Eating disorders article

The article says "Eating disorders are more common among male and female runners than among the average population"

I'm not so sure I agree with that statement. I have a history of eating disorders but thankfully it was 20 years ago and I am free of all that now.

'Runners' generally take good care of their bodies and nutrition, so they can continue running and avoid injury.
Whereas, in my experience, people with eating disorders are on self destuct a lot of the time.

I think it's more of a case of people with eating disorders start running to assist the self destruct process and lose weight more rapidly, or enable them to binge more and not gain weight, which is not the mentality of 'a runner'.

Also, there is no real way of gauging the problem as a whole in society because most of it is done in secret.


  • I, too, had an eating disorder, about 15 years ago. I wasn't a runner at the time. In fact, you wouldn't have got me anywhere near any form of exercise - so low was my self esteem and so great was my hatred of my body at the time.

    I can, however, absolutely see how some runners could be affected by an eating disorder. I can quite easily imagine how a young, high-achieving athlete could get sucked into the whole control thing (which HG rightly says is at the nub of an ED) and end up abusing food.

    The right nutrition is key to performance at a high level. Focussing on 'good' vs. 'bad' foods is likely to make these young people more aware of foods than perhaps your average young person. I became very aware/obsessed with food because I had a period of extreme food intolerance between the ages of 9 and 15, which was controlled by an exclusion diet. That focussed my mind on food - the things I *was* and *wasn't* allowed. I can see how the same process could take place for an athlete. Restricting diet, excluding certain foods, denying oneself what one wants to eat - then becoming obsessed with it, and either bingeing or starving. Yes - I can see it happening easily.

    Often, youngsters with EDs will be high achievers - academically or otherwise. They want to be the best, and this can easily translate, I would imagine, into being the thinnest, if that is perceived, as it sometimes is in sport, as being 'better' than being bigger.

    That feeling of desperation - of feeling so unsure of yourself and your abilities. Of feeling the pressure of competition - academically or physically. Of needing SOMETHING you can be in control of, when everything else is down to many sets of variables. Those are all things that I felt when I was suffering, which I should imagine could affect a young athlete, desperate to be successful.

    I've said 'young athlete' throughout - mainly because most people with EDs do tend to be younger. But there's no reason why it *shouldn't* also affect the more mature athlete...

    I only started running about 6 years ago -long after my ED was sorted out. And for me, running *is* about control - but not in an unhealthy way. It helps me to control my weight, certainly. But it also helps me to feel 'in tune' with my body, which I find enormously helpful. For the first time ever, I think I now accept the lumps and bumps and saggy bits (of which there are plenty), because - in spite of them - I know I'm fitter, healthier and in better shape than the majority of the population. And that'll do for me!
  • I havn't read the aforementioned article (any link?) but I would suggest that they may be referring to elite junior and senior runners who do suffer an above average incidence of eating disorders. Before the introduction of the Sport England and English Institute of Sport it was generally down to the coaches to provide nutrition advice which appeared to detrimental to female athletes (lust look like Liz McColgan etc to get the times) esp. (e.g. is 5 out of 7 female junior athlete lost performace/quit elite running due to ED's - 1 of the 2 female athletes to have success is Paula Radcliff). Now hopefully us sports dietitians are getting to more athletes through the academies and referal by coaches to help prevent ED frequency of past.
  • I agree with everything that been said above. I had an eating disorder problem about 8 years ago but exercise was what was help me get out of the cycle rather than into it. It provided a way of focusing on my body that was not self-destructive and helped me to get my feelings about food back into check.
  • I was wondering if there is some element of addictive behaviour that crosses between eating disorders, other addictive behaviours like self-harming and running? The "control" thing is definately a factor personally.

    But, running is such a positive thing for mental health, physical health and stress relief.
  • Although I can see how running could have helped in the first few posts, my experience is rather different.

    First of all, I was an anorexic for about 3 years between the ages of 15 and 18. I was not a runner back then. Between the ages of 18 and 23 I still suffered with an “obsession” over food, and although I was not starving myself, I still had abnormal attitudes towards food and eating. At 24 I started running, in the hope that I would be able to become fitter and healthier, and in the hope that it would help me with my eating. However, 3 years on, I am still running, but I am still suffering with abnormal eating.

