On coming up for air

Things have been better lately. You might think I’d have melted down over Thanksgiving, what with it being a holiday focused on food. Sure, there are themes of gratitude and family and sales on off-brand electronics, but all of these are commemorated with eating, which has the potential for disaster when you’re a neurotic, anxiety-prone bulimic. (Side note: I LOATHE THAT WORD. It’s right up there with “panties” and “Portugal” and “cockroach”, the latter of which is so vile I can barely stand to see it in print.)

To mitigate the urge to hugely overindulge on Thanksgiving itself, I made and snacked on extra versions of several of my favorite dishes in the preceding days, so when it came time for the big meal itself, I was less inclined to dive face first into all of the food. It was more like going to a strip club where half of the strippers are your ex-girlfriends; I was all STUFFING! TURKEY! but not all SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE! CORN BREAD PUDDING! since I’d been eating those a lot already and wasn’t excited about them anymore. It meant that the meal was nice and enjoyable but not so weighty and unmanageable that I had to barf it back up or cry over it. So, that was a win.

I did preemptively counteract Thanksgiving guilt by working out each day last week, despite it being a rest week. This included a ridiculous session of intensive cardio at the office gym several hours before Thanksgiving dinner, which left me nearly incapacitated for riding and ultimately led to learning a hard lesson: the body’s capacity for suffering has a limit. By Sunday, I’d so far surpassed that limit that I was actually willing to take a day entirely off exercise for the first time in over four weeks.

My inclination was to also take the day off from eating, but as I said before, things have been better lately and so I didn’t. A good friend talked some sense into me at a party one night last week; he’s a rider I have trusted and admired for several years, and for some reason his words actually sank in where nothing else seemed to have worked. He spoke frankly about the effects of my actions, pointing out that I could lose the spot I’d worked so hard to earn on my team and that my strength as a rider was being threatened directly by my actions. These things seem obvious, but I’ve been able to ignore or gloss over them for the last few months. This time, I finally heard them and started to feel like I could be different. It felt like I could trust his words and use them against the unhealthy voice.

He also told me, “Your weight was never the problem,” and, “We don’t train to lose weight, we train to get stronger.” These phrases stuck in my head so firmly that I think about them several times a day now and repeat them over and over. When I panic about something I’ve eaten or think about skipping food on a ride, I think of what he said and stop the behavior. It’s not 100% effective and there are a lot of bad habits left to break, but this feels like progress. This newfound wisdom made it feel okay to take a day off from working out while still allowing myself to have food.

Also, I used my free time on Sunday to try the Laotian menu at Bangkok Golden and it was so delicious, I ate two full entrees. So that pretty much put a damper on the whole “no exercise = no eat” plan anyway.

It feels good to be getting control of things a little. Sure, I Googled the caloric content of the cough drops I took earlier to help my sore throat, but that knowledge didn’t translate into then running for 30 seconds to burn it off (although I’m still thinking about those 20 calories nearly seven hours later). It feels almost like sanity begets sanity; after a few days of behaving almost normally, it starts to make normal behavior seem like the norm. Or in simpler terms, the farther I get from throwing up a milkshake, the more insane it seems to throw up a milkshake. And then one day in the future, while I’m puking my face off with a stomach virus or food poisoning, I’ll reflect on that part of my past and think, “I used to do this on purpose…WTF. IDIOT.”

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Friends, Life 1 Comment

In which I revisit milkshakes one last time

I don’t want to make every post about this eating disorder, but frankly, it’s the most interesting thing in my life at the moment and, gravity of the issue aside, it’s fertile ground for dark humor. When I’m crying over a pancake or bonking on a recovery spin, it doesn’t exactly seem funny, but in retrospect the absurdity is entertaining. In a sense, I’m laughing at me, not with me, but it brings perspective and makes me want to skip the mockery-worthy behavior in the future. Case in point: I rode extra long last Friday, cracked hard from lack of proper food, acknowledged this and vowed to be better, went out that same night for toasted marshmallow milkshakes, panicked, and hurried home to throw up.

