Over the past few weeks, our blog has been chock full of food tips and biomarker-friendly recipes for National Nutrition Month. This week, I thought it was important to shift our focus to a nutrition-related topic that probably doesn't get the attention it should, especially in the world of endurance sports: eating disorders – specifically, the challenges to performance they present, and of course, recovery from them.
In this video interview, I'm joined by the amazing Sarah Canney. She's a marathoner, coach, mom, InsideTracker power user, and advocate for eating disorder recovery. Sarah opened up about her own nine-year-long struggle with anorexia and bulimia, how it affected her performance and quality of life, and how she used InsideTracker to get a better handle on what her body was really trying to tell her. She now eats healthy fats like avocados, and consumes 2-3 times the amount of calories than while she was struggling with bulimia – yet she weighs less, performs better, and is happy and healthy.
"I went from a place where I really was at war with my body, basically just tearing it down in the worst way possible by either restricting or binging and then purging...to honoring my body, focusing on repairing the damage that I did, and really just learning to eat intuitively," Sarah says.
Watch the video interview below to find out what Sarah learned, and how she healed herself. Eating disorders are often suffered in silence, and they're far more common in the endurance athlete community than you might think.
00:00 - Intro
00:55 - Sarah's history with eating disorders
02:30 - Why Sarah turned to InsideTracker
04:00 - Discovering the areas she needed to improve on
05:25 - Taking care of herself as a mother
07:30 - How the InsideTracker recommendation have affected her
08:30 - Going from being "fat phobic" to a "healthy fats lover"
09:40 - Eating more now and weighing the same as when she had her ED
10:45 - BMI's influence on InnerAge
12:00 - The main results that suprised her (hint: her testosterone)
13:45 - Advice for those suffering from an ED
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Erin: Hey everybody. Really excited to be here with our latest guest, Sarah Canney. She is a mom, a coach, a marathoner and most interestingly I think an advocate for eating disorder recovery. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us.
Sarah: Yeah, it's a pleasure. I'm happy to be here with you today.
Erin: For sure. So you are in an area that we haven't really touched on much but given that we're a nutrition-focused company and we work with a lot of athletes obviously it's something that we really should be talking about and I think it's really interesting, especially given the number of endurance athletes and women that are using our product. And as I'm sure you're going to be able speak to eating disorders are rather prevalent in both populations. So let's just start out by talking about some of the work that you do and the results that you had using Inside Tracker.
Sarah: Yeah. So like you mentioned I do a lot with eating disorder recovery advocacy. I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for 9 years, pretty much most of my adult life from the age of 18 until 27-28 was where I was fully recovered. And so I've been – I guess what I like to say is sober for the last 7 years. So just the symptom behavior-free just a totally different person than I used to be. So it's something that I talk a lot about on my blog which is runfargirl.com and I write pretty frequently about private struggles as well. So and I'm just really passionate about it because for those 9 years that I struggled, it was really tough. So it can be a really sad place to be and if you don't have anyone speaking hope and light, you kind of feel like you're going to be there forever. So my goal is to share that there is freedom that you can completely recover and really just sort of offer that to hopefully someone who is struggling.
So and I tested with Inside Tracker, I mean my goal with that was to just be more informed about what's going on inside my body. Over the last 7 years I went from a place where I really was at war with my body, basically just tearing it down in the worst way possible by either restricting or binging and then purging in multiple ways: laxatives, over-exercising, sort of the classic purging through throwing up.
So all those things just wreaked havoc on my body really and so the last 7 years have really just been about honoring my body, focusing on repairing the damage that I did and really just learning to eat intuitively. That is a huge thing that you have to start to relearn when you're in recovery. And so what I wanted to find out with Inside Tracker is you know, now that I'm sort of 7 years into living a healthy life to really honoring my body and listening to my body, you know where I am at first, what are the things I'm doing well and what are things that I need to maybe work on? And so I thought like testing with Inside Tracker will give me that sort of insight.
Erin: And did it?
Sarah: And it did, yes. It did. So I found out a lot and I will add that when I tested with Inside Tracker I was still breastfeeding so I just had my third baby and so I sort of on the tail end of finishing up with nursing. And so that definitely affected some of my results, just your hormones are still all over the place. But the baseline that I got really kind of showed me a few things that I needed to improve. One of them was ferritin levels, iron levels...
Erin: Me, too.
Sarah: Yeah, I know. It's super, super common among women to have that low ferritin and low vitamin D. Those were sort of the big ones. And then what actually happened I ended up with really high testosterone which factoring in the breastfeeding, it was still sort of a red flag among some other symptoms that I had experienced and so I ended up going to my physician just to make sure everything was okay and I ended up being – you know, she sort of checked it up to just hormones in breastfeeding but I think one of the things especially mothers have a tendency not to take care of themselves...
Sarah: ...and I definitely fall into that category. I mean I've had – over the last almost 7 years I've had 3 babies...
Sarah: And so that’s my – you know I see my doctor, you know I had to have visits around childbirth and child-related I guess but I haven't had a physical in over 7 years. So it was time to go for me, for just me. You know obviously when you are pregnant they're checking everything, they're checking the maternal health as well as the fetal health but I needed to go in just me, not pregnant and get a physical. And I was able to take my results from Inside Tracker and have a really great discussion with my physician. And so I feel like the Inside Tracker results are really or the test results that you get are really a tool for better health so...
Erin: So you know I'm going to ask something that I think probably people who have not dealt with disorder of eating either themselves or with a significant other, a friend or whatever may not quite understand but I think you will.
