Picture this: you’re a NCAA Division I student-athlete who spends over 25 hours a week at practice… and you’re struggling with an eating disorder (ED). You have practice every morning at 7am, and you run anywhere from 4-14 miles… you eat as little as possible afterward. You go to class and then back to your second practice of the day and run some more… and you think about what food will be most beneficial to eat so that your legs don’t get too shaky during weight room. Then you finally go to dinner at the dining hall… and you spend all your time online looking up the nutrition information for every item at the buffet. You repeat that day for weeks or even months, and ask yourself why you never have time for other things and why you’re so tired and unhappy.
That was my life in college. A horrible cycle of falling in and out of that pattern for years. I spent a long, long time being torn in half by my sport and my eating disorder.
At the time, the cycle felt impossible to break.
Gradually, I learned how to be happy again. Once I started seeing a psychologist, I was able to get help and express the pain I’d been feeling. Slowly but surely, I saw the return of the “old” me. It didn’t happen overnight, in a week, or even a month. It’s still ongoing, but I began noticing the smallest things as victories. My college coach used to preach, “it’s the little things that make big things happen.”
So I got tools from a psychologist and my support from friends and family, and I started to mend everything on the inside—piece by piece—that had felt broken for so long. At first, a victory was something as minimal as “I ate a full breakfast with my team after practice,” or “my hands didn’t shake at all during weight room today.” But they build on each other. Small accomplishments like that transition into “I didn’t look at a single nutrition facts label all week,” to “I don’t know how much I weigh because I stopped using my scale.” It was all about knowing that there was a win in each of these steps. The greatest feeling in recovery came when I finally reached all these steps and I was no longer just checking things off a list that the dietitian gave me, but I was actually OKAY with taking these steps—both on an emotional and mental level.
Then came one of the most momentous steps in my own personal recovery. I was able to go for a run and not think about the calories I was burning according to pace and mileage. I wasn’t basing my run on which foods I had eaten that day, the calories would be “canceling out.” I was just running—for fun, for me. With lots of time spent working on my recovery process, and myself, I was able to mend the horribly fractured chain that linked me to my ED on one side and my sport on the other.
Since that day and the moment I realized what an accomplishment that run was, things haven’t always been perfect or smooth. Anyone who has been through a similar relationship with food knows that recovery is a messy, ongoing battle. Some days or weeks I’m lured back into calorie counting and I think a little too often about food and its ingredients/labels. Other weeks I’m pulled in the opposite direction by running and I waste energy trying to make the perfect workout schedule and do everything according to pace. BUT, I know exactly what to do or who to reach out to when either of these things happen, and I find ways to re-center myself. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and I don’t have to be stuck in the middle of two equally difficult problems. Both my sport and my ED will always be a central part of making me into the person I am today, but I am no longer being torn apart by either. I’m in control of how I spend my time, what I think about, and what deserves my attention—on any given day.
And, wow, regaining control over my life feels so damn good.
Author: Jessica Cushing-Murray is a graduate student at University of Hawaii Manoa pursuing a Master's degree in Nutrition. She was a member of the UCLA Cross Country and Track teams during her undergraduate career and is using her last season of eligibility as a grad student now on Oahu. As a competitive long distance runner, Jessica understands the difficulties of trying to balance proper nutrition with college athletics, and hopes that she can make a career out of educating and counseling student-athletes as her future career.
Recently, I was asked to speak at the San Francisco dance school "ODC" for the "Dancer's Day of Health." This day was all about health information and free screenings for freelance professional dancers. We had medical doctors, mental health professionals, physical therapists, and of course - dietitians, all giving their time to screen and educate the dancers.
The panel I spoke on asked us each to briefly say what our role is on the dance medicine team. Here are my bullet points of what the Registered Dietitian does:
“The #1 goal of nutrition counseling is behavior change” – Herrin & Larkin
We help dancers specifically:
When you work 1-on-one with a RD you are going to get help on eating for your individual lifestyle, medical needs, and your personal preferences. No generic meal plans, and any RD worth their salt will come from a place of “all foods fit” and “health at every size” meaning we can focus on health behaviors and risk factors without weight being the focus or “fix.”