I know. Terrible thing to do, etc. It was awful in the execution, not least of all because of this:20131126-202017.jpgWhen I throw up, blood vessels all around my eyes break and I end up looking speckled and diseased. On Friday night, it was the worst I’ve ever seen. Shockingly red and widespread. Why would anyone inflict this intentionally? Over a fluffy and delicious milkshake, no less. On the bright side, it tasted the same going out as it did going in, but I was in too big of a hurry to enjoy it. After all, I’d only manipulated Andrew into running down the street for a moment, so I was tight on time before he’d come back and be like, “Uh, yeah, so let’s not do this anymore.” And then I’d have to live with the unspeakable consequence of having a milkshake.

OH THE HORROR.

This probably doesn’t seem amusing to you, but it helps me to look back on the moments when this disorder was at its worst and be like, “dude, that shit I did was CRAY.” I see a person who was willing to hug a toilet bowl and snot out used milkshake and explode a constellation of blood vessels all over her face, and I can hardly believe that was me. It seems more like a Lifetime movie, some overblown caricature. But no, I actually rushed my husband home from Georgetown because I was in a hurry to get rid of marshmallow ice cream.

toasted-shake

As an aside, if you live in the DC area, go get a toasted marshmallow milkshake from Good Stuff Eatery. SO FREAKING GOOD. It’s so good, in fact, that I’d be willing to have it again and actually hang on to it all the way through normal digestion. If that’s not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

While I’m busy making lighthearted jokes at my own version of rock bottom, I’m also understanding the seriousness of the situation and deciding not to make that mistake again. I’m not ready to let go of the other behaviors yet, but that one can go. If I really want to re-experience something I’ve eaten, I’ll just order up another portion. And then ride for an extra three hours.

Posted on in Cycling, Friends 1 Comment

A Flat Learning Curve

I went on a ride today, bonked hard after an hour, continued to extend the ride unnecessarily, and finally limped home like a dying animal. (No, of course I did not have food with me.) Conclusions I drew from this experience:

  1. I should eat more in general, because if I am bonking on not-long/not-hard rides, I am not properly fed. (Hooray! I have permission to eat more!) (I will promptly forget this lesson several hours after the ride. As the day progresses, I will revert to thinking the same amount of food that was not enough yesterday will be enough today.)
  2. I should bring food on rides so hunger can be addressed before it becomes a serious problem. (I will not do this. If I bring food on the ride, then I’m taking in calories when I prefer to be expending only. Unless the ride is at least 2.5 hours, I’m packing water and that’s it. More than 3 hours and I might begrudgingly take in 100 calories. More calories than that and I’ll cry. Literally.)
  3. I should not ride for 30+ minutes more than my coach instructed. (But really, that ride plan is just a starting point for negotiation and nobody ever died from doing some extra exercise except the people that have but let’s ignore reality and common sense.)

I have drawn these same conclusions on probably 28 of my last 30 rides.

It’s all about small steps here. I haven’t thrown up in nearly a week, although admittedly I really wanted to the other night after eating frozen yogurt. The only thing stopping me was that I was out with Andrew and he wasn’t going to let me wander away from the shopping center to throw up in the bushes. WORST HUSBAND EVER.

Anyway, I honestly believed that I had been making progress with the not-bonking-on-easy-rides thing. When I first started winter training some weeks ago, I bonked after less than an hour of slow riding. I’d set out feeling okay and then the hollow feeling would start and I’d lose all energy and end up creeping down the road. My head would go fuzzy, riding in groups was hard to process mentally, busy intersections completely tripped me out because my brain was so muddled, and I’d get irrationally angry and yell at erratic squirrels. It was ugly, but served the purpose of motivating me to start eating more each day. I’d ride, suffer, bonk, eat more, and repeat day after day until the bonking decreased in frequency.

But then today happened and GAHHHHH it was bad. I felt the hollow sensation start while I was still riding away from home and knew it was time to turn around, but I had already decided to add an extra thirty minutes to the scheduled ride and refused to budge in this. (Yeah, I said small steps.) Shortly thereafter, I was hunched over the bars with my mouth drooping open and my eyes glued to the pavement a few feet in front of the bike. When I clipped a squirrel that darted under my wheel, I didn’t even have the energy to freak out; I could only muster a feeling of irritation and a brief moment of wondering what it would be like to eat him.

(Probably squishy. Not worth the calories.)

You would think I’d learn from this experience, but while I truly believe that I’m adapting my behavior accordingly, I’m actually not. This has been going on for weeks now with only glacial improvement. During each ride, I’ll plan what to eat for the rest of the day to ensure I’m fueled for the following days. But if I decide mid-ride to eat X, Y, and Z, by the time I should be eating X, Y, and Z, I’ll have settled on eating X, Y/2, and no Z.

