 4 of 14 * * *

Grand Total: 42.9 miles.

    * 27.5 easy
    * 2 speed/race
    * 13.4 long

Monday 7/17: 4 easy.

    On Monday I had to drive to Sacramento for work. I wanted to do at least a little running Monday since I hadn't run Sunday & was missing karate, but since I didn't know the area & it was a billion degrees in Sac, I just did 4 easy miles on the treadmill. Calf seemed fine, so I didn't rule out the Tamalpa track meet the next evening.

Tuesday 7/18: Tamalpa Track Meet (2 miles warm up, 2 miles fast-ish aborted 5K race)

    See this post for the details. Basically I just ended up counting those two faster miles as speed work.

Wednesday 7/19: Rest

Thursday 7/20: 8 easy

Friday 7/21: 8.5 easy

    Tried a new route through the park, which is apparently a bit longer than my usual one (which is about 8 miles).

Saturday 7/22: 5 easy.

Sunday 7/23: 13.4 long

    Friends, fog, & them San Francisco hilllzzzz....


  1. ooh, good Outside piece (huh - for once. They haven't had the best track record, especially when it comes to token nods to gender.) I listened to that podcast episode too, and sort of internally applauded when the nutritionist said those things! I personally am much too type B to do the eating disorder thing (or anything truly disordered, really) in pursuit of performance, and in any case recognise that what I need is more strength training rather than fewer pounds, but disordered eating is such an easy trap to fall into.

  2. Great article and good topic. I developed severely disordered eating as a high school gymnast. I freaked out and screamed bloody murder at my best friend when she jokingly shoved a bite of a brownie in my mouth on a camping trip, and she just looked at me in shock and said, "You are not okay. It's just one bite. It's not going to kill your entire athletic career."

    I did a lot of thinking and self-exploration (and saw quite a bit of disordered eating in college gymnasts, divers, and several other sports as well) and have since settled into a place where my focus is that I LOVE my body. I love that it works. I'm comfortable that I may carry too much weight to be an ideal performer in my favorite activities at times, but I'll take a healthy happy few extra pounds over the insanity of restriction and obsession that I know I'm capable of.

    This perspective is *not* considered normal and I've encountered some seriously negative feedback from people when I explain that I am confident enough in how I prioritize my life that not carrying a few extra pounds often doesn't make it to the top of my priority list so long as it's not actually a health issue.

    Interestingly, the majority of this negative feedback comes from people looking for solidarity when they're complaining about how they can't eat what they want because of their self-imposed dietary restrictions. I've encountered obvious disgust and actual anger (both from men and women) at me not joining the societal model that says that my self-worth should be actively decreased if I'm heavier -- in their opinion it *should* be a very important priority for me.

    All of that being said, there is no denying that there *is* an ideal performance weight for most sports (both short term and long term), and a healthy diet and performance weight is something worth striving for. Caloric deficiency that is mentally and physically healthy is very hard to achieve. And, the commitment to a super-healthy diet in order to achieve results can be so super-ordered that it bumps right up against disordered eating on the spectrum. (See my friend whose doctor put her on a 1300 calorie a day, high protein diet for weight loss -- without the doctor's intervention, I would have sworn that was not healthy) (See also Tom Brady & Giselle Bundchen's diet:

    1. For real. I never suffered from truly disordered eating but I definitely had the usual female teenage body dismorphia issues & that coupled with poor-to-no understanding of how nutrition and exercise actually works probably had some less-than-ideal effects. It definitely took me way too long to find the healthy balance between "My body is amazing no matter how it looks, look at everything it can do, oh and also btw it looks fine" and "Yyyyeah, maybe not a Snickers bar & a Dr. Pepper for lunch *every* day." Even now I basically just don't talk about what/how I eat to people because yes, there ARE performance aspects, and it makes some people a little uncomfortable, and honestly ugggghhhh just why even get into it.