Running on empty: eating disorders and women athletes

When I was in high school, I used to eat breakfast and then run up to the woods behind the Chan Centre at UBC. There, at the top of the stairs leading down to Tower Beach, I would force myself to throw up.

When I think back on these mornings, I can vividly remember the taste of half-digested Eggo waffles and the horrible sensation of my fingernails scratching the back of my throat.  I clearly see myself: knees bent, back hunched, my pony tail hanging over my face; I see how sometimes I would spit up into my hair.

I feel my heart racing, a mix of desperation and fear. How my chest would constrict and ache from the exertion of trying to purge what little food I had left in my stomach.

I remember how after I would run home.

In university, this routine changed. Instead of throwing up mid-run, I would binge and purge prior to leaving the house. In the quiet of an empty apartment, I would consume large quantities of ice cream, cereal, cake (if we had any), yogurt, and diet coke. Then, hunched over the toilet, I would puke. And cry.

Cry. And puke.

Then I would wash my face. Blow my nose, dry my tears, and check to see if any blood vessels had broken under my eyes and along the tops of my cheeks.

I would put on make-up before running. Smooth concealer over my skin and try to forget that the last thirty minutes had ever happened.

(Because every time was always The Last Time.)

Running after purging is scary.

Everything in my body would scream out that what I was doing was wrong. My legs were rubber, my head a haze; my digestive tract a battlefield.

The spastic lurch of my heart, as if it might actually punch its way out of my chest; as it might at any moment stop.


The long hours it would take for it to finally return to a normal, constant beat.

I am sharing all of this today because I am training for a marathon.

I am sharing all of this today because sometimes it is hard not to have an eating disorder.

(These two things are not mutually exclusive.)

Sometimes it is hard to be kind to myself.

Sometimes I run very long distances on little to no food, and then ignore recovery meals.

Sometimes it’s just really hard.

But sometimes it’s not.

And most of the time now when I run long distances, I am fueling my body correctly, and eating and drinking post-run, and also eating proper dinners, and breakfasts and all of these good things.

And while I want to love this, and jump up and down and proudly proclaim “I HAVE DONE IT!” – I can’t.

Because even though I am doing all of these good things, and so much of me is so happy to do all of these good things, there is still a small part of me that is telling me that they are bad, and therefore I am bad for doing them.

We don’t ever talk about athletes and eating disorders.

I think there are many reasons for this, and all of them come down to communication.

The first? We rarely ever talk about women athletes.

Sure, we’ll marvel at Serena’s domination, and yes, there’s always an Olympian du-jour when every two years or so our collective attention is briefly diverted to amateur athletics. But for the most part, our sports discourse is dominated by men. By the Lebrons and the Jeters and the Crosbys – by the men who are the untouchables of their leagues. And honestly, based on how progressive the conversations we have about these sports and their players are (hint: not progressive at all) and how slow their respective professional associations are in responding to the massive ills plaguing their leagues (molasses going uphill on a winter day), I am going to go ahead and assume it will be a cold day in hell when we broach the topic of eating disorders in the NFL.

Second, we rarely talk about eating disorders.

And I mean really talk.

Sure, we wax eloquent all of the time about how SO! MANY! women have problems with their bodies, and about how girls begin starving themselves as young as five. Every spring, a European fashion week will “pass legislation” (what does that even mean?) prohibiting models with BMIs under 18 from walking in their shows.

And of course THE MEDIA. The media, the media, the media.

We talk about the media all of the time: what an evil force it is in our daily lives. How it warps our social consciousness, perverts our expectations and demands the impossible of ourselves, our aesthetics and our desires.

And none of this is wrong.

But what really kills me is that none of these things actually says anything.

None of this really means anything.

It does not even begin to scratch the surface of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. It does not articulate how devastating it is to be anorexic or bulimic, and it certainly does nothing about finding ways to help.

It pays lip service to a problem, but then just stops.

So that people listening can think, “Oh. That’s so sad.” And then just go on, living their lives.

Every time I hear things like, “In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa,” or “4% of women will have bulimia in their lifetime,” I just hear facts, unchangeable and constant. It’s like I am almost expecting the reporter to finish off by saying, “and that’s all I have to say about that.”

And if we’ve resigned ourselves to this reality, then what really is the point in talking about the specifics and particulars of the diseases? Why go through all of the trouble of making people uncomfortable?

Unfortunately, the immense shame and stigma shouldered by many individuals who have eating disorders only adds to the silence.

I am only now capable of talking freely about my struggles because I no longer have the energy to hide from them. I also hope that by being transparent about my experience, others too will feel comfortable doing the same. The more we speak honestly and openly, the less the stigma, and the deeper the understanding by the wider populace.