    Running has made me focus on food as fuel, i.e. the physical responses of the body to certain foods, the benefits that some foods provide and the foods that are best avoided for physical exercise. However this has just furthered my obsession over food. This distinction between “good” and “bad” could be an unhealthy one. Without going into details about my eating habits, I can say that I try so hard to consume the “good” foods in order to improve my running (and loose weight), but inevitably binge on the “bad” foods because I feel I deprive myself of some of the pleasures (this is describing it VERY simplistically).

    Also, running has furthered my negative self image. I have always felt rather big (even though I have a BMI of just under 21, which is bang in the middle of the “normal” range for women), and self critical about my body. But since joining a club and participating in more serious races, I have found myself comparing my body to other runners’, and feeling even worse. I feel that the “better/faster/more serious” runners look down on me, because carrying a few extra pounds makes me a less fast, less serious runner. Again, this reinforcement of a negative self image is a major contributor to the development (or exacerbation) of an eating disorder.

    So, as it has been in my case, I think an eating disorder can push one to running (i.e. running is used as an aid to boost the poor self image, or further weight loss), but, vice versa, running can promote eating disorders, as preoccupation over food and body and striving for perfection and control may induce disordered eating.

    The feeling of “control” is a major issue in both eating disorders and running. Similarly, the want to push yourself further and further. Of course, the relationship between eating disorders and running can be a complicated one (which is why it has helped some but made others worse), perhaps governed by external factors, which could also explain the fact that the link between EDs and running is present for some and not for others.

    This is my experience of the association between the two, EDs and running – a vicious cycle, which I am so desperately trying to escape. One would think that running, such a natural, endorphin-inducing healthy pastime would be beneficial, but for me it has and is only making things worse.
  • ((JoG))
    Sorry to hear about your situation.

    It sounds as though you could really do with some help with this. Maybe think about contacting the EDA on this, since they are featuring it now. You may feel that you don't deserve to or need to because you 'look' normal and aren't really thin. But if your life is being made a misery by the battles you are having, you DO deserve to be able to get it sorted.

    I can identify with much of what you say, even though my (now long past) ED and my running are in two distinct boxes in my life.

    I think that's probably what I was trying to express in my post - certainly the good vs. bad food (I know EXACTLY what you mean, leading to denial, then bingeing, then self-hatred, then denial etc etc); the focus on food initially as fuel and then as a weapon; and the pressure (even if it is purely from within) to be thinner in order to fit the image of the runner and/or to be faster.

    I'm just so lucky that I have my running as something which isn't linked with my food insecurities (and I do still have some although it no longer has any hold on me). I really hope that you are able to achieve the same sometime...
  • absolutely, HG.

    JoG - you may think you will *never* be able to accept yourself as you are. you probably think you don't even want to, because you aren't happy with it. if someone had told me 15 years ago (when i weighed about 5.5 stone) that i would be 'happy' to weigh 11 stone, i would have ridiculed them. but i weigh that now, and i only know that because i had to be weighed for a medical for a job two years ago.

    it's possible to get out of this vicious circle, but it's very very difficult to do it on your own.

    i had a lot of help and counselling, and it still took me the best part of 5 years from the point at which i was forced into accepting help...
  • I've read this thread with interest and I sympathise with you (((JoG))). You're post brought back some memories of a horrid time in my life. I was anorexic during the age of about 15 to 17, followed by 10 years of bulimia. I ran during those years too but only as a way of controlling or losing weight. I then stopped running and didn't start again until I was 38.

    I identify 100% with CM... and i'm lucky to have my past ED and my current running in two distinctly different boxes as well. Now I run because I enjoy it and I eat healthily to fuel my body so I don't get injured and can continue to enjoy running and racing.

    Having said that I guess I still have a different view of my body size to what everyone else sees...but I accept that and I think many women (and probably some men) have the same insecurities, without having an ED. The difference is that I accept and love myself today.