Do you need a RD in your dance life?
Let's face it, we tend to be our own toughest critics. Whether we're picking apart how we perform in school/work and relationships or breaking ourselves down physically and mentally, we can be pretty hard on on the person we see in the mirror. As a result we forget to practice kindness towards who we are. Join us for this four week series to learn how to create realistic and SMART goals that will help to gain and build up confidence for yourself and work towards a better relationship with your body and your mind.
At Spark Yoga in SLO (New dates coming soon!)
Pricing and Sign up here
Yoga & SMART Goals
In our first session, we’ll start with an hour-long yoga flow before switching gears into learning how to set goals that make sense for you. We’ll teach you how to fine-tune what it is you really are striving to achieve, show you how to work towards it and keep you accountable for the steps you take along the way.
Time Management Tips & Mental Health Check-Ins
After a mellow 30 minute yoga flow, we'll dig deeper into these topics. Whether you’re a student or not, time management can always be improved. We’ll show you ways to stay on track and organized to help you achieve your goals. In this session, we will also talk about mental health and provide some ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Why diets fail & what is actually healthy eating
Following Building on your goal setting from week 1, we are going to dig deeper on setting actual healthy health goals that do not deprive your body or mind. Libby will describe why diets fail, and realistically how to eat for health (spoiler: ALL FOODS FIT!). We will begin this session with a strong 30 minute flow.
Disordered eating, exercise extremes, and body kindness
When is it too far? Whether with food or exercise how do you know when you've crossed the line from "healthy" to "obsessive"/dangerous?
In this session, we will talk about how to be kind to your body RIGHT NOW, just as you are (not when you achieve x goal). This session will start with a light hearted and fun 30 minute flow.
In just a few weeks I will be speaking at the San Francisco / Bay Area "Day for Dancer's Health" at the ODC!
And dancers, it's totally FREE to attend!!!!
In case you are going, here is what my breakout session is going to be about:
"Fueling the dancer's body for long rehearsals"
With Libby Parker, MS, RD; Registered Dietitian and owner of Not Your Average Nutritionist.
This session will cover how to eat for rehearsals and show days with the foods you love. Libby will cover timing of meals and snacks, hydration (and what’s the deal with sports beverages), and you’ll learn what macronutrient is the MVP for energy. Bring your performance nutrition questions. This is one topic from Libby’s more extensive online course “Whole Health For Performers” which covers all the health topics for stage performers that you never learned in school. Learn more or register here:
Find out more about the conference:
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/221721465441739/
Facebook Fundraiser: https://www.facebook.com/66436867466/posts/10156027814407467/
ODC’s event webpage: https://odc.dance/DancersHealthDay
Indance article: http://dancersgroup.org/2019/01/injury-prevention-longevity-odcs-healthy-dancer s-clinic/
Libby Parker is a Registered Dietitian specializing in eating disorder recovery. Her private practice, Not Your Average Nutritionist, LLC, is in San Luis Obispo, CA, and she also does virtual counseling. She is in the final stages of her first book, Permission To Eat, coming late 2019. Libby started dance at the age of 3 (thanks, mom!) and is happiest when she is on stage in musical theatre productions. She just got back to CA from NYC where she auditioned for Broadway’s Mean Girls. Libby wants every dancer to love their body and never diet. @DietitianLibby www.NotYourAverageNutritionist.com
Here's a quick tip for those of you who get too busy or otherwise forget to eat -
Assuming you are not trying to not eat, many of my clients have found this tip helpful once we figured out that remembering to take the time to eat (or remembering to prep food) was the problem.
Set alarms on your phone.
I know, it sounds simple; but you have your phone on you all the time, right?
Set alarms at times that make sense in your schedule for meal/snack times, or a time to prep tomorrow’s food. Most cell phones have the ability to label what the alarm is for, so use that feature as a visual reminder!
“Lunch time” or remember to eat” or “make lunch for tomorrow” are great visual cues to go along with the audio component of the alarm (or vibration, if that’s your preference).
If you stick to a consistent schedule your body should start to get used to eating at regular times, and eventually you can delete the alarms and let your body remind you.