Sometimes I’ll grow aggressively tired of so much restriction and devour X, Y, Z, and Wx10. That’s when Andrew ends up following me around and not letting me go into the bushes or the bathroom for more than a few minutes. (I’m sort of joking. Sort of not. This isn’t exactly a regular occurrence, but I’m pretty sure this is a zero occurrence for normal people.)

Despite my tendency to overdo it, training is good because it forces me to face the reality of these bad decisions each day. It’s very incremental, but I am taking steps to eat more and actually recognize what isn’t enough food to sustain training. Riding isn’t fun when it’s miserable (duh) and I hate feeling slow. Even if I’m worried about eating more or feel guilty about it, the reward of riding better is almost enough to make it feel okay.

My new therapist wants me to argue with the voice in my head when it tells me to make stupid choices, try distracting myself when the food guilt gets bad, and stop saying “should”. I didn’t realize how many shoulds I have floating around constantly: I should ride longer, should eat less, shouldn’t eat that, should vacuum the house instead of relaxing. At first I thought that letting go of all of the shoulds would be stupid, because what about the good voice that tells me, “you should eat a bigger lunch so you’re not miserable”? But then I figured it out. Just eat the damn lunch and don’t spend a moment thinking about it. Just be where you are doing what you want and that’s enough. That’s living. Life is too short to always think you should be doing something else.

To everybody who has reached out with supportive words in the past few days, thank you. I cannot tell you how much it means to expose all of this and be met with acceptance, warmth, and encouragement. While it’s an internal battle to break out of these habits, having such strength and support externally really does make a difference. When I can finally get past this, I’m going to bake all of you a thank-you cake, eat it, and not feel one damn bit of guilt.

Posted on in Cycling, Life 2 Comments

An unflinching portrait of an eating disorder

A while back, I stopped telling you things that were going to make me look bad. I’m a professional cyclist with sponsors on my kit, so it felt like I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, say things that didn’t sound strong, confident, thrilled. Bad race? I’d make the report short and generic. Bad training period? Radio silence.

But that makes for a boring blog. I don’t like boring. So here is something: I have an eating disorder.

I’ve always had a preoccupation with food. Is this bad thing I’m eating going to make me fatter? Slower? Less good in some way? But I never had the willpower to take it beyond the worrying phase. In fact, I’ve been famous on my team for eating more than most people. I could really do some serious damage to food. I loved eating, trying interesting or tasty things, going out for dinner or dessert or coffee. And those habits never treated me badly. I enjoyed my life, rode hard and strong, and things just worked.

At some point, the balance tipped. Frankly, I lost my f*cking mind.

It started after the Vegas/Boston trip. I had a lot of splurges on that trip and came back determined to be “well-behaved” for a bit to make up for it. I guess I thought I had a pound or two to lose, not based empirical evidence since I don’t own a scale, but strictly based on something cooked up (haa!) in my head. So I downloaded a calorie-counting iPhone app and started tracking my food intake. It didn’t seem bad at first. Just proactive.

Except that I wasn’t even eating 2,000 calories a day and was still getting on the bike and riding for 1-2 hours a day. It was rough – I would get fuzzy and cracked on the rides – but it also felt empowering. I’m riding at a deficit! I’m going to get rid of excess weight and really lean out! People who heard about this were like, um, you sound hungry and a little nuts, but I felt in control and awesome. And yeah, also hungry.

Then rest month officially started and it didn’t seem like I had reason to start eating more. So the restricting continued, occasionally punctuated by “cheat days” where I’d restrict more in preparation for a big night out. Then I’d go crazy, eat and drink everything in sight to the point of discomfort, and be filled with self-loathing and regret. That regret would translate into needing to super-restrict the next day to make up for the excess calories consumed.

After a few weeks and a vicious cycle of rules/control/perfection followed by crashing/binging/guilt, I started training again. Of course I felt like crap on the bike. I was coming back from several weeks off and being underfed and filled with bad feelings. At some point at the beginning of this mess, I assumed I’d start eating normally once training resumed, but by this point, what I used to eat felt positively elephantine in retrospect. You mean I used to eat THAT for lunch? Ha! I’ll be fine with this bowl of vegetables and small portion of lean meat.

