- 9 minutes
- How did running assist your recovery
- How do you make sure you're getting the right nutrition
- Do you have any safeguards to protect you from slipping into bad habits
- What advice would you give someone suffering now
- How do you manage being lean for a race
- What's your favourite way to recover
There is strong evidence showing that anorexia and other eating disorders are prevalent in sport – especially those governed by weight categories or based on endurance or aesthetics. With such demands on athletes to be conscious of their nutrition and control their consumptions we chose this Eating Disorder Awareness Week to speak to Mimi about her experience dealing with the disease and how sport has helped her, as well as some of the safeguards she puts in place to make sure she's staying as healthy as possible.
Mimi Anderson is a World Record Holding Ultra Marathon runner. She has held the female World Records for running from John O'Groats to Land's End and the female world record for running from the top to the bottom of Ireland as well as numerous Ultra Marathon podium finishes and course records. From a 352 mile self-sufficiency race in the Arctic (which she won by 24 hours, setting a course record) to the Double Badwater – 292 miles in temperatures hot enough to melt trainers, she has truly shown she could battle through anything. Something she knows about in more than the physical sense, having suffered with anorexia for 15 years of her life.
Mimi – you speak quite openly about your struggles with anorexia. What was it about running that it became your escape?
I suffered with anorexia from the age of 14 but it wasn't until the birth of my second child that I found the courage to ask for help. Up until that point I hadn't really been particularly sporty since leaving school but at the age of 36, a few years post recovery I discovered running - it changed my life.
My husband said that I swapped one addiction for another one, perhaps I had but running was a positive "addiction" rather than a potentially life threatening one.
Running has taught and given me so much. I now have much more confidence, my self-worth has returned and I love the sense of freedom running gives me. Creating, planning and setting new goals is something that really excites me. Running to the top of a big hill, stopping and looking at the view can take my breath away. It gives me the time and space to be on my own, to think about things that in my normal life I don't normally have the time to focus on. Running has allowed me to escape from the fear of eating. In order to do the sport I love I need to eat otherwise the energy levels get too low and I would crash and burn; I no longer see food as something to be afraid of.
I spent many years hating my body, I would look in the mirror and always see a fat person looking back at me but running has given me a new perspective on how I look, I feel empowered when I put on my running kit and no longer see that fat person looking back at me; it's enabled me to embrace who I am.
How do you make sure you're getting the right nutrition and consuming enough calories – do you try to be actively conscious that you're not tempted to be light on your intake?
Having spent many years counting calories and finding any excuse not to eat, I now try not to get too obsessed with my food intake as I want eating to be a pleasure not a chore. I'm not a massive "foodie" but I do enjoy eating and try to have a good healthy balanced diet, as well as some not so healthy treats such as crisps and chocolate, but I do love them! Some days I will eat less than other days just because I'm rushing around so forget to eat but I no longer consciously avoid eating in order to be thin.
Do you have any safeguards in place to make sure you're not slipping into bad habits?
On a day to day basis I know I won't slip back into any of my old habits, but I do struggle at the end of a long race (events over 100 miles) as I always lose weight - I have no idea how much weight I lose as I don't weigh myself but my clothes are usually baggy on me when the race is over. This is when I find I'm in dangerous territory as the old "anorexic me" pops up and I relish being back to the thinner me. A battle goes on in my head with the sensible part telling me how awful I look and the anorexic part saying how fabulous I look. I have never regressed back to how I was, that I'm forever thankful for. I do struggle for a few weeks post-race as the weight gradually returns to normal, the battle in my head continues but I eat normally knowing that if I restrict my food intake recovery will take longer. Once my body is back to its usual weight I never give it another thought.What advice or encouragement would you give to someone either suffering or finding recovery difficult?
Often people with eating disorders deny or don't realise there's a problem and finding the courage to ask for help is incredibly tough. Having someone they trust such as a friend, relation or perhaps a teacher, who could be a confident is a great place to start - or as I did - go and see your doctor. I practised what I was going to say to my doctor for days before my appointment and when the time came I found it extremely difficult to say the words out-loud but telling someone was the first of many steps in my recovery. If you can, find the courage and strength to say the words. Having the support of family and loving friends is invaluable, although they may, without realising it, at times say the wrong thing, ultimately they love you and only want to help.
Recovery can take a long time and there may be occasions when you have setbacks or have a bad day. Be proud of yourself and what you're trying to achieve, focus on the positive steps you have made, however small they are, they are all steps in the right direction. If you have a bad day accept it, throw it away and move on. Perhaps think about finding a new interest or hobby, something that distracts you from thinking about your body and food.
Are you ever conscious that you want to be as light as possible coming into a big run and how do you manage that process of being light without being too lean.
For years I would weigh myself 10 sometimes more times a day, I became obsessed with the number on the scales. If I put on even a pound it would determine my mood until the next time I stepped on the scales a few hours later. If the number went up my mood went down and vis-versa. Consequently I haven't had scales in my house for over 20 years. Even if I go to the doctors and need to be weighed I close my eyes and ask not to be told because I know even now I would worry about the number. Going into races I don't usually think about my weight or the need to be lighter as I'm already pretty lean and it would be detrimental to my performance to try and be too light. The only race where I had to think about my weight was the Arctic Race (352 miles non-stop) for that one I needed to try and put on weight as the temperatures went well below minus 30 and my body would be burning hundreds of calories simply trying to keep warm. I also had to pull a sled with all my kit so an extra few pounds was definitely beneficial. I manage to increase my weight (my clothes got tighter) which I have to admit I struggled with and should probably have put on slightly more but my brain simply couldn't cope!
What's your favourite way to recover from a big race?
My favourite way to recover after a big race is to have a lovely relaxing hot bath and clean clothes followed by food and a glass or two of wine - perfect recovery! A couple of days after the race I will have a sports massage just to iron out any niggles I may have picked up from the race, then I give my body time to recover properly before going back to training.
If you're struggling with your mental health, know you're not alone.
Help and resources can be found at https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
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