    JoG... seek help, because you can recover from this.
  • I am also managing an eating disorder at the moment. it has been an ongoing problem since my early teens. I have only admitted to it in the last year.

    i was never sporty at school, but secretly I used to run up and down stairs/sneak out to run when my parents were out. That was when i was still at school. Then, all exercise was geared towards my eating disorder.

    i started running in May last year with the aim of one day completing a marathon. At the time I was really struggling, and deep down my main reason to run was to fuel the eating disorder.

    Now, a few months later i am doing much better. As my running improved i joined a club and have entered races. That has boosted my confidence. My body has changed - which is hard to cope with. I am hungrier more often which is an ongoing battle.

    Ultimately, I now have a reason to eat. If i don't eat I can't run. If I can't run I'm grumpy!!

    Now, still struggling, but I'm eating much better. And I'll be doing the london marathon. It won't be easy. But I do have the support of my family and friends.

    I am at the start of a long road to recovery - I'm waiting for counselling. But one thing is for sure, running has fuelled my eating disorder in the past. Maybe it will do so again. In the back of my mind it is always there when I run. But now, at least, the running is helping. I feel proud that I am able to run now without the fear that I might pass out.

  • (((JoG, tortuga)))

    I had anorexia between 13 & 17, & spent most of my GCSE yr in hospital.

    Ath the time I abused running in the same way i did everything else - it was just another form of self-harm, and i'd run with no intention of paying any attention to what my body was telling me.

    I only stopped running when i was in hospital - and even then i'd climb out of the laundry window so i could run to burn calories, or excercise in secret where i wasn't physically prevented. running (burning calories) & controlling food were the only things i could think about.

    When i got out of hospital & started getting better, i realised that i had to give up running for a while becuase it was just another means to self-destruction.

    while i was at sixth form i didn't run much at all, though i did cycle to get round & living in the country kept me quite fit.

    After i left sixth form then i started running again as my parents had moved house & i no longer needed to bike everywhere, and i was living near the sea in an amazing place for running. i think that by then after nearly 2 years, the compulsive aspect of excercise wasn't such a problem any more.
    About a year later i did my first marathon more-or-less by accident, and since then i've done 7 maras (i'm now 22).

    running in a positive way taught me that my body could do interesting & useful things, & that i didn't actually want to detach myself for it. it gave me a lot more confidence in myself (because i am dyspraxic, i was always last at games in school). and on bad days it gives me a reason to eat sensibly, because i know i need to eat to run. it makes the relationship between what i put in and what i get out of my body a lot clearer than if i was just sitting at a desk all day. i don't worry about the odd bit of junk food, 'cos i know i need to eat lots. it gives me another framework to see myself in than academic or social success - even if i don't get straight A's all the time, even if i'm not perfect, i'm still a marathon runner :) i've also made some good friends through it. & the endorphin buzz means it's good for my mental health to be out in the fresh air and sunshine, it helps with my depression.

    i think maybe to some extent the sort of people who are likely to be successful at running (highly motivated, self-disciplined, prefer doing things alone, tendency to be perfectionist, etc etc) are also likely to be drawn to running. running's also a good match for self-harm in other ways - lots of the chemicals released in the brain are similar, which i think both contributed to my abusing running, and helped me switch from self-harm to more healthy running.
  • Hello all

