Can you be a “Skinny” Runner and Eat?!

Attention (young) women runners – you don’t EVER have to diet to find your ideal race weight. I would highly encourage you to avoid it at all costs. A simple start of being more restrictive can dangerously ruin your running career and beyond if it were to spiral into a full blown eating disorder. Warning, this blog is a bit of a rant. I don’t care. I have a message to send. 

I wrote this to give insight to women who are looking for some form of role model in terms of nutrition and body composition and cannot seem to find it close to home –whether it be unhealthy teammates or roommates; or just lack of answers when it comes to a Google search! 

This is a 2 part blog. 

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A mini meal at 2pm to hold me over til dinner at 6 

 Part 1 How I personally have found balance and success with nutrition, and how I gauge my level of health as someone with a naturally lean composition.

Part 2-  A completely open honest look at my diet over the course of days – to give a glimpse of just how much food it takes to live sustainably and run well. And what do you know – I never count calories and rarely measure food, but for this I may make an exception. This will be 3 days noting my activity level—and to add more insight this will include a 15K race on day 2.  

Despite my 5’10 and 124 lb frame, I DO EAT! I am completely individual and want to encourage YOU READING to drop all comparisons. My body is totally unique, in that most of my height comes from my legs (when I sit I am on the same level as someone 5’3) – last time I checked a torso looks to weigh much more than freakishly long tibias 🙂  I hate saying this but I constantly have to justify the fact that I don’t have a problem. It’s under the category of “skinny people problems”… hence another reason I’m writing this blog. OK let’s begin Part 1.

3 crucial elements with how food and I work together:

  • Consistency of constant calories in
  • Moderation in balancing “healthy” foods with “junk”
  • Listening to my body’s natural cues

When you see me from a far, you might think, “yeah I’m sure she’s on some restricted diet” or she’s got some issues with eating. Far from the truth. In order to keep up with the training, I need to eat A LOT OF FOOD. Not just the super healthy colorful fruits, vegetables and all, but also the stuff that isn’t always deemed “healthy”. Allowing myself to indulge a little more in “junk” has in fact has helped with a huge turnaround in my running. Balance is of course key. I can’t be eating whole pies, but I sure as heck am worse off when I under-eat.

I admit I can try very hard to do everything to eat right, train right, etc.  I, however have found that when you are trying too hard to be a perfectionist (especially in terms of nutrition) and training at a high level- you fall into trouble with underestimating your needs. Bottom line- no matter who you are – when your calories in consistently fall short of calories out, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies, injuries, exhaustion and unnecessary weight loss. Eat only good “whole” foods ALL THE TIME, it gets tough to ever read your body’s hunger, as much of it is loaded with fiber.. making you feel full and going immediately through your system.

I have been there, when my iron stores tank and I’m “light” for me. Anytime I get in the sub 120s, my body is on edge and I just don’t recover as well.

Hate me for saying this but I can get skinny fast. It’s a curse and a gift. Thank genetics and probably more genetics (and obviously my lifestyle) along with the what my husband makes fun of me for. “You never eat an entire box of cookies or a whole pizza”. Yes, pretty true, it doesn’t happen. I never get that hungry because I am constantly fueling. I regularly (typically daily) have treats, but I am highly content in limiting it to 1 serving, rather than Alan in whom I’m seen take down an entire box of Entemann’s cookies after a huge meal. We joke about it how I go all out when I finish one of those 2 serving cookies or when having a craving I will say “I can’t wait to have oatmeal”.

I can easily let cookies, cake, donuts, you name it tempt me for weeks and at most I’ll eat ~1 each day, which easily fits into being lost in the caloric deficit running provides. If those same items were in Alan’s sight, there’s no way they would be there for long.

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 “How can you only eat HALF?!” Actually in this case I think I ate the whole thing.. all ~ 1200 calories worth of ice cream and candy goodness

When it comes to meal time though, I’m a plate clearer. I am great about eating often and very particular about ensuring I’m getting calories when my body needs it the most (breakfast, post run). I avoid that “metabolism shut down” which comes from the “I’m so starving I just ate so fast and now feel so sick I can’t move” thing. So yes, I’m blessed, but I also do the right things to keep my fuel in going to good use. My metabolism is cranking which equates for staying lean despite constant food going in.

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Enroute to a new indoor mile PR – 3 months postpartum 

Post baby I have intentionally been keeping an extra 3-5 lbs on – and ensuring I don’t lose it. This is for a number of reasons — one being performance – since I have been feeling AWESOME at my current composition, two- better physical health while feeding baby and the third shouldn’t be but it is – social reasons.

