Disordered Eating in the Running Community with Serena Marie

Leah Kern, RD
Shoulders Down

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[0:00] Entering the sport assuming that you need to look a certain way and lose a bunch of weight in order to be a runner does kind of cause that preoccupation with food and that higher risk for eating disorders.

[0:10] Music.

[0:17] Welcome to Shoulders Down, a podcast for truth seekers who want to heal their relationships with food and body.
I'm your host, Leah Kern, and I'm an anti-diet dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor, and fellow truth seeker with personal experience navigating disordered eating.
In this podcast, you'll learn to harness your body's innate wisdom to govern not just how you eat, but also how you live.
It's my mission to help you heal your relationship with food and body so you can live your most aligned and fulfilling life.
Welcome, and I'm so glad that you're here.

[0:49] Music.

[0:54] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Shoulders Down.
Today, we have a wonderful guest for you, Serena Marie, who is a registered dietitian specifically for runners.
And she is a wonderful human. We recently got connected. I was on her podcast recently, and it was really a great conversation.
So we talk about running. I haven't really shared so much on this podcast on Shoulders Down about my story with my relationship with running.
I think I do in one episode, I like briefly touch on it in the My Story episode, which was several months ago.
It's called My Story in parentheses, unfiltered the whole saga, which details my story with my relationship with food and body.
But in general, it's like not such a huge part of my identity.
I've had sort of a casual relationship with mid-distance running for for some time and that relationship has evolved as my relationship with food and body has evolved.
So if you want to learn more about my story with running, definitely to check out Serena's podcast because I dive into more depth on it there.

[2:02] And without further ado, we're going to introduce Serena, read her bio, and then dive right into today's episode.
Serena Marie RD is a registered dietitian, public speaker, and running coach specializing in helping active females shift their focus from shrinking to fueling their big dreams.
Serena uses a unique blend of intuitive eating, somatic counseling techniques, and running nutrition to help female runners fuel their personal records, run further than ever, and learn finally to feel comfortable in their bodies.
She's a runner herself and has run four BQs, 29 half marathons, and seven marathons.
For more info, send Serena a DM on Instagram at SerenaMarieRD and ask for her free resources.
Welcome to the podcast, Serena. I'm excited to chat with you on my podcast today. I'm excited.
Yeah. I would love if we could just start by chatting about your story with your relationship with food and body and also how you got into supporting runners in as much detail as you're comfortable sharing.

[3:05] Yeah. I mean, I've got quite the story to share.
I still get shame sharing the the story, which is so not that it's silly, but I've shared it so many times and I work in eating disorders.
So I probably should get a little bit more comfortable sharing this.
But essentially, when I was 13 years old, I started running because I wanted to lose weight, which is so crazy to think about now as a 35-year-old woman.
I was teased because of my body shape in middle middle school.
And actually, I was on the lacrosse team. And my coach mentioned that like, I never got tired, and I would be a good runner.
And so I was kind of realizing, oh, I could join the cross country team, and I could lose all this weight, and no one's gonna make fun of me anymore.

[3:50] And so that kind of was my introduction to thinking about calories and burning calories and using running as a tool to lose weight, essentially.
And that kind of quickly escalated, I joined the running team in my high school in my sophomore year.
And the summer before I joined cross country, I remember I was trying to like get fit enough to be on the team.
And I took it to an extreme. I like stopped eating.
I would only eat raisins. I mean, just very, very extreme behaviors.
And I lost a lot of weight.
And I kept that up for a few months. But very quickly, sometime in my sophomore year, I started developing binge eating, which which then developed into bulimia.
So I have a very common but unfortunate story because I really struggled with binging and purging until I was like 25 or 26.
It was just one of those things where no one really knew it was happening.
I was really good at keeping it a secret. And.

[4:50] I was running, I was running marathon, ran my first marathon in college, and I just kept running long distance runs all throughout my 20s into my 30s, but really just kind of had this very, very damaged relationship with food.
Even after graduating with a degree in nutrition and becoming a dietitian, I just kind of kept this my secret.