Unfortunately, getting to this place is very hard.

For years I did everything I could to keep my anorexia and bulimia a secret and hide it from friends and family. I know a lot of it had to do with my perfectionism and my anxiety, but my fear was also born out of the fact that I didn’t think anyone would be able to help.

I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand.

And this was not unfounded. Because eating disorders are so misunderstood and so little talked about, you get really enlightened people who immediately dismiss you and your attempts at articulating what it’s like to live with one, who say things like “just eat a sandwich!” or “but you’re skinny already” or “I don’t understand how you can live like that.”

Which, amazingly enough, doesn’t help.

It just makes the whole situation one huge negative feedback loop.

Finally, I think we have such a hard time talking about eating disorders and athletes is because of our weird inability to divorce the idea of exercise from weight loss.

Which really narrows our scope when it comes to how we look and talk about both exercise, and us the people who are doing the exercising.

Because if we’re not lifting weights to get strong, or running to train for a race, what are we doing?

Are we doing something bad?

Probably not.

Society tells us no. Society tells us that the more weight we are losing, the better.

But only if we are exercising? (And eating our Special K?)

For me, I find this way of looking at things to be really detrimental.

Because when we think like this, that exercise = weight loss, we are again dismissing two really important things: one that moving our bodies can be exactly just that. An activity – void of anything and everything else.

And if that is not the case, why are we celebrating, and how are we celebrating, and are we actually judging and why are we judging?

When and how do we decide that exercise for weight-loss is unhealthy vs. otherwise?

And are we so afraid of that otherwise, that we just bury our heads in the sand and find ourselves inadvertently cheering on eating disorders?

(Eating disorders disguised as exercise = weight loss.)

I don’t know.

All I know is that this is complicated stuff.

I that I truly believe that it just comes down to how badly we need better communication around this issue and how we need it fast.

We need real information, and we need real stories.

I would personally love to hear from women athletes, period. But I would also love to hear from ones who have had eating disorders, so that I can hear how they cope when they are training.

I want to know what they do when they find themselves needing to eat more because they are running more, and lifting more, and what they do to be okay with this. I am interested in knowing how they marry social expectations over what they should look like, or their own internal body image struggles, with their desire to dominate.

Their passion to win.

Because going through things alone is really hard.

No one ever talks about it.

So I’m here. Talking.

Because it’s so hard.


I got tunnel vision

First. I implore you all to listen to this song as you read this entry:

I am seeing Yukon Blonde next Friday night in celebration of my 31st year living amongst all of you lovers and lunatics, and in preparation, I’ve had this tune on mega replay.

I hope you enjoy.


Today I was meaning to venture back to Buntzen Lake (land of lost toenails and forgotten sandwiches), and run 24 kilometers. However, when I awoke this morning my heart was feeling a little heavy, and the sky outside was hanging so terribly low. Knowing that this malaise would not bode well for an incredibly long and tough training session on unfamiliar terrain, I thought instead to keep to a route I have completed many times prior.

There would be nothing wrong with saving the trails for another day.

When I set out to run the 19 kilometer loop from my house (I run to Edmonds Skytrain, across the Queensborough Bridge, down the Quay and home), the temperature read 3 degrees, and it was raining.

Everything about this was manageable. I love long runs in the rain, and like I wrote previously, I am trying to acclimatize myself to running in colder temperatures.

This would be good practice, and thus, I forwent a toque and gloves.

The first indication that I might have misjudged my need for these accoutrements, was about two kilometers into the route when it really started to rain.

I kept imagining the raindrops to be infinitesimal water balloons exploding on my face the moment they made contact with my skin. There were even a few times when I questioned whether or not I was actually crying, because I could feel so many of them sliding down from the corner of my eyes, along my cheeks, and into the crooks of my ears.

(They were also really, really cold.)

The iciness of the rain was augmented by the strong, driving wind. Depending on the direction I was running, it would whip up against my long sleeve shirt and press the soaked fabric hard against my skin. I kept cramming my thumbs into my fists in an attempt to mute some of the frosty sting that had settled into both digits.

Yet despite all of this (or perhaps even because of this), I actually had a run that was absolutely out of this world.

It didn’t matter that I got sprayed by semi trucks whilst running over the bridge, or that I had “Tunnel Vision” by Tokyo Police Club stuck in my head for the entirety of the run.

I felt fantastic. I felt like I was flying.

(Quick aside and question for all runners reading this: Do you ever get to a place where you sing the same four bars of music over and over again for the entire length of a run? It is a constant in my training life.)

Truly, the only slightly unfortunate thing about the entire experience was when I arrived home and I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror.