If you are struggling to remember to eat or prep food, give it a try!
Let me know how this works for you in the comments.
In this beautiful letter to herself a woman, whom I had the privilege to work with, wrote her personal reasons for wanting to recover. I was so moved by this statement of self love and respect I asked if she would please share in hopes that it would inspire others.
You don’t have to have this eloquent of a “why” statement, but I do encourage you to write out why YOU want to recover. What will you be able to do that you can’t while staying in your disorder? Read it every day. If you feel bold, please share in the comments, perhaps it will inspire someone else.
“People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, which is why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar
I want my desires back. I want my sense of belonging back, my right to belong. I want my voice back -- my own voice that listens to my desires from a place of giving my body freedom to just be, to just be comforted, to just be heard, to come out of my own shadows, to regain self-trust and self-approval, to recognize that while my body may expand or contract, it is an injustice when I fall short of being a safe confidante to my body.
It is similar to living a lie, to gaslighting my body into believing that it is wholly wrong.
Overriding my body, judging my body, slandering my body, muting those voices within my body is almost akin to perpetrating a crime against all of me. In some ways, it also adds up to me becoming my own judge and jury and, so-to-speak, to being my own executioner.
That all shapes up to me becoming a threat to my own being, a threat to my own survival. It poses a form of self-harm. Self-harm be gone.
I want to be in conversation with my body -- to mind my body by mining for the gold within its contours, between the layers of my skin, in my jiggly, squishy or soft rolls.
Otherwise, I am and may forever be constrained by cultural chatter that breeds fear of food and fear of self.
Otherwise, I am confused by mixed signals, and I easily misunderstand my own self, my own wisdom, my own nature.
Otherwise, eating enters a state of chaos and confusion.
Otherwise, I live by dictates of “should I?” or “should I not?”
Otherwise, I omit all questions about my desires and about my deeply personal choices for food and in life.
I want the memories I have of meals to be soothing memories, and I want to be able to connect food and meals to comforting thoughts -- not to feelings of restraint or to lost opportunities for self-connection. I don’t want to be my own troll, posting critical messages in my mind concerning food.
In the end, I want to rethink my life, rethink the words I speak to myself, rethink the actions I take around current meals and meals that I am planning. I want to arrive at my table open and curious.
I want to readily pull up a seat at the table and honestly be all I am. All I am, meaning welcoming my whole self -- knowing my vulnerabilities, subtleties, and nuances and sitting with and helping myself to meet my truest desires. All I am, meaning that I fill my plate in tandem with becoming a more fulfilled self.
In the end, I no longer want to forsake myself. I want to feel that I deserve a place setting and a place at my own table -- and in the communal table of the larger world.
As a small business owner and "solo-preneuer," I am incredibly grateful for each and every client that I get to work with. When you work with a small business, you are not paying for some big corporation to make monogrammed journals, or a CEO to take a trip to Hawaii, you are helping someone pay their bills, get groceries, take dance lessons, get therapy, and ultimately pay it forward.
You are the reason I do what I do, and to celebrate that, I have some incredible deals coming for those who are signed up for my email newsletter!
There will be a price reduction for group recovery coaching,
and an incredible deal on one-to-one nutrition counseling!
...But this deal (along with other cool stuff throughout the year) will only be available to email subscribers (Nov 24th), so sign up below and make sure you get all the deals sent straight to your inbox!
Have you seen the info about group ED recovery coaching yet?
I'm wrapping up the first group now, and we have had a blast, and had really insightful conversations about recovery. Each week the participants left with motivation, education, and small goals to achieve, and the next week they would come back to a safe space for accountability on their goals, and go further. Check out the details, and how you can join a group HERE.
by Jessica Cushing-Murray
Mental health and issues like eating disorders (EDs) are being talked about more and more on platforms like social media. More people are speaking out about its importance and why these topics need to be addressed and brought up in conversation. And these are all great things - it’s exciting to see people spreading awareness with public social media posts - but posting about it and having a real life face-to-face conversation with someone struggling with an eating disorder are two very different tasks.
