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*trigger warning- eating disorders*


February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month. One month dedicated to the second most deadly psychiatric illness behind opiate addiction (Arcelus et al., 2011). One month recognizing the over 28 million Americans that have or will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime (Deloitte Access Economics, 2020). One month to shed light upon one person that dies every 52 minutes as a direct consequence of an eating disorder (Deloitte Access Economics, 2020). One month in exchange for over 3.3 million healthy life years lost, every year, because of eating disorders (van Hoeken, D. & Hoek, H.W., 2020). 


I had the opportunity to talk to Megan, registered dietitian and Champion Ambassador for Still I Run to learn more about her experiences and desire to share with everyone that we are ALL deserving of a healthy relationship with food, regardless of our individual goals. Megan comes into the conversation with experience working in eating disorder recovery, bariatric surgery, and dialysis clinics.







Food is Fuel:


For context, I am in lifelong recovery from an eating disorder and brought some perspective, and possibly a little skepticism, into the conversation. While I am not the focus of this interaction, I found my conversation with Megan would not make total sense without knowing where I come from. Early in my recovery, I never experienced the approach Megan and other dietitians want to share with the eating disorder and Still I Run communities. I solely experienced medical nutrition therapy - it was a necessity at the time. As a result, I only learned to fight through behavioral changes related to eating while my mind never healed. As Megan posited, you can be focused on a goal like weight management while still learning to listen to your body instead of your disorder. You can have a specific goal while still learning to reconnect with your body and fuel it intuitively. Through my ongoing recovery journey, I learned that recovery is not one-size-fits all, and through this conversation learned that neither are dietitians. There are many out there like Megan who adopt a sustainable, intuitive, and holistic approach to doing what will work best for you.

 


Live Well and Happy:


Megan found her way to dietetics out of a desire to become a therapist. She became passionate about working with people with eating disorders during her undergraduate studies. As she embarked upon her journey to become a dietitian, she experienced what I often refer to as a “disordered voice” telling her she needed to look and behave a particular way to be a positive role model for her future patients. It was evident while listening to Megan share this that this voice and this idea was not HER (or as Glennon Doyle would say, not her truthiest truth or her selfiest self). It was some part of her, but not her true, capital “S”, Self. She searched for a couch to 5k program and found herself adopting a disordered relationship with her body, food and exercise “to be a good role model for her patients.” Eventually it led to burnout and she stopped running altogether to refocus on school.





Later, while working at an eating disorder recovery center as a dietitian and about to get married, Megan began running again, but something still didn’t feel quite right. Instead of feeling like she WANTED to run (what I feel was Megan’s voice, or her selfiest self), she felt like she was doing it because she HAD to (what sounds like a disordered voice to me). It was not until Megan discovered a running group (read: community) that helped change her perspective. Megan started connecting with people for (and on) runs. She marveled not in what her body needed to look like, but what it was able to do. Megan had the opportunity to change her narrative and feel what she hopes to share with people through nutrition therapy.

 


The only Journey is the one Within:


I will pause for a moment to say I am not writing here today to attempt to unpack the impact eating disorders have or minimize anyone’s individual journey. I would be foolish to assume I could even scratch the surface and only hope to share with everyone Megan’s passion for nutrition therapy being so much more than calories in and calories out. She believes dietitians can be focused on intuitive eating and take an integrated approach. If Megan, like Jerry Maguire, wrote a mission statement on her thoughts as a dietitian instead of a sports attorney, the pages would be filled with visions of a holistic clinic. A community of providers that helps people nourish their relationship with food, regardless of their goals as they relate to nutrition and health. Megan wants people to love themselves, their bodies and food. She wants people to spend less time focused on numbers and rules. She has visions of movement therapy, nutrition plans individualized to each person’s goals, and multidisciplinary professionals ready to support each person’s unique journey. She wants it to be ACCESSIBLE AND AFFORDABLE (can we get a round of applause). She wants to hop on the integrative approach train and offer a treatment team that helps people rediscover themselves from the inside out (embodiment with skilled providers, can we get a heck yes).

 

The golden thread tying this all together for Megan is community, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. Eating disorders can feel incredibly isolating and lonely. Eating disorders like to hide under cover of darkness (shame), fear, embarrassment, etc. It takes one heck of a community to feel safe enough to not just ask for help…but actually feel ready to heal. Often, the vulnerability in sharing one’s lived experience can be the hand that saves someone from drowning. As Megan reflects, not many dietitians come to the profession void of disordered eating experiences themselves. We will always move through different communities throughout our lives trying to figure out where we belong. Sometimes we come across people willing to share their own and learn from others’ lived experiences. It was not through dietetics alone that Megan learned to love running and find her voice as a dietitian. It was through being with people; whether a former patient with whom she connected over a shared love of distance running, people in running groups who made running fun for her again, or those of us connecting with her through Still I Run.

 

You can catch Megan out on the road or trail, running distances from 5ks to marathons, as an individual runner or a member of relay teams. You’ll want to look towards the back of the pack, she’s a self-proclaimed “turtle girl” and you might even see her in costume because she believes that “if you can’t be fast, you might as well be cute.”. Megan ran her 100th race (yup) in 2022 and is in her 3rd year as an ambassador for Still I Run. Megan’s big running goal on her radar is running her first ultramarathon in 2025!


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Helpline toll-free at (800)-931-2237, chat with someone at myneda.org/helpline-chat, or text NEDA to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support.



References

 

Arcelus J, Mitchell AJ, Wales J, Nielsen S. Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders: A Meta-analysis of 36 Studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(7):724–731. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74

Berends, T.,

 

Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/.

 

van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2020). Review of the burden of eating disorders: mortality, disability, costs, quality of life, and family burden. Current opinion in psychiatry, 33(6), 521–527. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0000000000000641















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