I mentioned the word “curse” because in today’s world it is not always the most popular thing to be the “skinny person”. It’s as if you need to constantly justify at every situation involving food that you do eagerly partake. Skinny shaming is real. Some great worth-while reads:
BridgetMalcolm

Victoria Secret Model is not Anorexic

Steph Rothstein Bruce on Skinny Shaming

 “Losing weight” is on top of many people’s to-do lists. If you don’t have any to lose then you’re almost a freak. It can be extremely awkward in certain situations that I’m sure I can relate to how an obese person feels.

So what if you’re not eating right or could realistically benefit from dropping weight?

The only solution to change is intelligence and patience. Smart habits developed over time that compliment your training will result in the optimal you. View your body as a machine; food as fuel, not an enemy or something you need to outsmart. If you are caught in an eating disorder or feel it’s the only way to change, you are flirting with an extremely dangerous thing that is far from a long-term solution. This blog was extremely powerful in how one woman’s quest to drop weight to run well in college ended up destroying her. MUST READ HERE– My Deal With the Devil

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Looking mean & lean (photo 2014- pre pregnancy #2)

If my outward appearance may not convince you on credibility that YOU NEED TO EAT A LOT and OFTEN just as I DO, then women runners pay attention:

Despite having a BMI that comfortably falls in the “underweight” category, I have yet to lose a period (other than during pregnancy/breastfeeding) for the 16 years I’ve been training. I have also had 2 complication free pregnancies; both in which I got pregnant in the 2 possible times it could have happened. (We did not “try”). If I did some serious intentional dieting to maintain a lean physique – I assure you the period would be the first thing to go.

Secondly I have never had a stress fracture. Those 2 things are the tell tale signs in restrictive eating and running. (Not saying that if both have happened you are guilty of it- but it would be highly unlikely you could avoid both with disordered eating and running 60+ mile weeks with intense training and racing).

That’s my big warning to any readers – Are you missing your period? Have you dealt with constant stress fractures? You likely are not eating NEARLY ENOUGH and your body is shutting down on you. Maybe you will never look like a Kenyan male runner, but maybe your genetic code will physically not allow it!

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.12.59 PMBesides – Paul Chelimo (2nd place at 3000m USATF indoors this past weekend) was drinking straight up buttermilk the night before his race. You think he counts calories? I think not. He knows a secret – food is fuel. It is the secret to running success –knowing that having a little extra can go great lengths into becoming your race day or workout weapon. You don’t fuel, you run out of gas. You out of gas = looking nice and lean but getting your butt kicked on the track. That is if you’re not injured and can actually even compete.

If you happen to think you can outsmart adequate nutrition in the way many skeletal collegiate champions who come/go like the wind- think again. Disordered/restrictive eating has a short time frame where you can “successfully” run on fumes. You may drop a whole bunch of time short term, but you’re only 1 bone break away from disaster. Long term success is powered by stuff like buttermilk when you’re dropping 80+ mile weeks. You don’t obsess and just listen to your body. Paul’s body was loving that buttermilk. Yours might be craving ice cream. Hard training requires calories. Always a balance, but rarely a specific formula you can plug into, as each person’s unique body burns and fuels at different rates.

chelimo

Doubtful these 2 guys “try” hard to look like this.  TWO words- GENETICS & RUNNING  (Chelimo on left) photo by Fox Sports Arizona

Bottom line, this first blog post was meant to give insight on how my personal physique is completely unique. This should help build credibility, so you know I practice what I preach. It should also give you assurance that not every “skinny” person you see is hiding an eating disorder. I eat, run, repeat; and my body has become very efficient in both disciplines. It is possible to look the part as a runner and fit into society without living on salad alone. You will see that when I give you an accurate picture of my diet in part 2.

I got some eating to do….. tune in soon!

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An old pic but always a favorite — Cafe Yumm bowls are the BOMB

 

14 comments

  1. You’re sure you can relate to how us fat people feel because you’re “naturally” so thin that you need to justify it to the world? Right. News flash: in an apperance driven society, thin people are respected and admired whike overweight people aren’t. We’re turned down for jobs and laughed at while you are SOOOOO envied you had to write this nasty, tone deaf article about the curse of being so perfect. Newsflash: the concept of “skinny shaming” makes you sound as ridiculous as people who say things as “why is there no white history month?” in response to any minority group being recognized as actually existing.
    The point of this rant is whatever your intent, this post comes of humblebraggy and completely tone deaf. Frankly, you seem like kind of an awful person.