    Jog - just wanted to say that there is help out there. I was in the same position as tortuga last year on the long wait for counselling through the NHS. Had been on the list for about 6 months at that point after finally hitting rock bottom.
    I've had bulimia since I was 18 (classic academic over-achiever, high parental standards, shy at school and hyper critical of myself and totally unable to express my feelings to anyone about what worried me). I went through uni eating and using exercise to control my weight and to combat the lows when depression kicked in. So in a large part i knew exercise could help me feel better. I took up running seriously a few years ago and did the FLM for the last 2 years. In part for the achievement but also because I felt having a training plan justified my obsessions with food and allowed me to indulge them in a way that appeared normal. It was ok to monitor everything and check everything and eat only certain things because that's what poeple in training did.
    However, just before christmas I finished 6 months of group cognitive therapy and I can say now that I am in a place where I am happy that I never thought I could get to a year ago. It;s been a hard, hard slog and I have had to make sacrifices in cutting down on exercise etc and sticking to eating plans but I now find myself out for a run as and when I feel like it and not reacting because i have weight to burn or "should" be running 6 times a week because that was the rigid framework I set myself. And really it's so much more enjoy able like this.
    I take inspiration from some of the comments above but how their EDs were a period in their life and am aiming to be able to say the same thing in 6 months by continuing with what I've learnt and paying attention to myself. I hope to return to running to a greater degree when I am mentally able to not be pulled into the competitiveness and food obessions that came with it before for me. I don;t know why some people avoid this whilst others are more seceptible - guess running means differen things for all.
    So please know that you can recover from this with the right support. If it helps, I can honestly say that I managed to get thorugh the treatment without having to tell anyone I didn't want to know. For various reasons, I couldn't bear the thought of my family knowing or certain friends lest I be judged. But being in my group opened up contact with a strong network of people. 2 girls from my group are good friends now who I can talk to about htings I have never discussed with anyone and get real support in sticking with the plan. I wish you every luck.
  • jude - well done you! that's a fantastic post. i don't underestimate at all the amount of mental and physical willpower that has had to go into getting you where you are today. all the very best for the future! you can and will do it!
  • Wow. I've just logged on after submitting my post about five days ago - I didn't expect such a bounty of responses!!!!

    Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to my post.

    I shall have a good, thorough read of each and everyone of them.
  • help me please.... i am dying. i have an eating disorder and last week i was ok but this week i am so sad.... does it ever end the counting and the weighin and the saddness. id do anything to b free and feel like i am on the edge i dunno where to go i am so sad its like its all ending in front of me help i think i am dying and want it to finish
  • Therese, during my teens, I suffered with an eating disorder. My self-esteem was very low and I became completely focused on what I was eating at the expense of everything else. Thankfully I was lucky enough to have a supportive family that recognised what was going on and helped me to drag myself out of it before it got too serious. Key to sorting myself out was starting an exercise regime. I managed to persaude myself that doing exercise justified eating more than I'd trained myself to. If I exercised I was allowed to eat proper meals, if I didn't I wasn't. I got back to a sensible weight and maintained it, albeit with slightly strange eating habits resulting from still keeping an eye on the calories- I'd have a chocolate bar but then eat meals of pure fruit or veg to compensate for it. I'm now 26 and I can finally say that I've sorted myself out properly. Last year I started going out with a guy that made me realise that I'm worth a lot more than I gave myself credit for. As my self-confidence has grown, my issues with food and weight have fallen by the wayside. I'll always keep an eye on what I eat but it's no longer the demon that it used to be. I never ever thought, back when I was 17 and weighed 6 stone, that I would be where I am now. So I guess what I want to say, and I think everyone else that has contributed to this discussion has said, is that you can overcome this. It's not easy and it will take time and determination but you can beat this. Talk to someone, anyone, because sharing your problem will make it so much easier to tackle, believe me.
  • therese - you need help, and although you can find support and advice on this forum, we aren't professionals and we can't possibly take the place of proper professional help.

    i don't know your situation, but please go and get some help. if you can't get to your GP, please please call the EDA - their number is on the article to which there is a link at the top of this page.

    or call the samaritans - their number is in the phone book.

    by realising that you have got a problem and wanting some help, you have already taken the biggest and most significant step on the road to your recovery.

    once you realise that you have not got the will to carry on in that destructive cycle in which you are currently trapped, that's EXACTLY the right time to get some help.

    please - call or email someone at the EDA yourself right now.