Erin: When people are in that mindset of you know it's really sort of fear mentality, right? You become very fearful of losing control of – just eating something that you shouldn't whatever the case maybe but there's ultimately this sort of fear of food for many, many people. And with InsideTracker you're seeing these things very clearly, right? So you can't argue with certain numbers. It's not what you look like. It's actually what's going on inside. And so even though you've been past your disorder which is wonderful, did you find yourself having any sort of reaction to maybe the food recommendations or to seeing what was actually going on versus what you maybe were putting inside your body? And again, the average person might not think about this but someone who is consumed with the idea of caloric intake probably would be.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean I think thankfully I'm at that point in my recovery where those types of thoughts really are not part of my – they're just not in my mind anymore which is a really great place to be. But I recognize that a lot of people aren't there yet. So yeah, I can see how – you know, sometimes when you break things down there's a temptation to sort of exert even more control but I think one thing that I appreciate about the InsideTracker result other than the feedback that you get is that there are whole food recommendations so...
And yeah, some of those recommendations are probably higher in fat but fat is so essential to fat-soluble vitamins and it's essential for hormones and you know, I remember being incredibly fat phobic during my struggle. And even the process of sort of getting out of that and realizing okay, this is really where I need to be focusing on. So one of the recommendations that I had was for vitamin D and iron and I ended up swapping out sort of my normal snack which was just to grab like a protein bar or whatever for half an avocado.
So I made that swap and you would think like “oh, but that's so full of fat” but it actually is doing so much more for your body, you're getting so much more out of it in terms of the nutrient density. You know and I think a lot of people shy away from eating a large volume of food but sometimes what happens and I know that this is true of me that when you're extremely restrictive you really mess up your metabolism or even if you're just slightly restrictive that can really mess up your metabolism as well. And so what happens is that your body just wants to hold on to everything and I've noticed that I probably eat 2 to 3 times more in terms of volume and calories than I did when I was struggling with an eating disorder. And I actually weigh – right now I weigh the amount that I sort of – when I was bulimic I was striving to weigh...
Erin: Wow, yeah.
Sarah: You know, I was striving to weigh this number through binging and was sort of just really struggling through binging and purging and eating half of what I eat now. And now I eat twice that, exercise healthy, eat a large volume of food and I'm at the weight that I wished I could have been at when I was bulimic. So it's sort of a fate that’s come full circle. I think a lot of people just don't eat as much as they should be eating. And I think that's one of the recommendations that Inside Tracker touched upon.
Erin: Yeah, an interesting insight. I don't know if you also got your inner age with your Inside Tracker test but one of the things that's factored in actually is BMI. And sure BMI is controversial if you’re lying back in a [inaudible 11:15], you’re an exceptional case. But more or less it was actually interesting to me because I saw that my inner age was being increased because of my low BMI and it turns out there's actually a cutoff so you certainly don't want to have a BMI that's too high and it negatively affects your biological age but also if you're below a certain threshold which actually I didn't think was all that low it can also adversely – there's studies showing it adversely affects longevity and I thought that was really interesting.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah, there's definitely a sweet spot where you want to be so and I think Inside Tracker can help you find out where that is. Because it's different for everyone.
Sarah: And definitely the blood work is what gives you those individualized results and an individualized recommendation so...
Erin: Have there been any nutritional changes that you've made based on your Inside Tracker results? You mentioned the avocado. Was there anything that surprised you?
Sarah: The big surprise was the testosterone that – I mean I kind of had an idea that maybe my iron would be low and that there might be a couple of other maybe vitamin deficiencies. And so the big changes that I made were just incorporating more fish. No one else in my family likes fish so I tend not to make fish very frequently. So I've just found other ways that I normally – I just had to think outside the box how can I get more fish into my diet. So things like smoked salmon, canned fish like tuna, those types of things I've been sort of adding in on a weekly basis and then trying to get some grilled fish or something like that as well.
But I think – one thing, it just made me more conscious about my meal planning. You know, when I sit down at the beginning or at the end of the week to plan the meals for the family for the coming week, I've just been sort of making my grocery shopping decisions based on my recommendations. So it's definitely informed what I do on a weekly basis. So that's probably the biggest change.
Erin: That's what we like to hear. Before I let you go what's, I guess one piece of advice that you would give to marathoners or endurance athletes like yourself who are struggling whether openly or not with disorder of eating and I think we all know who we are. Because we all know when we are being hyper vigilant or critical with our bodies.
Sarah: Yeah, I mean I think the biggest thing is that I guess first of all you don't have to live like that and you don't have to be consumed by the thought of what you're going to eat, what you ate, how many calories it is, how many calories you're going to burn when you run. It becomes all-consuming and it really starts to affect your life, your relationships, your quality of life, your outlook. And I guess the biggest thing I would say is you don't have to live like that. There's a better life out there.
And I would say the path to get there is really seeking professional help. That was really a turning point for me, it was seeing a therapist who specialized in eating disorders so they knew sort of what they were dealing with. And I bounced around to different therapists and councilors until I found someone who actually understood eating disorders and understood me. Because there are plenty of great therapists out there who don't specialize in eating disorders and so you really want to find a good therapist and then also a dietitian, a registered dietitian who can really be objective, walk you through where you need to be with your nutrition. And hopefully supportive friends and family to sort of rally around you and really give you the support that you need.
Erin: Well, thank you Sarah for sharing your story with us. I really appreciate it, it's such an important topic and we haven't covered it yet. So thank you and I'm really glad that you're healthy now.
Sarah: Thank you. I appreciate that.
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