[5:10] And yeah, really did not have a good relationship with food or exercise at all.
Yeah, was there like a rock bottom moment or a moment of you coming to terms with realizing?
Oh my god I I really am struggling you know, it's so funny because I don't think I realized how sick I was because I was just kind of like Oh, I just you know I just will purge sometimes and then I won't and I always felt like it was this like Oh, this is my last time it was there was so much like cognitive dissonance Like I really did not realize how much I was struggling when it was going on.
And I think the thing that really kind of led to me finally realizing like this is a problem and I really need to figure out a way to stop was when I was 27 or 28, I broke my foot just going down the stairs.
And I ended up, you know, going to like get an x-ray and going to all these doctors.
And, you know, turns out my skeletal health is not good. which makes sense because in those critical years when I should have been drinking milk and eating lots of calories, I was following very low calorie diets and throwing up all my food.
So I think that was when I really realized like at that point in my like 27, 28, I was kind of done with purging, but still doing a lot of low calorie dieting and very strict, restrictive eating.
And I think I just kind of realized like something has got to give here because I'm hurting myself.

[6:37] Yeah. Thank you for so much for sharing those intimate parts of your story.

[6:41] And so what happens from there until now for you to get to this place where you're helping runners who struggle with their relationship with food and body?
Yeah. So it was funny because I really felt like I was this like diamond in the rough.
Like I was the only runner who when she would eat carbohydrates, like she would gain weight and freak out.
And so it was like this very private part of my life where I would be telling everyone, I would be reading the literature, I would be seeing like, you know, runners need to eat a lot of calories and a lot of carbohydrates.
And I would be preaching that to my client. And then I would be at home and I would have like a piece of bread and I would be freaking out about it because, oh, my God, I ate all these carbohydrates.
So I like knew the scientific literature.
And the thing that I could not really like make peace with was I wanted to be in the smallest body I could possibly be in.
Like, I didn't realize I think I realized it, but I didn't want to accept it for myself that I can be healthy and happy and athletic in a body that is healthy.

[7:43] Larger. And I want to just acknowledge right now, I have been privileged, like I do live in a thin body.
So the story just, you know, gets better and better here.
So I was basically realizing that I needed to figure out a way to make peace with the fact that my body was not going to be the smallest body I possibly could have.
And that was really the key to like moving forward from from this disordered behavior.
And I went to Paris in, I think it was like 2018.

[8:13] And previously, whenever I had traveled, I'd always like had my fitness pal out, like counting all the calories, like, you know, not eating the appetizer so you can eat the dessert, like doing all of the ways to like save the calories.
And I went to Paris and I was like, screw that. Like, I'm just eating what I want.
You know, I was in a new relationship with this new boyfriend and I just like wanted to have fun.
And I remember coming home from that trip and I had like eaten gelato for breakfast and like just not cared at all, drank so much wine.
And I remember just feeling like really good.
Like I had thrown all the diet rules out the window and I felt better than I had ever felt.
And I just had this moment of like, wait a second, like I wasn't eating, you know, eight servings of vegetables a day and I was getting drunk every day.
Like, how do I feel so good? How is this happening?
And it really kind of opened my eyes to this idea that maybe being so strict and so rigid wasn't actually the key to feeling the best I could feel in my body.
And that was really the turning point for me was going to Paris.

[9:19] It's funny you say this because I've heard other people on the podcast and other people's stories or maybe other like my clients where it's almost like a fluke how they realize it.
For some people, it's a trip where they're like, I literally just can't even, I'm going to let myself have whatever.
Or I have clients who, when they're pregnant, they're like, okay, I literally can't even, I'm pregnant.
And then after they're like, wait a second, like, that felt pretty nice.
And then they kind of can like lean on that lived experience and expand it.
So where in your story do you learn about health at every size and intuitive eating? Yeah.
So it's funny because I can't really remember. I know I ordered the intuitive eating book by Ellen Rush and Evelyn Tribbley on Amazon.
And the only reason I remember that was because I got it delivered to my office in the hospital where I was working at the time.
And my coworker saw it and she picked it up and she was like, oh, I read this. She didn't really like it.
She was like, oh, I read this. I think some other stuff is good and some other stuff is like crap.
And I was like, oh, I don't know. I don't even know. Like, I don't know why I bought it, but it was after Paris.
So I think there must've been some like late night on Amazon, like show me the way, please somebody help me. Please God.