Then things started to get more out of control. This next part is not for the faint of heart. I’d tried a few times in the past to, uh, return regrettable food but had always failed and given up. Recently I became a lot more determined. I actually managed to throw up a bunch of desserts that I had shoveled down one night in frenzy of intense craving. I felt disgusted and horrified after it was done, but also a little relieved. Like, dude, you can eat some serious crap and then get rid of it! No harm, no foul! Except yeah, it’s crazy foul and harmful, but in the moment, it just felt like escaping from the repercussions of a bad decision.

When that happened for the first time, I thought it was a one-time, super-bad-choice type of thing. And then I ate some more things that I regretted a week later, and when I knew there was a way out, it didn’t seem like such a ridiculous choice. It’s not like I was throwing up healthy, beneficial food, right? So it happened again. And then again. And then it got to the point where even a big but relatively healthy meal started to feel like a huge, miserable imposition that needed to come out. And that’s how I found myself kneeling over a toilet at the office one night trying to throw up an order of Pad Thai. When that failed, I bought sneakers and a day pass to the local gym the next day to do an hour of intense cardio since it was a rest day off the bike. I’ve gone running every scheduled rest day since then, because I can’t let go of this fear enough to just sit still.

So things have gotten out of control. I’ve told a few people close to me, alluded to it with others, and now I am telling the whole world because I don’t want to hide this. It feels mortifying and pathetic and weak, but I’m not a pathetic or weak person and I’ve realized that people in the grip of eating disorders aren’t either. It’s like your brain gets taken over by this dark, parasitic voice that starts to influence more and more of your thoughts. I’m not stupid – I know what I’m doing is insane and unhealthy. I know I need to eat and not make myself sick, but in the moment, the pull, the voice, the negative thoughts are so strong it’s like there is nothing else in the world. I’m trying to turn this hatred against myself, my body, and food into a hatred against this thing that has taken over my brain. Sometimes I get so angry or fed up at the absurdity and sickness of it all that it feels like I’m breaking free, but then it’s back and settles like a dark fog over my thoughts. And then anything except spinach feels like a reason for remorse.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking things like, “Why don’t you just eat? Do you know how bad this is for you? Do you know this could end your cycling career? Don’t you know [insert nutrition fact here]?” Yes. Yes, I know those things. I’ve read a dozen books, a hundred articles. I’ve heard advice from smart people and I’m not clueless. It’s like being possessed by the dumbest, most dangerous thing you can imagine and it lives to turn me against myself. I’m literally afraid of food, but also obsessed with it. I don’t even have a specific goal, no target weight or look I’m trying to achieve. I don’t lack confidence or feel unloved. I just feel like I need to do this thing, like any deviation from a perfect diet is going to, uh, kill me? No clue. No logic. Don’t bother looking for any here. There is none to be found.

In doing research to better understand this disorder, I read a news article about pro-ana (pro-anorexic) websites. I went to one of those sites in hopes of shocking myself into distancing from that crowd and yeah, some of the pictures of “exemplary” women were horrifying. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be that sickly and thin. And then I read the “Commandments” of pro-ana behavior:

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.50.42 PM
My first instinct was to scoff at how absurd those people are to believe such unhealthy bullsh*t. I literally mocked it out loud. But then I thought about it and considered what that little voice telling me to do this crazy crap would say. What does that part of me believe? The answer was horrifying: at the core, I have fallen into believing roughly 75% of those commandments. That’s insane! I actually BELIEVE this BS! I now live my life according to the rules of people who are starving themselves to death!

The good news is that I can at least recognize this, and that’s a start. I want to be better. I want to go back to being able to eat cake and not hate myself or feel compelled to go exercise immediately. I will not let this ruin everything I’ve built in my life. It’s been less than two months, but that’s too long already. It feels silly to make a deal of this now; shouldn’t I wait until I weigh 85 pounds and pass out at a race or something? But I don’t want to get to that point. I want this fixed now.