On my Division I college athletics team, issues like EDs were known but not necessarily voiced. Everyone knew the risk factors, the warning signs, and the importance of a well-balanced diet, but we didn’t have very many honest conversations about these things as a team. You can be someone who posts on Facebook that you support the education of athletes on the dangers of eating disorders, but you don’t really understand what that means until someone on your team (who you run with and see every single day) becomes so thin that the doctors bench her because they believe that continuing to race would be hazardous to her health.
So what does an open, in-person conversation about eating disorders look like? And why is it so important to have them, especially within the athletic community? The conversation starts with either a troubled person reaching out for help, or with a person concerned about a friend/family member.
Because the stigmatization of issues like eating disorders, or potential to be pulled from the team, athletes are often less inclined to talk about it or reach out for help than a non-athlete. However, in my experience, the most significant occurrence is the chain reaction that starts when one person speaks up about their struggles with eating, exercising, or dieting. All it takes is one brave person to tell a teammate that he/she is having a hard time, and we as athletes hear someone else admitting vulnerability, and are suddenly less afraid to acknowledge our own struggles. These conversations are so instrumental within athletics because we have very strong feelings about avoiding signs of weakness.
My team experienced this in a truly positive way. By one girl confessing something as small as “it makes me nervous to eat a lot of carbs,” it opens up the discussion into eating issues, and we realized that a lot of us were having the same fears and feelings when it came to nutrition. Talking about our own food beliefs with each other helped us realize that we weren’t alone in our thinking and that there are other people who know exactly what we are feeling. Once the conversation is opened up, everyone on the team is able to pitch in helpful ideas.
For some reason, in athletics, we find it harder to discuss mental issues in comparison to physical ones. But the conversation would actually follow the same outline regardless of whether someone is struggling with eating or dealing with a broken bone. For example, say you stress-fracture your tibia (shin bone). In distance running, odds are someone else on your team has had the same injury. They’re going to give you all the advice they can on non-weight-bearing forms of exercise, how important it was to wear the protective boot, and the best/worst days that came along as a result of their injury.
Discussions on issues like EDs would go exactly the same way. Because some people have never experienced food fears or the need to exercise or restrict calories, these people can give insight into their healthy way of thinking that keeps them on the right path to a well-nourished body. Some people have experienced these problems before and have guidance on the tools that can be used to overcome these fears. Others on the team are currently struggling, and the team atmosphere and accountability enables them to go places like the on-campus counseling services to seek advice from professionals. The best part about having other people know is that this difficult step of getting help can be done together and with friends.
So I ask again, why is opening up this conversation so important? Because seeking help and getting well is a process that is held up by a support system of people who want your recovery just as much as you do. There is so much to be gained by not having to go through an eating disorder alone. Talking about our mental struggles and fears and looking for support from the people around us is beneficial for ourselves and can unknowingly be the life-changing difference for others.
If you’ve noticed someone close to you showing signs of an ED, first try to understand that what they are going through is very difficult. Then, see if they’re ready to be open up about it; because talking about it is the first step toward getting help. And when it comes to asking someone about it, realize there are so many different possible outcomes: you can be supportive, have lots of questions, or you may even be wrong about them having an ED, but the worst thing you can do is to ignore it. So, ask. Be the person who’s willing to have a conversation about it. Be the difference.
Check out this podcast episode I was interviewed in!
Episode 35 of "Ignite Her Fire"
Key takeaways: All foods fit in a healthy lifestyle, and you don't have to be hospitalized/look "sick" to get help with your eating, Registered Dietitians are different than "nutritionists" or "health coaches," sugar is not evil, keto is not a good diet plan, we need to STOP talking about our bodies!, a little about my acting...and I'm sorry you have to hear me sing (and yes, I know the lyrics are out of order).
http://www.igniteherfire.com/ or on itunes
A podcast full of stories of badass women living life on their own terms.
Thanks to Sabrina and Shawna for hosting me!
Want to learn more? Sign up for my monthly newsletter for free nutrition/health info, and body positive messaging!
Libby is a non-diet Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She approaches health from the inclusive standpoint that any "body" can focus on health regardless of size. She is a ally in diversity.
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Disclaimer: This website is for educational & informational purposes only,
it is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice or treatment.