[10:34] Yeah. Like I, I, I really think that's what happened, but I remember that moment because my, my coworker kind of made me think like, Oh, like what is this book?
And then I read it and I was like, Oh my God, I'm supposed to be eating all of the calories and the carbs that the The scientific literature recommends runners be eating.
Like that applies to me too. I don't have to focus on having a six pack.
I can focus on nourishing my body.
It was like, that was the missing piece was nobody told me the key to eating healthy isn't to have a six pack.
Like I didn't understand that even though I had been, it's just, it's so crazy. It just, yeah, so crazy.

[11:15] Yeah, so it sounds like you had acceptance of the framework pretty immediately.
Or did you have any resistance? What was that kind of part of your story like?
Yeah. So I think I had the benefit of having an understanding of the literature.
So when I was reading it, it like all clicked for me because I did understand the sports nutrition.
So I think for some reasons like that actually made my adaptation of intuitive eating in the framework pretty easy.
I will admit when I started following it and I gained weight initially, I did freak out and I counted macros again.
And I tried to like go back to weight loss.
And I remember doing it. And I was like, this is horrible.
Like intuitive eating is so much better. But I did like give it like one last hurrah before I truly like came over to our side.
But yeah, I think for the most part, it was like a pretty quick acceptance and adaptation.

[12:09] Yeah. And that's common to that like bargaining phase of like, all right, hang on, let me lose some weight, then I'll do the intuitive eating thing, but like, obviously we can't do that.
What about, I know you and I both worked with Brie, body image with Brie.
I wasn't planning to talk about this, but I'm just curious, like, it sounds like what kept you from fully embracing intuitive eating at first was the body image piece of like, oh shit, I gained weight. That's scary.
Where on your journey do you come to make peace with your relationship with your body?
And obviously that's an ongoing process, but where do you kind of look back and see yourself making some of those shifts? Thank you.

[12:45] And I'm happy we're going to talk about Brie here. So I think, and again, like I feel the shame coming up, but I started dating a man who is now my husband.
And I think having that much like love from a partner also helped me learn to like love my body.
I think a lot of my obsession with my body had to do with a lot of like me just kind of being really mean to myself and like not loving myself and not feeling worthy of receiving love.
And then when I found this partner who gives me so much unconditional love, it just made it a lot easier for me to say, hey, you know what?
Instead of spending two hours a day at the gym, I want to spend time with my then boyfriend eating pasta in front of the TV and laughing and bonding with him and being with him.
So I think that was a huge part of it.
I do know I then though ran into the roadblock that I think a lot of intuitive eating dietitians run into, especially those of us who do live in thin bodies, where I would be doing the work with my clients and my clients would be gaining weight and they would be freaking out.
And I just would feel like, oh, like, I don't know, like I still live in like societally acceptable body.
This is like a really hard thing for me to teach. Like how do I make them feel okay?
And that was when I started working with Brie was in 2019.

[14:09] I wanted her to help me figure out how do I make my clients feel more okay.
But in doing that, she also helped me because I started to really realize like so much of my okayness kind of came from the fact that like I was in this societally accepted thin body.
And I don't think it really came from this really true like peace and understanding that that my identity, my self-worth, my values do not align with weight loss until I met Brie.

