Posts Tagged ‘eating disorders’
The following question is in reference to a radio show I did recently about eating disorders among female runners. You don’t have to listen to understand this Q and A, but here it is if you want to: WTS Radio Show
After our radio show I was thinking about your team of 60 girls in high school and the fact that you only had 1 instance of an eating disorder. And I was thinking about you as the leader of the team – you were the one who was having success, you were the one naturally taking charge. And you had a healthy perspective on food and your body.
It reminded me of the It Gets Better Project, where instead of talking about the negatives, the issues, the possible problems, they focus on the good stuff. That’s what happened without you even realizing it – you were naturally a good example and you set the tone for the rest of the team. On the other hand, on Lize’s team, the leaders were dealing with eating disorders themselves, and therefore it spread like wildfire through the team.
So now the question is, how do we develop strong team leaders who influence their team members positively? How can we make sure the natural leaders of the high school and college teams are setting positive examples? What can the coaches do? The parents? The professional athletes?
Why do you think you were so unaffected by this problem? Your environment must have been healthy, your influences must have been great. Tell us about them. We need to emulate that!
You are right on about the environment, but you definitely give me too much credit. The most important influence was my mom. I literally don’t have ONE memory of her talking about dieting or saying negative things about her body. If she had issues in that area, she must have kept them away from me because I never knew about it.
As for my running environment…I stepped into my high school team as a dweeby little freshman, and the environment was already there. I wasn’t the fastest girl and we were State Champions on a team with five amazing seniors who I looked up to. I emulated them and added a little of my own flare when it came my turn to lead, and I brought those experiences with me to college.
Our awesome HS team environment was completely due to my coach. Dave DeLong showered his attention on the kids who were the best role models, not simply the fastest kids (having both was the ultimate). And he was an awesome guy with a great family and carefully chosen, fun assistant coaches, and you wanted their attention.
Kids respond to what is rewarded.
He had top 10 lists for all grades for major workouts and races, and top 10 lists for total team time, so performances WERE important.
But he used an Athlete of the Week shirt ceremony every week to highlight someone new each week for a variety of reasons: courage, dedication, leadership, helpfulness, selflessness, etc. They were cool looking shirts that everyone wanted (which makes a difference).
He kept in touch with alumni and would talk to his team leaders about what these alumni were up to. He would say things like, “Steve So-and-So who was #3 guy on our League Championship team in ’89, he works with at-risk kids now in New Mexico…most amazingly generous guy…” You knew that life was about more than running and that you would be admired and followed and talked about for living a good life.
When there was a problem on the team, he would jump on it publicly and express his disappointment but always tell us we were better than that. He treated us like the people we COULD be. If we won a race but acted like jerks, he came down on us for it.
Additionally, he recruited volunteer assistant coaches based on what they could offer as examples to us. He was picky about who he let influence his team. It really was about developing good people by showcasing good people.
There was always so much going on with our team that you didn’t worry or think about what anyone else, any other team, any other fast runner…was doing. DeLong capitalized on the teenage tendency to feel like they are the center of the universe.
Our end of the season banquet was the most important part because it solidified the culture and environment of the team. This is where you saw what qualities were awarded, and set your sights on what you wanted to earn next year.
Dave would plan a speech about the team, and he would spend a butt-load of team money on awards. He said that was the best investment you could make. He always bragged about how smart and hard working his team was, and when he gave out the awards for students with over a 3.5 average, it was hard to fit us onto the stage. I remember that leaving a big mark on me as a freshman. The fact that a huge percentage of the team was squeezing together, laughing and being celebrated, all holding plaques for their brains…it made a strong point that being on our team was going to be about being a multi-dimensional person, not just a fast runner.
The wide variety of awards you could win gave every runner on the team something to shoot for, some niche to fill, knowing that it would be recognized.
Finally, our booster club of parents had clear leadership that was in line with our coaches vision. DeLong got them involved early in the summer as drivers for team activities, and gave them free lodging and gas for our team pre-season camp in Mammoth for a week if they helped out. This created a group of invested parents who bonded with one another, who were willing to help year-round.
I think that providing an environment that keeps kids focused on larger, broader, more holistic ideals makes it almost impossible to get lost in obsessions over things like food. When one student did do that, DeLong preemptively talked to the other influencers on the team about how doing that was a mistake. Then the teams reaction to that one person’s actions was like, “what the hell would someone do that for?”
I’ve been out for 12 years now. Canyon hasn’t always won, but we are always good; and whenever I talk to DeLong, he still talks about so and so who is “such a good kid.” It still makes me want to be a good kid too.