I’m afraid of the repercussions of telling the world, of admitting this in a sport where the competitive landscape means showing weakness can be career suicide, but I’m more afraid of what will happen if I don’t admit to this and fix it. I am willing to own this. Yup, I’m Lindsay, I’m a professional cyclist, and I have an eating disorder. It happens to people you know, people you ride with, people you eat cake with, people you think love food and seem healthy and sane. There is so much noise in our world and this sport that helps people like me build a case against themselves – directors saying, “she’s a great rider but she needs to lose weight,” people scoffing when racers eat foods perceived as bad, books touting the benefit of being leaner and tighter, people online bragging about weighing their food portions or eating only organic superfoods. In just the past few weeks, a dozen people around me have excused eating behaviors as, “Oh, well it’s rest month!” So, what, eating bad things that are only okay because we’re not accountable to training at the moment? What happened to balance and enjoying life? When you hear enough noise and it joins the deafening chorus in your head, you can open the door to crazy very quickly.

So I am getting help. I will get out of this. I want to fix this before hard winter training gets underway, before the race season starts, before I do irreparable damage. I don’t want to be known as just another girl/cyclist with an eating disorder; I want to be know as somebody who stood up to it and came out the other side healthy and happy.

The secret is out. Now you know.

Posted on in Cycling, Life, Sadness 12 Comments

In which I finally churn out one last race report

The Race: TD Bank Mayor’s Cup Criterium
The Course: 60 minutes of racing, 0.7 mile laps
The Field: Pro Women
The Finish: Jen in 5th and the rest of us completely cashed

Arriving in Boston (a city I love) after leaving Vegas (a city I do not love) was a huge relief. I’d only been to Boston twice before, both times just for racing, but it’s my kind of city and I’d happily move there if not for winter. It was also exciting to deplane and see Andrew, who had left work in DC and flown directly to Boston to spend the weekend with the team.

The race was the following afternoon, which gave us just enough time to settle in, get a little sleep, have a dozen cups of coffee, and head out for the race. Since this was almost a month ago, the details are somewhat blurry – I remember feeling relieved yet sad that the season was coming to a close, and being exceptionally hyper on the start line because Mary had passed around caffeine pills to get our travel-weary bodies fired up. The race itself went well enough; despite a good bit of collective fatigue, Mary, Whitney, and I rallied to cover attacks and make moves. The team picked up some primes and set Jen up for the field sprint, where she finished 5th. Erica Allar, the super sprinter who signed with Colavita for the 2014 season, won the race.

Then it was time to celebrate the end of a long, hard, amazing season. The girls headed back to the house to get cleaned up before our team/sponsor dinner in Harvard Square, while I took advantage of the free sports club access provided with my race number to shower downtown and explore the city with Andrew.

IMG_0607

After setting out to walk the several miles between the race venue and Harvard Square, I remembered that walking sucks and we rented city bikes to ride the rest of the way to the restaurant.

IMG_0610

I was terrible at riding the rental bike. It was awkward and lumbering, so while Andrew hopped around nimbly and confidently, I focused on not crashing or getting hit. It was admittedly fun, if not a bit unsettling.

Following the team dinner, we all went out for drinks. I’d share details, except unlike Vegas, what happens in Boston stays in Boston. When the bar closed, we headed back to the house but ended up detouring (like, a significant distance of 30+ minutes of driving) for a visit to Denny’s. It pretty much sums up the Denny’s experience to say that a guy pulled up as we were walking in, rolled his window down, and announced, “Hey…if you throw up in there, they make you leave.”

IMG_0613

Whitney and I in rare form at Denny’s. This is apparently the way my face looks after consuming an Oreo milkshake, pancakes, eggs, biscuits, chicken sausage, and pancake puppies. Oh, and copious amounts of alcohol.

IMG_0611

Scoots was having a blast making friends at other tables. Meanwhile, Lance supervised our antics and Andrew missed the entire visit after peaking a few hours earlier in the night. Jen also missed the Denny’s trip because she was in the conduit. I’d explain, but there are no words.

While Jen and Whitney caught morning flights home, Andrew and I stayed in Boston for an extra day. We started our Sunday morning off painfully early with a sponsor promotional event at a grocery store. It was awkward at first, but then we got into things and then suddenly I was handing out dozens of tiny bottles of olive oil to unsuspecting customers while gushing about the “fruity and delicious” taste of Colavita.

IMG_0614

Nothing like talking up delicious olive oil after two hours of sleep. That hangover felt AMAZING.

After that, we had a lovely afternoon and evening together and tested the limits of how many jumping adults one trampoline can hold. It was a wonderful end to the season and I can’t wait (okay, that’s a lie, I’m happy to wait a few months) to get started on the next one.

Posted on in Cycling, Friends, Travel Comments Off