[14:39] Yeah. And she's amazing. So for people listening, she's an incredible body image coach and also supervisor to other providers.
At the time this comes out, she'll be on a future episode.
I don't know how long, but she'll be coming on the podcast. So that's exciting.
And yeah, I love your vulnerability and I appreciate it so much with the honesty around noticing that at first your body image felt solid because you still benefited from thin privilege, but then having to kind of really dig deep into some of those uncomfortable layers.
And this was part of my story as well, looking at our own internalized weight stigma and addressing that because we can only take our clients as far as we've taken ourselves.
I really believe that. And so we have to look at our own internalized weight stigma, weight biases in order to like really deeply help clients heal.
Absolutely. I totally agree. I love the piece about leaning into values and who you are beyond your body as well.
So more on that when Brie comes on, but I'm really glad we talked just because I know we both worked with her. I wanted to go there.

[15:40] So to get a little bit more into runner-specific things, first of all, I'm curious, how were you performing when you were running all these marathons and under-fueling?
Like, what was that like? How did your body feel? How did your mind feel?
Yeah. I mean, I don't think I realized, and this is just so common, I didn't realize how abnormal, like, my experience of running was.
I just thought, like, oh, I'm running a marathon. Like, this is a really hard thing.
Of course I'm hitting the wall. Of course I'm bonking. I would have such bad diarrhea like all day long for like two days after my long runs because I wasn't fueling and hydrating correctly.
I had no idea what I was doing. At that season of life, I was very into like the keto, low carb, like taking coconut oil while you're running. Like what?

[16:26] So I was bonking. I actually ran into a moving car once.
Like the car didn't hit me. Like I was running and I like ran into the car as it was like driving down the road because like I just just practically fainted.
I had a lot of really scary, probably dangerous experience going out running miles and miles in this very low energy availability state.
I just thought like, oh, I'm training for a marathon. This is hard. And so it feels hard.
I really just didn't realize that you could feel good and strong and energetic on your long runs.
Yeah. As you know, I've been running more lately and I was actually just reflecting on, There was this one time I came home from either cross country or track practice and And I remember just like laying in the hallway of my parents' house, my childhood house.
I like didn't feel like I could get in the shower. Like I felt kind of dizzy.

[17:18] And I remember just being like, huh, weird. Went really hard at practice today.
And looking back, it's like, oh my God, that's not just like weird, shrug it off.
That's like dangerous and odd and a sign of something off. Turns out my iron was very dangerously low.
But yeah, I think this just really speaks to like how we normalize our experience.
Like especially when you're younger and you're not really like sharing and talking about these things. it's so easy to just think, oh, this is normal. Anyway, moving on.
Absolutely. And I think it almost like in my community, in the running community, it gets glorified.
There was recently, I can't even remember the person's name because it was a few months ago, but this person who ran an ultra marathon without eating anything.
And it was like the headline, like person runs ultra marathon without taking in any calories.
And it's like the community is internalizing it as like, that's hardcore. That's so cool.

[18:06] And I'm just that is so stupid. Why are we glorifying that?
But I think that's the problem is that I would come home from a run and I'd be like, I need to lay on the couch all night. I am exhausted.
I am zonked. I'm so hardcore.
But actually, that is your body telling you that you did not fuel and hydrate correctly. You are hurting yourself.
It's not supposed to be that bad.
Absolutely. Yeah. So So I really want to get into the intersection of running and disordered eating, eating disorders.
Do you think runners are uniquely prone to disordered eating slash eating disorders? Yes.

[18:44] Yeah, I really think they are. So I feel like it's hard to get like data and statistics on this because so many eating disorders are like under reported.
And then I think the like diagnosing criteria, doctors are just unaware of eating disorders, like it's just so frustrating.
So I don't know if we have good good data. But I was reading some statistics that like, in long distance runners, like eating disorders can be as prevalent as like 23 to 67%. So that is obviously a really really huge range.
But I think the problem with the running community is that this is one of those sports that is kind of labeled as like a leanness sport where people believe that being leaner leads to being more competitive and that in order to be a runner, you need to have a very lean body.
And so rather than going into the sport saying, in order to be a runner, I need to train in a certain way to earn my right to call myself a runner, they just believe I need to lose as much much weight as possible so that I look like the runners I see on TV running in the Olympic trials.
And so this like obsession with their appearance just kind of lends to you entering the sport, assuming that you need to look a certain way and lose a bunch of weight in order to be a runner does kind of cause that preoccupation with food and that higher risk for eating disorders.