Suffice to say that I looked FUCKING CRAZY.

Before I left, I had parted my hair down the middle and then braided it down the length of my back, and tucked my (now grown out) bangs behind my ears. However, between the wind, rain, and general propulsion of my body for 19 kilometers, they had matted and tangled themselves into some sort of insane halo-birds nest mashed atop the crown of my head.

And folks?

This. This is not a good look.

Marc told me that he hadn’t wanted to say anything due to my elation at the success of the run.

“But yeah,” he said. “You looked totally nuts.”

In the end, I ran 19.3 km in approximately 1:20. I’m chalking this up to my first week of two-a-days, my insatiable craving for Ms. Vickie’s salt-and-vinegar chips, and Yukon Blonde.

Because, after all, it is Saturday night.

I’m running free, yeah

Yesterday I ran 16 kilometers.

With only two weeks to go until the Scotiabank half-marathon, this was my second to last long training run before race day itself.

I haven’t been sleeping super well of later – not necessarily badly, just not very long – so I was out the door just a little before eight.

Normally I eat light before any run over 10k, but I my stomach wasn’t feel too great from the day before so I went out after drinking just two cups of water, and one cup of coffee.

(I definitely made sure to go to the bathroom before leaving, lest I be tortured throughout my route by the need to relieve myself; be it a phantom need, or otherwise – I find it’s never best to really challenge those boundaries when the feeling does arise.)

For some reason I always forget how much I love running in the earlier parts of the day. There are fewer people out and about, be it on the road, in the parks, in the woods, on the paths.


Most individuals who are up are with their dogs, out for a stroll to pick up bagels for breakfast, or grab the Sunday paper.

Yesterday morning was cooler, but not cool.

My t-shirt and shorts were a perfect pair against the slightly overcast sky. For most of the route my overgrown bangs were toyed by an inconsistent, but gentle wind – a wind that didn’t seem to so much blow and it did bristle.

As if it too couldn’t believe that it had to be up that early on a Sunday morning.

And that it had been so long since I had cut my hair.

Look at this silly girl, running about when she could be in bed. Let’s give her fringe a little bounce – one to match the speed of her footfalls.

Good thing I always have an extra bobby-pin.

(Or two.)

I thought a lot during my run.

I thought about new jokes that I’ve yet to try out, and old jokes that could be made better.

I thought about Father’s Day coming up this weekend, and my dad’s impending visit.

Unfortunately, even the greatest of runs can be upset by the most inane of happenings.

Yesterday it was the sight of a pile of McDonald’s garbage lying off to the side of the beautiful wooded trail that marked kilometers six to eight.

The worst is probably individuals who spit, and don’t look around to see if anyone is approaching them from behind.

If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve almost been spat on, I would have a handful of nickels.

This is too many nickels.

After the rogue loogie hockers, it has to be the drivers who never bother to look for pedestrians at designated crosswalks.

I’m running to extend my life, not cut it short.

Next, it’s walkers who refuse to briefly walk single file as you run past, forcing you off of the pavement (you can just see their inner monologues of TWO ABREAST! TWO ABREAST OR DIE!), and dog walkers whose leashes are about twenty-feet long.

Why such long leashes dog lovers?

But in the end, these things are just little annoyances that can’t take away from the overall greatness of a run.

If anything, they make you wilier, more adaptable – they ensure that you’re ready for anything.

And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Except for less spit-related nickels of course.

Who’s the boss?

Do you ever get the urge to just shout at the top of your lungs, “AIN’T LIFE GRAND?”

Sometimes I get so giddy I feel like I am about to explode.

There are times when I feel so overwhelmed by the magic and love that is my life that I’m practically moved to tears. Seriously, I’ll be sitting on the chesterfield next to Mr. M and all of a sudden – BAM! I’m choking out words (nay – garbled syllables) in an effort to communicate just how much he and our life together mean to me.

And our little cat? Well sheesh. Nymeria slays me in such a way that I am pretty much a puddle of liquid infatuation anytime she is near.

There are just so many stupendous things coming down the pipe over the next couple of months: M starting a new job as a full-time teacher; two radio show gigs in September; an interview with BC parent magazine about my work with Big Sisters; the United Way Speakers Bureau Series of which I am a speaker (also on my work with Big Sisters); the Hot Chip (!!!) concert with Ms. A; and of course the Surrey Half-Marathon.

On the running front, I have been like Atalanta’s long-lost sister over here.

