Disordered Eating

Wanted to shout out @WickedC for having this fantastic chat with me, as well as ask a question that I’m always curious about. As a partner/ friend who cares, what is your experience in talking with partners you suspect are dealing with disordered eating habits?

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I’ll preface this comment by saying I have not listened to the podcast episode just yet, but I am incredibly appreciative that you chose to highlight this topic, and I can’t believe I missed it back in April! It’s a subject that is dear to me.

As someone who has been dealing with (and improving on!) disordered eating behaviors myself for years, I’m not sure there would have been even a well-intentioned friend that could have produced a magic moment to snap me out of it at my worst point. It felt as if I had to go through part of it alone to truly struggle, as sad of a realization that may be.

I will say that I never felt as if the large majority of people that I surrounded myself with were particularly concerned about my weight. Part of me wishes that conversation had taken place when it all began for me, but it simply didn’t. The truth is, it would have been challenging to spot since much of my disordered behavior took place in my home, actively hidden from everyone in shame.

I’ve had deep discussions with friends and partners who have experienced disordered eating themselves. Many of their “eureka” moments come in the form of close friends making efforts to have conversations privately or discreetly, somewhere they’re comfortable and have the opportunity to be emotional without judgment. From my experience, the best thing you can do for someone is to let them know they have your support, be clear about that.

The conversations that people like Kris, Steven Dimmett at The Nugget, and Mina/Hazel at The Curious Climber are inviting may have been instrumental in making me reflect on damaging behaviors before they had become ingrained. In many instances, it can be hard to hear from the people you’re closest to that you may have been creating anxiety in their lives.

Thanks for being open to discussing this topic. I am excited to hear everyone else’s experiences and perspectives.

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Primarily, my perspective is not that of a bystander, but a sufferer. I’ve been dealing with disordered eating for several years now, and it took me a long time to understand that the issues lied there. I searched far and wide before finally realising that is were the (one of the ) problem(s) lied with nutrition. I’m still trying to get help, it has been and continues to be a difficult and arduous process despite finally having a diagnosis.

Before then, a few people expressed concern, but never to any greater extent. Usually, these people were quite far removed from me socially. 1 doctor (out of numerous doctors that I saw) and one coworker. That was not enough to faze me. Not enough to bring me out of my distorted view.

People closer to me, friends and family, usually just cheered on my weight loss. Admittedly, the cheering would eventually stop but instead of having the discourse change from “this is healthy weight loss” to “this is unhealthy weight loss” the topic died out.

Ultimately, it would become so bad that my heart started to give out. I had a heart rate of 30 while lead-climbing, I saw a cardiologist, I was weak, and perpetually fatigued. Months before then I was diagnosed with low testosterone and am receiving HRT (hormone replacement therapy) which I will have to try and go without now so we can discern if I under-ate my way into a hormonal issue (probably) or not. That will be a very tough time, as the exogenous compounds will have to leave my body first which will take up to a year. A year without any testosterone as a male is… not ideal.

In a few books on the topic I’ve read to aid myself in my own healing process I’ve come to learn that while in a sustained state of being underfed ones cognitive functions decline and become rather fixed and rigid thereby trapping a person there.

Furthermore, being underfed can be adequate enough in and of its own — barring other psychological issues — to cause body dysmorphia.

I won’t speak for people with eating disorders in general, but at least I didn’t like the way I looked. I was convinced I still had plenty of fat to lose. One book that I’ve read goes over interviews with people (women) that survived interment camps during WW2. These people were terribly underfed, with dangerously low BMIs. And yet, in the interviews that the book distills a common theme is that these women felt curvaceous, shapely, curvy, and beautiful.

Looking back at pictures from the time when I was at my leanest I’ve grown to resent friends and family for not confronting me. I even have a sibling that lived through a life-experience with an eating disorder some 15 years prior, so I’m quite upset with both my parents and the sibling in question.

If there has been anything positive to draw from this is that I’ve been fairly open with my struggles, and so when I’ve had partners/friends that start exhibiting symptoms they haven’t fought me when I’ve asked them to compare what they are going through to RED-S. They respect where I’m coming from.