[20:03] Yeah. As I'm listening to you, I'm like thinking about in the depths of my disorder days, and I was also like running track and cross country, I would like look on Tumblr at runners and I had this like pin board on Pinterest of like aspirational ideals.
And it was just like my genetic blueprint was never going to make it so that I looked like that. And if I did, I would probably be really sick.
So this kind of perfectly leads to the next question. You talk a lot about not looking like a runner.
What mindset tips do you have for people who struggle with not not feeling like a real runner because of their body size or shape.

[20:38] Yeah. So I think the first, and a lot of this is going to be like things Brie taught me.
But, you know, I think there is a few things to think about.
First of all, is that it's one of those things that is so obvious that it's almost silly.
But if you run, if you run and you're running on the reg, what else are you?
Like, you're not flying.
You're not crawling. You're not skiing.

[20:59] You're a runner. Like, I just, in some ways, I'm like, are you kidding?
Yeah. You run three times a week. You're not a runner. What else are you? You're not a pelican.
Like what else can we possibly call you here? So I think in some ways it's just like really allowing yourself the permission to acknowledge if you are running, what the heck else are you? You are a runner.
Yeah. And, and, and that doesn't matter what size you wear or what size you are.
Like you get to just acknowledge the fact that by running, I'm a runner.
So I would start there. But the other piece that's really common in the running community is this obsession with your identity as a runner.
I find that runners are very big on, it's like, go big, go home.
My identity is I'm a runner.
I'm a runner. All I do is talk about running. All I want to do is running.
All the clothes I buy are running clothes. It's this very hardcore obsession with running. running. And I love running.
I have been running for 22 years.
I cannot see my life without running.
I would say I am very much so a runner. But there are other pieces of my identity that I value.
And so I always like to talk to my clients about, yeah, running is awesome.
And I love that you love to run. But what else about your life can we kind of find meaning and value in? Are you a a mom?
Do you like to do pottery? Do you like karaoke?

[22:22] Are you a great chef? There's all these other elements of your personality that are also incredibly important and require and deserve praise and acknowledgement.
And so kind of starting to shift your identity from just being a runner, which is cool, but like all the other elements of you that make you you that are also special.

[22:44] Yeah, I love that. I just think about, okay, so when you're pregnant, or if you work your leg, or had to get a surgery, or got sick, or, you know, become elderly or disabled, you know, any of the number of things that could happen that would make you no longer be able to run, then if your entire identity is wrapped up in being a runner, that is like a really fragile sense of identity, because it can so easily be pulled from you.
Whereas if you have your identity in this more kind of like holistic sense and a more sense of yourself beyond just this one narrow thing, it's much more stable.

[23:20] Absolutely. And I think that's why, you know, and with running comes injury.
I think, I don't know if there's any runner who has never been injured in all her years of running and it's really hard on people.
And it really can almost like be paralyzing if someone is, is their whole identity, their whole life is running and then they're injured.
So So there's just so many reasons to explore like beautiful you and all the beautiful elements of your personality.
Like you're not just like one thing in a box. Like you are a dynamic person with so many elements to your life and your personality that are worthy of praise.
And I think we can also talk about this idea that for a lot of female runners, I think it's very uncomfortable for them to feel like they are just worthy of praise and acceptance and celebration without earning it.
Like I think a lot of times because we are long distance runners, we're like, I need to run a half marathon in order to celebrate myself and be proud of myself.
And then when you take that element away with injury or whatever, it's like, why do you respect me? Why do you like me? I haven't run a race.
I didn't run the right time. I didn't run fast enough.
It's like there is so much potential like self-destructive behavior in just tying yourself to this one identity of being a runner.

[24:38] Yeah. A question that just kind of came up for me is for, well, one, I'm curious in your story, did you ever have to, did you ever stop running in sort of healing your relationship with running or, or, or not?