Note: Dave’s wife Lisa has recently published a memoir called Blood Brothers, which is about many things, of particular interest to this audience is going through some of life’s biggest smacks in the face while living the life of a wife of a very passionate (and busy) coach (Dave). But preserving a marriage under hard circumstances is merely a sub-plot of an incredibly rich story. There are themes of love, loss, the miraculous, the tragic and an ever-changing understanding of faith through it all. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Get it here.
If you were the coach of a collegiate women’s cross country team, how would you approach the issue of body image and weight?
I don’t know how I would approach it with a high school team, but for a college team, I think this is an issue that should be addressed from week one, alongside all other important factors to performance and team dynamics. If I were coach, (which I’m not, so take it for what its worth) speaking to a collegiate team tomorrow, given my personal experiences up to this point, I’d probably say something like this:
“Weight and body image are issues that every single runner deals with at some point. For some of you it may already have happened, and for others you might not give it a thought until your 30′s. Just know that the athletes that make it to the highest levels and have the longest careers learn how to manage their weight in a healthy way without getting obsessed, and know when to say enough is enough. That is the goal for each of us.
“From what I’ve seen, only a small percentage of female athletes develop a black or white eating problem. Its important that we don’t look at the issue that way. The rest of us are all shades of grey*, working our way through a tough sport with lots of pressures to be perfect. We all have periods of time where we pick ourselves apart and periods of time where we accept ourselves…even those of us who appear to have it all figured out.
“In our sport we will see mirages of perfection who are silently destroying their bones and setting themselves up for years of problems for one or two seasons of success. That is a short cut. That is not how this team operates. We aspire to do things the best way, the ethical way, and we do not sacrifice our health. There will be times of the year where you need to lose a few, times in your season where you will need to maintain, and times of year where you will need to gain a few, and the goal is to learn to do that with as little thinking as possible. Know that it is possible to do that.
“People love to tell you that being light improves performance, but many women take this further than they need to; they would get the same effect with less weight loss and it would be sustainable. There is a wider fluctuation in weight for success than you may think. Make sure you pay attention to the healthy looking athletes that compete well, not just the overly skinny ones. Celebrate them. They have always existed, and they always will.
“And finally, recognize the power you all have to influence one another for either success or failure in this area. We can be a healthy, well adjusted team that improves incrementally and sets ourselves up for many years of success. Or we can spend all our time thinking about weight and food, letting disordered eating spread like a virus through our team, not only affecting our bodies, but robbing us of enjoying our experiences together. Do not let the dominant story of your season and your relationships be about food. Its simply not necessary, and more importantly, it takes the fun out of everything.
“My door is always open on this subject, like any other. I want you all to be healthy and successful, and I’ll help you any way I can.”
That’s the best I’ve got. Can you think of any other points collegiate women would benefit from hearing from their coach?
*Credit goes to Dave DeLong, Vin Lananna and especially Dena Evans for their influence on me in this area. Dena is the person who talked about people being shades of grey, which really stuck with me, not just on this issue but many others.
I was recently asked by Ann Gaffigan, USA Steeple Champion and Co-Founder of Women Talk Sports, to do a radio show on eating disorders in the sport of women’s running. This issue really fires me up for lots of reasons, so my first reaction was to say “Bring it!” But as I sat there thinking about it, I started to worry that what I had to say may not be very well received.
For example, my natural reaction is to want to kick anyone who starts talking about the “Female Athlete Triad.” Considering that the Triad is the primary philosophy by which we are proactively identifying at risk girls and intervening, there is a good chance I’d piss some people off. Don’t get me wrong, I want to proactively intervene, but as a holistic-minded human biologist and educator, I think the triad is too simplistic and vague, and essentially casts such a wide net that pretty much every weight conscious woman (not just athlete) is touched by part of it.
Whether I was at the gyno, the orthopedist, or in for bronchitis, I’d end up in a conversation about the triad and probed about my eating habits. In the end, there was rarely anything that came out of it for me except the feeling that I was being judged.
In deciding whether or not to do the show, I realized that any good radio talk show has a variety of opinions, so what the hell? I agreed, and I’m so glad I did. From the get-go, the subject was approached with the respect it deserved. Lize Brittin brought the perspective of a runner who almost lost her life to anorexia, and we discussed the way the culture of the 80′s, her team environment, and her high achieving personality all played a role in the process. I was very struck by her story, and with Ann’s hosting skills tying it all together, it ended up being quite a memorable discussion. I added what I could, and I recommend the broadcast for those who are interested:
Click to listen: WTS Radio Show with Lauren Fleshman and Lize Brittin (opens in new tab)
However, you don’t need to listen to the show to give an opinion on the subject…a subject that is shaped everyday by millions of women doing the best they can to stay fit in a food-overloaded country. The issues of body image and diet are complex for female AND male runners, and too often men are ignored. On this blog, I’d rather hear what the readers have to say about the matter. Feel free to disagree with me people; I love to discuss more than I love to be right.