"The more competitive people are, even if they’re just competitive with themselves, the more likely they are to have the kind of extremist thinking that can lead to disordered eating patterns," says Patricia Kaminski, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas, who’s helped many people with eating disorders. “‘If running five miles is going to help me train well, then running 10 is better. If a 1,200-calorie diet is good to help me lose weight, then a 500-calorie diet must be great.’"
Disordered eating differs from an eating disorder in that food intake isn’t manipulated to deal with underlying issues of depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and control. The most common forms of eating disorders–anorexia (self-starvation) and bulimia (binging and purging)–are serious psychiatric illnesses, with significant physical consequences, and can be fatal. Disordered eating, on the other hand, refers to less-severe abnormal behaviors: eliminating food groups from your diet; regularly replacing meals with energy bars or coffee drinks; excessive weighing and calorie-counting; and tacking on extra miles as punishment for, say a cheeseburger the night before. Often, the regimen includes compulsive exercising like hitting the bike after an 18-miler.
"When you look at a lot of media, the message is everybody’s on a diet, everybody needs to lose weight or restrict," says Colorado-based psychotherapist and former U.S. marathon champion Jane Welzel. "Instead of how do you support your lifestyle through nutrition, the message is reduce carbs and fats, or this has a high glycemic index, or don’t eat too many bananas. It’s the sound bites, the headlines, that grab attention. Then people add it to their list of rules. It’s totally out of context for what they need to do to support their level of training."
While not all disordered eating leads to an eating disorder, almost all eating disorders start as disordered eating, so it can be scary territory for a runner, particularly an emotionally vulnerable one or for someone dealing with significant stress. Manipulating one’s food and body offers a sense of control and perfection, a substitute for happiness that may be absent when they’re not laced in running shoes.”
I struggled with this for a long, long time when I first started running. I STILL struggle with it. In the end, all that matters is that you’re fueling your body in a healthy way that supports your training. I’ve cut the ties with food I see as ‘bad,’ and formed healthier relationships with what I need to eat in terms of staying healthy, injury free, and staving off disordered eating. This is a really excellent article.