[24:50] Yeah. So I never like stopped running a hundred percent. I, yeah, unless I was injured.
So when my foot was broken, I wasn't able to run. So that was like three months off of running, but I never kind of stopped for the disorder.
But what I will say is that the way I ran changed.
So when I was really deep in disorder, I like wouldn't allow myself to take rest days.
Like I would have to do like a certain amount of speed works and long, long runs during the week in order to burn a certain amount of calories and to build muscle mass.
And I had to lift a certain amount of hours a week. So like, it was like this very, I mean, like insane schedule in terms of exercise.
Like you would think I was like trying to be a professional athlete versus once I kind of realized like I am in this place where I'm going to accept and love my body and not focus on how how many calories I'm burning, I started running in a way that felt more fun.
So like, let me just go running because like, I need to clear my head and it's only three miles.
Or I would do things like I'm going to listen to five Taylor Swift songs and then I'm going to come home.
So it just really became a little bit less about how many calories I was burning and my pace and a lot more about like walk running or maybe instead of running, I would walk if I realized like I was feeling tired.
So I never stopped running, which I don't think that's the right approach for everyone, but I just completely changed the way I ran essentially.

[26:19] Yeah. It sounds like your intention behind it changed from like how you want to look to how you want to feel.
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And so thinking about folks who are coming out of a disordered relationship with food and body, I sometimes encounter this with clients where they're like wanting to get back into having concrete goals, like a race, or, you know, I just had a client do a, um, powerlifting contest test.

[26:44] And there's a lot of talk around how can we do this without it becoming obsessive and about the calories and the numbers and how can you look at like getting the right amount of carbohydrates and sodium to fuel yourself without it becoming obsessive?
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that.
Yeah. So I think there's like, there's two questions in there.
It's like, how do we keep the food piece from becoming really obsessive and perfectionistic again?
And then there's the part of like, how do we keep the exercise from becoming a way of like purging calories or a way of like defining your self-worth.
So I think in terms of like the exercise piece, I do think it goes back a lot to like that values work.
Like what is in alignment with your values, right? If you say you hate yourself, you're not allowed to eat, you're going to punish yourself unless you lift a certain amount of weight this week.
Like is that in alignment with how you see yourself like being in this world?
Like would you do that to a friend, right? That kind of thing.
Also just kind of really reminding people that no matter, are like, I think we try and look at it in, in my, my running practice as this is not like your one chance to do this thing.
Like running is for the longterm. And so what we need to do is not worry about how do we PR in this next race?
We need to worry about how do we keep getting faster?

[27:58] Knowing that most of the time my runners want to run for the rest of their life.
We can't just burn out and like kill ourself for this one PR and then get injured and be screwed for the rest Like that sounds devastating to me.
So really kind of looking at like that long-term goal rather than just focusing on like the next competition in front of you.
And then in terms of like the food piece, I think it really depends on where you are in recovery.
I think if you have just really newly stopped dieting, like it might not be the right time to start like focusing a lot on sports nutrition.
I think you have to be like at a certain place, like ready to kind of focus on nutrition without it kind of spilling over into obsession.
But really what I try and do is focus on how food makes you feel.
Something that is just such a quick win that you'll get when you start increasing your carbohydrates or changing your pre or post-workout nutrition is you're going to get this almost immediate like, oh my God, Serena, like I felt so much more energized.
Like that was crazy. It felt like a totally different activity.
And so it's like, how do we get more of that? Right? Like I'm kind of working with the inherent desire to feel good.
It's like, how do we get more of that? Oh, like if we increase our sodium, yeah, we're going to have to be doing some counting, which could be triggering, but let's forget about the counting.
Let's just think about, Hey, like if we try and do 600 milligrams of sodium per hour, like, do you notice you're not pooping your pants?
Do you notice like you're less fatigued? You have less headaches.
Like we're focusing on like how it is actually making you feel in your body.

