A good thing gone wrong?

Former anorexic Mimi Anderson intends to run the length of Great Britain (from John O'Groats in the north to Land's End in the south) to raise money for B-EAT, the British eating disorders charity. She is an "ultra-runner," meaning she regularly runs distances that are longer than marathon (26.2 miles) distance.

That Ms. Anderson is doing better with respect to her eating disorder--well enough to run such distances--is fantastic.

However, I'm wondering: should we be supporting such exertions in an ED sufferer, even if they claim their illness is behind them? What would B-EAT have to say?

The trip is 840 miles. Ms. Anderson will need to run for almost 13 days, at about 75 miles per day to break the record. That's three marathons each day.

It strikes me less that she has totally recovered from anorexia than she has found a way to substitute frightening amounts of exercise for restricted food intake.

Says Anderson in a newspaper interview: "Eating disorders are about control. People with them tend to be high achievers. Possibly I have swapped one thing for another, but I have to eat or I could not do what I do. So in that respect it has been fantastic and made me realise there are more important things in life."

Which could be true. Or it might not be. I'm wondering if Ms. Anderson would eat just as well if she weren't in training. Because running could be a way to purge those calories. And I'm not entirely positive how different it would be if the only reason you eat is so that you can run. More so, how would she feel if she couldn't run?

I don't want to accuse her of anything. No doubt she is genuine; but is she playing with fire? We wouldn't let an ex-alcoholic do a drink-a-thon to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Is there a real difference here?

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Steph said...

I can't help but agree with you're line
"is she playing with fire?"
It'll be interesting to see how she does. But I wish someone could confront her somehow, and make sure she ISN'T running as a form of purging (and just doing it because it's something she loves).

Tiptoe said...

I read this article as well this morning. It's truly hard to say for sure whether this person is using ultrarunning as another manifestation of her eating disorder or not. I think when you take someone who has had a past history of an ED and place them in a competitive sport, there is always the question of their true intentions in exercising. I know of a book out by Pam Reed, another ultramarathoner, (the first female to win the grueling Badwater race) who had anorexia and also said to have overcome it. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment as to an opinion.

In my blog, awhile back, I talked about that book Exercise Balance, and the authors do not think highly of ultrarunning, feeling like it is way unbalanced.

I'm kind of on the fence with this one. I've definitely seen both sides of the coin in terms of people with past history of eating disorders engage in sports competitively with a healthy attitude towards eating and exercising, and I've seen the opposite, especially evident in some running forums.

Carrie Arnold said...

The BIG red flag for me was when she said she "wasn't sure" if she had swapped exercise for not eating.

I think doing this for anyone borders on unhealthy, but for someone with her history, it strikes me as dangerous.

Yet I do think people with a history of eating disorders can come to exercise in a healthful way- in that sense, the book title you mentioned is perfect: "exercise balance". Running 60 miles a day is NOT balanced, in my opinion. I don't know- it could work for her, but I will probably remain suspicious.

Harriet said...

I'm suspicious too.

I've been thinking a lot about this right now with regard to my daughter, who is a competitive cyclist. In all honesty I wish she would take up knitting. She has always been athletic, and has always been single-minded when she finds something she's passionate about.

If she were biking 60 miles a day every day I would be taking action.

marcella said...

Getting a balance with exercise is so so difficult for people with eating disorders. My daughter's current problem is the inability to take any at all to the point of my ENCOURAGING her to take exercise (eeeeek - yes I'm worried this will backfire). As for B-EAT's attitude, I think they DO worry about the fact that marathons etc are such popular options for fundraising - not that the fundraising walk I took part in was overexercising, it was more like a restaurant crawl!!! Their latest idea is a fundraising brunch - http://www.b-eat.co.uk/Supportingbeat/beatbrunch
shall we have an online one?

A:) said...

I agree with you Carrie.

The medical director of our ED program said exercise (minimum of 3hrs/week) was a risk for relapse in some studies.

I'm always kind of suspicious of any ED individual who does a "walk" or "run" for recovery. It really is no different than holding an eating contest for a patient recovering for BED or as you said, an alcoholic holding a "Drink a Thon."

Raises awareness -- but what kind of awareness? -- I KNOW exercise will be risky for me for the rest of my life. I would worry that ED sufferers could see this as justification that you can be "partway" better.


Carrie Arnold said...


I wasn't thinking of you and your walk for BEAT when I wrote this. A (recovered/recovering) sufferer participating in a "leg" of the journey you did to support her mother wouldn't set off alarm bells. And there are benefits to exercise, too. I know I have to be careful, but it does help manage my anxiety, which comes out a lot in the form of jitters.

And I guess this woman is the only one who might really know for sure. Maybe not even her.

tokaiangel said...

I agree wholeheartedly - I'm not saying this is wrong, but it is certainly worrying both for the individual herself and the message it is sending to others.

Of course it is wonderful that she is doing something to raise awareness - but why not do something else? Why pick something where she MUST know her motives will appear suspicious?

Running any long distance will damage your body. It's a sports science fact. Should B-EAT be allowing her to do this - don't they have a responsibility to at least point out the negative physical consequences?

TA x

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the idea of non-exercise fund raisers. I wish we'd see more of them. Now it seems that every other week there is a walk for some cause or other. I have never participated in one, because if I want to go for a walk, I can do it without 10,000 people, and if I want to donate money to a cause, I can do it with my checkbook. But a brunch or lunch or dinner or concert- that I'd be interested in!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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