    1. Grrr,
      You have no idea how it feels to be “skinny shamed”. Many of my runner friends would get it because they have it happen. It is very uncomfortable when people will express their concern not only verbally by asking “are you eating?” to the looks I receive. I am not saying my problem is at the exact level of what someone obese deals with, but it is a problem none the less. This blog was written to give insight that not every “skinny” person you see is jeopardizing their health through some insane dieting. You can live normally and eat, so quit making us feel like we are freaks or doing something wrong. I also guarantee my physique never landed me a job, why I say I believe adding 5 lbs would help my chances in a job. People don’t like extremes. Extremely thin, extremely fat. It’s awkward. Unless you’ve been there, you wouldn’t know.

      I’m sorry this came across as “look at me I’m so great because I am skinny”. I infact did want to showcase my lean body type to send a message to up and coming female runners. Many high school or college females go extreme lengths and think the only way to get to “skinny” is putting their health on the line. I’m showing that not every lean runner eats only salad and popcorn while their menstral cycle is shut down. I want to be a role model to show that yes, I am lean– it’s an obvious result of the hours and hours of work I put in on the roads, trails, tracks and in the gym. However, the only way I am able to do the work is through eating mass quantities of food.
      You obviously didn’t sign your name, but if you are fat and unhappy, I would look at how you can change. Instead of turning to food, find a physical outlet. I know people have addictions to food, and I would fully admit I am addicted to running and competition. I’m far from perfect, but physically I can celebrate that I am proud of my body in operating in a very efficient manner and very appreciative in it’s health and ability to daily give me joy through running. To get there, I work hard and treat my body with respect it deserves through fueling appropriately (not to excess, or on the contrary, too little).
      Appreciate the comment despite the negativity and hope this response gave you a little more clarity.
      -Julia

      1. Yes, i’m sure we can relate. Being told “you look like you’ve been in a concentration camp” by friends, coaches, AND family members is not the best experience; especially when you’re young/growing up. That’s just one example.. And it’s worse now then it was 10+ years ago. Let’s also not forget the bullying that can happen to underweight children/teenagers, similar to that of overweight children/teenagers.

        As for the “overweight people being turned down for jobs” argument, that does happen and it probably doesn’t happen very often to skinny people. But that doesn’t change the fact that skinny people are shamed, laughed at, ridiculed etc.. especially when they are young. Skinny & fat shaming young people is probably equally damaging.

        The “white history” comment is pointless, especially considering that the majority of Americans are overweight. So being overweight in America makes you part of the majority, not minority. Being underweight would put you in the minority. Regardless that’s a pointless tangent.

        peace.

    2. Johny Jackson · · Reply

      Skinny shaming os awful,I stand at 5’11 &132 pounds…male high school distance runner….it’s tough being called a “Twig”But I love running,just wanted to let you guys know it’s not just people overweight who get judged for their size(Welcome to a Distance runners world)

  2. […] ← Can you be a “Skinny” Runner and Eat?! […]

  3. I liked this blog post of yours and you gained my respect. I am no genetically naturally blessed to be slender and lose weight easily, but enjoy running recreationally. I had previously had a bad opinion of you from some past Instagram posts you posted shaming bigger people and using the hashtag #whatskinnypeopleeat, but I really liked the way your wrote this and thought you articulated yourself very well. Thanks for the post.

  4. Julia, I really enjoy your blog, and I am also very happy that you’ve been a competitive runner for so many years and have not struggled with eating issues. Most female runners are not as fortunate; I once read an article that noted that very few, if any, competitive women runners have had a healthy relationship with food throughout their careers.

    If you haven’t struggled with restricting food (as you note you haven’t), you can never understand how it is for those of us who have. We KNOW that it’s not best for performance to diet. We KNOW that we SHOULD eat more and often. We KNOW we need to fuel to perform. That doesn’t mean we can always do these things. If knowledge was enough, eating disorders would be easily resolved. Ranting at us isn’t going to help.

    I’m in the best place I’ve ever been with food, mainly due to being a mother to a girl who I NEVER want to see struggle with her relationship with food, but I will never have a completely normal relationship with food, and I know it’s something I will always have to work on. I have to make myself eat before long runs and marathons, and the rational part of me KNOWS it’s absolutely ridiculous to worry about calories before I run so many miles, but the eating disorder part of my brain is good at arguing.