[29:27] Such a great answer. And I'm happy to share. I've learned a lot from Serena.
I've been a runner for many years, but like I kind of I never talk about it really on the on my podcast, just because it's like, it's not such a big part of my identity that I have shifted so much of like, away from it kind of like being in the mainstream light, though, as I shared about on your podcast, whenever that one airs, there was definitely a time where it was more like central to my identity.
And it was more more like performative and disordered essentially.
But I have been more intentional about like simple carbs before running and have noticed those quick hits of how it feels.
And it is so gratifying of like, wow, I'm a dietician. And yet like, these are things that are easy to overlook because I don't focus on sports nutrition.
So I love that answer. And that is expansive to motivation for continuing on the journey of healing your relationship with food in general, of connecting to like, wow, the peace and the freedom and the extra bandwidth and mental clarity, like all of those things are really nice.
And so even when the temptations of diet culture or the fear of waking get loud, if we can connect back to how good it feels to have the freed up mental real estate and the more spontaneity and all the things that can be such a powerful way to continue to propel us forward.
Yep. Human beings like pleasure and we're going to like milk that that tendency.

[30:47] Yes, we are naturally wired to seek pleasure and to avoid pain.
I think that's so much we can like lean into there.
Okay, what else do I want to ask you? This like, feels like an obvious one, but I actually think it's really important to talk through and you kind of alluded to it in your story.
So many people take up running for weight loss. Why is this a bad idea?
So I think it's a bad idea if when you start to realize, So, okay, first of all, I have the belief that pursuing intentional weight loss is going to harm your mental health and potentially your physical health if you're, you know, unaware of when it's turning into a problem.
So I generally do not recommend intentional weight loss. Yes, we're on the same page with that.
Kind of going back to like, okay, like you are just a person, you're interested in health, you think you need to lose a few pounds, your doctor tells you that because your doctor doesn't know anything, and you start running to lose weight.
What happens oftentimes is people fall in love with the sport.
They're like, oh, this has gone from, I am just like, you know, running for 20 minutes for my health into like, I want to sign up for a 5K.
I want to sign up for a 10K. I want to sign up for a half marathon.
And before you know it, you're not just like, casually, you know, running, you actually are now putting stress on your body.
Like running does create stress in the body. Running is a stressor to the system.
And I always like to tell my clients when we stress the system, we need rest.
We need resources in order for there to be growth and adaptation.

[32:16] We can't just like stress our body with under eating, stress our body with overexercising, stress our body because we're stressing about food all day long.
And then, And, you know, work is stressing us out and family is stressing us out. And then expect to wake up the next day, like stronger and vibrant with health. That makes no freaking sense.
And yet that is basically like the recipe for how to become healthy, according to like modern society.
So what happens is like you fall in love with running, you start running all the time and you need to start to realize that there is also so much benefit in the rest part of the equation, taking days off, putting the resources into the tank, like the mobility, the stretching, the food, the sleep.
Because if you want to be an athlete, you have to treat yourself like an athlete.
And I think there's this opposition to calling yourself an athlete or calling yourself a runner is actually making it so that it's easier for you to be like, oh, I don't have to do that. I don't have to eat the extra carbs.
I don't have to do the foam rolling because I'm not a real runner. I'm not an athlete.
But your body doesn't care. Your body is getting stressed out because you are stressing it with running.
And therefore, you do need to treat your body like an athlete's body.
And I think that's where it gets tricky is all the things that align with weight loss, like restricting calories, prioritizing movement over a full night's sleep, avoiding sugar.
It's the most evil thing known to man. These are all things that are not going to set you up for success as an athlete.