    and, if you can, please go to your GP. they should take you very very seriously.
  • Ths Something Fishy website helped me loads when I first admitted I was ill. It helped me to open up - and finally gave me the courage to seek help. (I think!)
  • there are so many of us.........i am stil here, never thought id make it through today.. i need a hug alright, someone to hug me while i cry...cry for hours and hours. but your answers and advice are great and the knowledge that you understand and experienced it is so comforting, only those inside in it can understand the true lonliness
  • go & see doc.
    please be honest with him.
    the longer this goes on for, the harder to get out.
  • Hi therese
    How are you feeling today?
    Please use the support out there. i know from first hand experience how hard it is to go and get help because eating disorders are very private in their nature but you will more than likely find that in doing this it'll be a relief. When I went to see my GP, it was all I could do to stay there and go to my appointment and I struggled to get the words out but I felt so much better after. Because you'll realise you're not the first person with an eating disorder to come and talk to them.
    Can you talk to your GP? They are there to help you. You pay for them through your taxes and, if you don't work, your friends and family cerrtainly do so they owe you the help you deserve. You must tell yourself you deserve this help because you are worth it, therese. Remember everything you tell them is in confidence and just between you and them.
    I know you feel bad right now but part of the feeling bad is symptomatic of the illness. If you can get help it will in turn help you to feel a little less bad bit by bit. You need to build up your confidence and sense of self worth over time but you can do it. I never thought I wouldn't feel depressed or overwhelmed by everything and obsessed by food but here I am feeling a lot better and stronger because I used the help that was there for me.
    Don't be afraid to approach eda. they're very good. They are staffed by people who have been through the same thing and recovered who can understand and help you. I always felt to lonely when I was ill but you're not alone as you said. A lot of the professionals who help have had the illnesses themselves in the past. The eating disorders association can put you in touch with a local support network or even a pen pal as someone you can write to who understands.
    Take care therese.
  • hi wel today i am still here.....i know the depression is part of starvation but i am not starving i eat like a horse but burn it all i have the full support of my g.p and am being seen by the top man in country for e.d's as well as a superby supportive nutritionist but all these people can do nothing for me because the nature of the illness is being alone and being in power alone. i have so many people standing beside me and willing me on and all i see is the weight and the disgust that surrounds that weight and the permission to eat if i run well and the disappointment and self repulsion if i eat because i know i need to and not because i deserve to ........what normal person thinks along these lines
  • (((therese)))
    depression comes with ED's, & it really does help when your body is looked after & properly fuelled.
    The docs etc can't do everything, but they can give you advice based on experience of what has helped many other people. you will need to fight this yourself, but there are people who can help you.
    of course you deserve to eat. you are a person. all people do.
  • therese,

    First of all, I'd just like to say that, as an anorexic sufferer myself (ex-sufferer now, but still choked by the noose of an ED), I can totally sympathise with the self-repulsion, the worthlessness and self-deprecation, the guilt of eating, the knowledge that it is all abnormal behaviour and the cry for help, for saviour from this vicious cycle that has full control over every aspect of life.

    Surely this, and the fact that millions of people are also sufferers is an indication that you are not alone? And surely the positive expressions of many recovered anorexics (and many of those on this forum even!) are testament to the possibility of it happening to you (and me!) and the opportunity to live life as "normal" people?

    What I am trying to say is DON'T GIVE UP.

    I know that in the midst of depression it all seems doom and gloom, everything seems impossible, everything seems to be against you. But that's the thing - the key word is SEEMS. The doom and gloom is not real, the darkness and the impossibility are products of your brain, not actual reality.

    I used to get depressed too - but I know it's my mind playing games on me, partly because of the chemical imbalances from the bad nutrition, but also you deprive yourself of any positive influences, as if you're not worth them. I suppose I'm handling it better now because I KNOW that it ISN'T all bad, I just THINK it's all bad. When you know it's all self-inflicted, you can train yourself to make the choice not to.

    There's so much pleasure to be had in life, and it can be as simple as standing on the top of a hill and taking in a deep breath of air, or floating on water under warm sun, or even a gentle breeze of air on your face. And you, just like everyone, deserves to be happy. And no-matter how much help you have at hand, YOU need to make that choice for yourself, and ALLOW yourself to be happy.

    I know, like you, that our behaviour is not normal. But I also know that I want to MAKE it normal. So, tomorrow I'm going to give the GP and EDA a call.

    Come on, therese, lets join the "other" side, the "bright" side!
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