    One thing that will help female athletes with eating issues who are reading this is to take out your personal stats on weight, height, BMI, etc. As someone who has struggled reading this, those things jump out and haunt women who have had eating disorders. We think, “Oh, I’m that same weight but I’m shorter!”, or “My BMI is low normal.” Recovery 101 is not to talk numbers. Think of how competitive you are about race times, and imagine if you had a disorder that made you feel that way about weight-related stats. The Internet’s readily available statistics on top runners is not a helpful recover tool!!

    1. Thanks Sara for your feedback, and honestly I DID struggle greatly in high school before I started running. I had severe depression and it’s a very long story, I’m not sure I’m ready to share with the world (although this might be much better than what I posted). Running saved me from it. This topic is so hard to approach so most people just ignore it. I totally agree-you have some valid points. The reason I pointed out the height/weight is to prove that yes I am still under the “normal BMI” category and not starving. (to girls who fear as soon as they let go of their disorder they will immediately and forever be “overweight”). I apologize for any pain this caused you or others. I know it is a mind game that is not easily overcome, but before you get so deep into eating disorder hell, a blog like this could help you reconsider going down that road. Maybe not, but I tried.

      1. If it helps one person not go down that road it’s certainly worth it! For me, reading others stats pushed me down that road – and I wouldn’t have cared about anything else the person wrote or said. Denial is pretty good like that (“I don’t have a problem like those others”). However, each person’s journey is different so it is hard to know. I am glad running saved you – and although running was why I developed an eating disorder (to be faster!), it also saved me. I’m not perfect with it now and never will be, but I’m healthy and balance it all better. It’s tricky in a sport where being lean does undeniably lead to better performance, and obviously being lean while fueling properly leads to the best performance.

      2. I am thankful you wrote about the topic, and I agree that it’s avoided too much! I hope and pray that coaches, parents, administrators, etc. will learn more about it and that culture will change for the better.

  5. Shannon · · Reply

    This particular post shows a lot of ignorance to what 90% of women athletes go through. Do you have any idea what it’s like to sit next someone that “looks like a runner” and loudly proclaims “I eat!” when you know yourself that you’re running your brains out and everyone else tells you “You don’t look like a runner”? It’s a pretty hard pill to swallow to be told that and I can tell you that me along with 90% of other women would rather be told we’re too thin than we’re on the heavy side of our sport. Like the above poster said; leave the stats out of it, it does nothing for your intended audience but scream of humblebrag white girl crap. I’m not stupid to think that to perform well you need to starve yourself but where that reasoning comes from is when you see Letsrun, flotrack, People Mag, Us Weekly, Facebook etc.. bombard us with the idea to be happy is to be thin.

    1. Well-stated, Shannon! Most of us would rather be told that we’re too thin; after all, it’s what everyone says about the world’s fastest runners, which definitely doesn’t help any of us with body image.

  6. Sandra Fuller · · Reply

    I was over weight at one time.Diagnosed type 2 six years ago.Lost the weight by walking,biking,running.Mostly running now,on average 60-70 miles a week in addition to biking/walking.Now I get crap for weighing 135lb on my 6ft tall small frame body with 13%body fat.I eat on average 3500-4000 calories a day!Every 2-3 hours.I eat more volume of whole foods such as fruits,vegetables and lean meats than I ever did when I was overweight.I only track my calories,macros because now I on occasion suffer from exercise induced hypoglycemia have to make sure blood sugar stays above 70-100.Have had it drop from 140 to 40 after running 45 minutes!Started sucking down hard candy and I was a ok 10 minutes later blood sugar back upto 120.I still have to watch my carbs/sugar because my blood sugar will still spike high if I don’t with certain foods,but i can indulge a little more.Yes you can be type 2 and lean,not every person that has type 2 is overweight.I get the worried loops and questions from friends who haven’t seen me in awhile.My response is if I weren’t eating right I darn sure wouldn’t be able to run 10 miles a day nonstop.I just love running and I love to eat.I am constantly fueling my body every 2-3 hours starting usually at 4 am in the morning and don’t finish until 9:30pm when I go to bed.Sometimes I even get up in the middle of the night and have a snack.

  7. David Engstrom · · Reply

    I loved
    Your
    Article JW. I know you as a friend and as a genuine nice caring lady, sorry
    And
    I’m going to say I’m shocked
    By the negative reviews.

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