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@RFrecka @Bolognafingers thanks for being so open with your experiences, and for speaking to how you felt about the actions of those around you as well. I know that isn’t necessarily the important part of the journey for you, but it does help guide me as a partner and coach.

Particularly after my conversation with @WickedC I’ve become much more attuned to all of the ways we cheer weight loss without much thought. Things like calling a power spot a “diet” or even just simply “taking weight off”, commenting on how “fit” someone looks when you haven’t seen them in a while, etc. And one of the most insidious - commenting on how “whatever they are doing is working” when you have no idea what unhealthy things are going on that may not, in fact, be helping.

I’ve made a conscious effort to stop remarking on physical appearance at all, and to make sure any of my commentary on performance is linked to the work they are putting in that I can see right in front of me.

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It is difficult. I considered leaving this topic alone, and not have this experience follow me in this community, but we all live our respective lives and from our experiences is where we find a foundation on which to have these conversations. Sadly, this has been my experience. Escaping from that, while appealing, won’t solve anything and won’t heal anything. By being communicative, maybe someone struggling can learn, or someone trying to be a better ally can learn. That’s what I place my hopes in.

I’ve heard teenage kids at the crag talk about how they feel heavy, and I’m working to replace the phrases there with feeling weak that day. Taking weight out of it.

Truly, I’ve been commended for my “success” and that in part served to trap me there.

I think large weight losses can in and of themselves be enough to cause genuine problems, but for the sake of discussion sometimes there are other cofactors affecting how a person is feeling. If their social community then attaches value to their weight loss then given that we are social creatures usually dependent on experiencing that we are valued by our peers can have a hard time escaping that. This is as true for weight loss as identity.

Wonderful. Exceptional move. As a partner and a coach that sounds excellent.

I don’t know if you mean belay partner or partner partner but, look out for yourself. I’ve seen my romantic partners take a turn for the worse watching me deteriorate. Yes, what they are going through is super tough but it is alright for you to feel as if it sucks too.

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@Kris I really respect your targetted efforts to constantly reflect on this and actively seek other perspectives.

That seems like a really reasonable approach that I’ve seen more and more coaches adapt to, especially recently. Really a two-fold benefit, receiving less image-performance input while also receiving more plentiful feedback on progressions from their work in place of the former narrative!

Before posting I definitely waffled on my commentary, deleting what I had written multiple times before coming to the decision to put it out there. It takes guts to put yourself in a vulnerable position, so thank you very much for sharing your experience.

For myself, part of this stems from the fact that during my own struggle, I really hadn’t met any other men who had similar experiences, and definitely none in climbing at the time. It was incredibly isolating, an additional layer on top of the psychological fixation/rigidness you described in your original post.

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I don’t want to side track this topic but I had concerns with one of the points that was made in this episode (if not on this one then another Power Company episode). The point was something to the affect of “Never ask a climber their weight” and in the context of the episode I get that. But as a stealthily dense climber, I almost always ask my partners their weight and tell them mine. I want to them to understand that I will likely send them flying when I fall and that they don’t need to try to give me a soft catch.

If anyone has thoughts on how best to tactfully approach this issue I’d love to hear it.

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Good point and good question. This may not be the answer, but maybe say “I weigh X, so if you feel better either not belaying or adding extra weight, I’m down to figure that out.”
Rather than asking their weight?

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I have to do the same thing at 190lbs, people usually underestimate my weight. Learned the hard way after my belayer jumped when it wasn’t necessary due to our worst difference. I usually just say “hey just want you to know I weigh 190, so you probably don’t need to jump”

@RFrecka absolutely agree with this. As a friend watching someone struggle it can feel like it’s not enough to just be there for someone or provide unconditional love and support, but often times that’s all you can do. Especially for an adult who is struggling and needs to process things on their own timeline.

Certainly the discussion is different for minors, but I think it’s so important to remember that you can’t always fix someone’s problems for them, but you can show people that they themselves are not alone by providing true friendship and a listening ear.

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Totally. I think I mention that in my article. For safety reasons it’s definitely important. I guess I’m just referring to steering away from it as a joke or as a justification for someone’s climbing ability.

I usually ask if I’m belaying someone bigger or much smaller so I can calculate the amount of jump I give on a catch.

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