On Saturday I ran 16km in the morning, and that afternoon M and I (along with his sister and brother in-law) went for a 7.5km hike. Despite a little soreness in my left knee I was feeling great (albeit very, very hungry the next day. Actually, I think I’m still a little peaky from the day’s activities.) The next morning I went for a super slow recovery run, only to be locked out of the house upon my return, as I hadn’t brought my house key with me and during my (short!) absence my darling husband had elected to go for a sunny morning stroll to pick up the NYT crossword and delicious breakfast goods.

I took this a chance to practice my meditation techniques. And to laugh like the loon on loon tablets that I am.

Anywho, moving on, this evening after getting home from work I ran 7 km in 29 minutes.

Then I did three sets of chin-ups/pull-ups (max I could do at a time was 6 for chin-ups) and three for pull-ups, and three sets of twelve push-ups.

This makes me very happy.

In fact, it makes me feel like a boss.

And now, PHOTOS:

Mid-town meadow.

Up-town reds.

Dragon cat.

Morning Clouds.

Lynn Peak beauty.

Delicious delights.

Tell me – what makes you the boss that you are?

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down

So not this past weekend, but the weekend before, forty-nine robbers came knocking at my door.



That didn’t happen. (But does anyone else remember that rhyme? I did some mean double-dutch to that bad boy all throughout my grade two year – you know, when I wasn’t chowing down on eggos and drinking Labatt Blue that is.)

I asked them what they wanted, and this is what they said – Spanish lady go like this! Spanish lady do the twist! Spanish lady touch the ground! Spanish lady turn around! Spanish lady jump once more! Spanish lady out the door! [at this point you had to run out of the rope circle. This was always the hardest part of double-dutch. It’s crazy difficult to run in or out of the circle with two ropes going! Also, why Spanish lady? I HAVE NO CLUE.]

But I digress.

Two weekends ago, I over did it a little bit with the training. M and I ran a long run, filled with hills and sprints, before ending up at the circuit track at Queen’s park. The monkey bars were slick with rain, and as I worked my was across I slipped halfway and twinged something in my right bicep.

Of course, because I cannot ever leave well enough alone, the next day I ran a seven kilometer “recovery” run.

By the end I was completely and utterly knackered.

This is my “I am exhausted face”. Separate incidents though.

Things hurt. Things that don’t normally ever hurt, HURT A LOT.

I was done.

So for the next five days I didn’t do anything – no running, training, weight lifting, or core work.

I even went for a 30 minute massage on Monday after work.

And it was pretty awesome. I got to come home, cook food, write, read, watch Damages (if you are not watching this show YOU MUST SERIOUSLY START NOW), and hang out with Ms. Nymeria and Mr. M.

Date night. Yowza!

In all honesty, it was actually a little shocking how much extra time I had in the evenings, not lugging myself to the gym two or three nights after work – especially on the days when I would usually be rushing to the gym, rushing back home, rushing into the shower, and then rushing out the door for my volunteer commitments.

I’m certainly not going to give up my regular scheduled program (because at the root of it, I really like it) – but it’s good to know that when push comes to shove, and my body is telling me to rest up, I can, and I will.

And I did.

After five days however, I was revved up, ready to run.

This past Saturday I was practically giddy as I got ready to get out of the door and out into the sunshine.

And let me tell you, that week of rest did my body a world of good.

I had an absolutely stellar run, and I killed it on the circuit.

The loop at Queen’s park is about 2.5 km, and very hilly. I ran it three times. In between each lap I would head to the circuit where I would do one set of monkey bars (I felt like I really was a monkey – I made it across each time no problem. I could not believe it!), twenty push-ups, and ten box jumps.

At the end of my run, I did three sets of sprints – 1 minute as fast as I could.

And as I made my way home, I felt as though I was flying.

Over the last few hundred meters back to my house, a couple of tears leaked out of the far corner of my left eye.

Not from exhaustion, but from exhilaration.

I was on fire.

(Maybe that’s why I was crying – to put out the flames.)

I do, however, have some pretty brutal blisters on my hands from those accursed monkey bars. Check it:



Just in case you needed a second look.

But even sore hands couldn’t keep me still for long.

The next day, Sunday, I set out once more, and my legs propelled me through another absolutely smashing run. The sun’s rays burned bright, but not too hot – the green of the park’s trees, so lush and ethereal, while the sky burned a white opal, sapphire blue.

It’s moments like that were I truly believe that my body is capable of anything.

As long as I listen to it, it will tell me when it’s ready.

And goodness knows, beware to anyone standing in our way.


Post script – I just received one of the most hilarious and completely incoherent spam comments of all time. It reads: Good afternoon fellow , probably fire a torpedo from grace is increasingly cumbersome due to the restricted set of telephone operators.

“Firing a torpedo from grace” is now what I’m calling my tough mudder training. Boo yeah.