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May 16, 2019

A Letter to Track and Cross-Country Runners

Female runner battling Athletes with eating disorders

Amanda Schlitzer Tierney, MS, CSCS – Strength and Conditioning Coach at The Victory Program at McCallum Place

Dear Track and Cross-Country Runners,

To the competitors at the height of your career, retired recreational runners and the aspiring runners seeking mentorship, guidance, and inspiration…I see you, I hear you, and I am with you.

Throughout the years in my role as an eating disorder informed/sensitive strength and conditioning coach, I have listened to countless stories of runners in all seasons of life. The common theme stringing each athlete together is their infinite adoration for embracing the freedom and adventure that comes with lacing up a pair of sneakers. Each runner expressed the great community they entered through embracing the thrill of athletic competition, striving toward a variety of personal and team triumphs, and the joyful exploration of this world, by foot.

Unfortunately, every runner that I have worked with, in the context of eating disorder treatment, has devastatingly faced the gripping and raw experience of the love, joy, and passion for running being stripped away from their hearts due to the manipulative and alluring comfort that the eating disorder provides them.

I write to you, today, not as a voice of authority – but as an empathetic and non-judgmental ally towards your athletic and life aspirations.

Please know that I understand that disordered eating and exercise patterns are, quite literally, running rampant in your athletic environments. I know the pressure and request to be “lean and mean” or “thinner to be the winner” are very real. Motivated to decrease the measurements on stopwatches and uniform sizes, defining worth, all the while being applauded for a strong work ethic and dedication to the sport. I truly understand that these messages and our sport’s culture can lead you down a painful path of comparisons, negative self-talk, and eating or exercising in an unbalanced way in order to manipulate your weight or body composition…to fit someone else’s idyllic expectations.

I am fully aware that wanting to spend extra time and energy, developing your athletic talents, abilities, endurance, speed, and significance can morph into a narrow place where one solely focuses on crafting a perfect outcome rather than striving for joyfulness in athletic excellence. I, recurrently, watch this mindset swiftly lead runners to a place of resentment and loss of passion for the very endeavor that once brought them true joy, while stealing their focus, strength, and overall well-being.

Attempting to gain a competitive advantage through enduring a state of energy deficiency ends up creating more baggage to run with. Without proper nourishment, sport performance will inevitably decline. Under-fueling is simply not sustainable.

When we neglect to give our bodies’ suitable nourishment, hydration and rest we hold back our performance potential and are actually working against our body, instead of with it! Nurturing our bodies and minds not only gives us what we need for our optimal performance but also our lives beyond sport! It’s an absolute gift to watch runners as they rediscover the opportunities, flexibility, and freedom in life and sport, once adequately nourished, hydrated, rested, and focused on the life beyond this narrow and painful trail.

Understandably, it can be intimidating to take the next step and seek treatment for unbalanced eating and exercise patterns. I recognize the concern about perceived changes to body composition, athletic performance, and sport future. I am aware that there is a fear associated with a decrease in training intensity, volume, and frequency. The vulnerability and perseverance needed to heal from a metabolic injury can feel overwhelming. I empathize and truly have hope that you can navigate these challenges as you commit to taking the needed time off from running to heal your body and mind.

Being a runner provides you with the gift of important life lessons. If stuck on the dead-end path of inadequate food intake, unbalanced exercise, and self-defeating comparisons, you may miss them.

Please remember that not all strength is developed on the race course. Your true strength comes from within. Enjoy the journey. Remember the adventurous thrill that athletic competition brings. Marvel at the wonders that your body is capable of. Celebrate with joy during your winning seasons. Sit, learn, and reflect during the seasons that bring setbacks, disappointments, and defeat. As a runner, you will absolutely encounter your share of obstacles. Find value in each experience.

There is absolutely hope when you feel stuck!

THE EATING DISORDERS IN SPORT 2019 CONFERENCE

Eating Disorders in Sport 2019 Conference Banner - The Victory Program

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The Eating Disorders in Sport 2019 Conference is the only conference dedicated to the treatment of athletes with eating disorders. Athletes with eating disorders, and those who treat them face unique challenges in developing a more wholesome relationship with food, body, and sport.

The Eating Disorders in Sport Conference is a unique place to explore these challenges and will provide continuing education credits for psychologists, counselors, social workers, registered dietitians, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches and will be held at the David Brower Center in beautiful downtown Berkeley, California.

My hope for you is that you may:

  • Seek out the support needed to cultivate healing in your athletic setting.
  • Advocate for your needs and overall well-being when the goodhearted supports in your life are not yet equipped with the knowledge to help you navigate this painful situation.
  • Find your voice!
  • Meet yourself where you are!
  • Challenge the desire of reaching for instant gratification and instead focus on your long-term health, happiness, and success.
  • Find the clarity to focus on other factors that contribute to sport performance beyond body weight and composition – (e.g. confidence, learning from mistakes, hard work, strength, flexibility, balance, rest, knowledge of the sport, etc.)
  • Keep running a sacred place: one filled with compassion, grace, creativity, and adventure. Tapping into these principles are a true strength and will help you cultivate your resilience and regain passion.
  • Get familiar with your values, talents, contributions, gifts, and quicks…Explore what energizes you!
  • Be loyal to your body, whole self, and unique experience.
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Just a reminder:

You are more than a track and cross-country runner. Your race times don’t wholly define you. They define your running abilities during that snapshot in time. You are more than your ranking, accomplishments, body composition and the outcome of yesterday’s training session. You have determination. You have passion. Your resilience is enduring. Working through these challenges will set you on a path to develop more mental toughness and grit than unbalanced exercise and eating patterns can ever provide to you! There is hope!

Happy Trails,
Amanda Schlitzer Tierney, MS, CSCS – Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Victory Program at McCallum Place


About the Sponsor:

McCallum Place is a nationally recognized eating disorder treatment center where professionals can help guide you through the process of treatment and recovery every step of the way. We operate treatment facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, that offers comprehensive medical, nutritional, and psychological care within the flexibility of several levels of treatment for adult men and women, adolescents, and elite athletes alike. We will work with you personally to create a treatment program that is right for you.


About the Author:

Amanda Schlitzer Tierney, MS, CSCS – Strength and Conditioning Coach at The Victory Program at McCallum Place

Amanda Schlitzer TierneyAmanda is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and holds her Master’s degree in Sport Science/ Exercise Psychology from Lock Haven University and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College. She is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for The Victory Program at McCallum Place and is the Owner/Founder of Discovering Balance: Fitness Coaching and Support.

Amanda is an affiliated professional of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance and is currently the Co-Chair of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology: Eating Disorder Special Interest Group. Amanda has been working with athletes and non-athletes with eating disorders since 2006. Over the years, Amanda gained a wide-range of knowledge for this specialized population and found her true passion: helping individuals incorporate balanced exercise into the recovery environment.

Amanda’s goal as a Strength and Conditioning Coach is working with individuals to help identify unhealthy exercise thoughts and behaviors and supporting them in redefining their relationship with fitness. She aims to help her patients find a balance between challenging the body and bringing the fun back to exercise. She encourages listening to one’s body cues and adequate fueling to maintain a healthy body and mind. Amanda’s target reaches beyond the patient and she strives to educate athletes, teams, coaches, parents, athletic trainers, and sport medicine personnel on how to work with this specialized population.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 16, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 16, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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