[33:40] Yeah. And also I just think about the obvious, which is if you, like in your story, if you're trying to run to manipulate your body size or shape, you can get injured, it can impact your bones or your brain and you can become dizzy and be in dangerous situations.
So I just think about that part too. And sometimes when I see long distance runners or just like runners out in the wild, my brain goes to like, I hope you're okay because it feels like the odds of like a runner struggling with an eating disorder or disorder eating are high.
And like, I know that used to be me. So when I see a runner, I'm often like, oh my God, I just hope you're doing this because it feels good.
And you're celebrating your body instead punishing it, but it really can go either way.
Yeah, absolutely. Like reduced energy.
Oh my goodness. Reds. Reduced energy deficiency syndrome.
Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. So this is essentially when somebody who's exercising and they're not eating adequate energy.
I think we are taught in like modern diet culture world, like eat less, burn fat or eat less, burn weight, lose weight.
But really what's happening is you eat less and your body is trying to continue continue functioning.
And so what happens in reds is essentially you're.

[34:51] All of your organs, all of your body systems are affected. So oftentimes sex hormones like GNRH will shut off and we're not making estrogen anymore.
And estrogen is extremely protective of our bones.
And now you're out there running and you don't have estrogen protecting your bones and you're getting these recurring bone injuries.
You're getting all these stress fractures. Like that is because you're not eating enough.
Or a lot of times runners, their resting heart rate will be low and they're out there bragging about it.
Like, oh, I'm so strong. I'm so fit. My my resting heart rate is low.
But if you're not eating enough, it's very possible that you're you have bradycardia, you have slow heart rate, because your muscles are weak, your body is too weak to pump blood to all of your organs.
And so that is actually the reason your resting heart rate is low.
You know, there's things like you might notice your hands and feet are really cold, because your body temperature has literally been turned down so that you are preserving energy.
So So it's not as simple as I eat less, I burn weight, I burn fat.
The answer is actually in your genetics. If you eat less, there are all these different organ systems that actually can be put into like power save mode.
I think of like the iPhone, you're on power save mode.
Your phone isn't, the light isn't as bright. It's not moving as quickly.
The phone is essentially like half dead. That is your body when you are not eating enough and you are pushing yourself as an athlete.

[36:12] So it's not like I eat less, I burn fat. It's I eat less and I don't know what's being affected.
My sex hormones, my thyroid, my heart. There's all these different systems that get downregulated.

[36:23] That iPhone metaphor, saving power mode is so perfect. I love that so much.
What do you wish that you could share with all runners?

[36:31] Oh my goodness. I honestly wish I could like give them my life experience.
Like I could like, like this is how bad it feels to like hate yourself.
And like, here's the other thing we haven't touched on today is when you are under eating and you are not getting enough energy, your brain changes.
Like you are more predisposed to be anxious and depressed.
And how much I hated myself and how critical I was of myself when my body was more aligned with this thin ideal because I had the, you know, all the things that people want.
I hated myself so much more because I was underfed. So I really wish people or runners or everyone could just understand that your relationship with your body can be changed completely.

[37:15] By your thoughts, by working on your thoughts, rather than by working on your body, your actual changing of your body.
I think that is honestly the most important thing, because if we understood that and we understood that changing your self-talk is more important than changing your body, then when you hear somebody say, eat a piece of bread before you go running, you wouldn't fight it. You'd be like, oh, cool.
I can get faster by eating a piece of bread. Sure, I'll do that.
But instead, it's like, if I eat a piece of bread, I'm going to gain weight.
And it's this whole horrible cascade.

[37:47] Yeah. Yeah. The changing your thoughts about your body piece is so good.
It just makes me think about that kind of thought experiment.
I'm sure you've done with clients and I do with clients, which is like, can you imagine a time when you were smaller?
How did you feel about yourself? And so often they're like, I still didn't like myself.
And that's how we know it's really not about the body. It's about the relationship to the body, the thoughts relating to how you view your body.
With that, I always I always feel like it's important to say, this isn't to say that it's all in your head. It's just your thoughts.
Absolutely, your pain and your experiences and your hard feelings and distress around your body are so valid.
And we can hold space and validate those feelings because we live in a world that is weight stigmatizing and uphold certain sizes above others.
And at the same time, we can work on your values and your limiting beliefs and your thoughts and all all of that too. Yeah. Thank you for saying that. Totally.
Yeah. Okay. Some questions that I like to wrap up with.
I like to make it specific to the guest. So usually I say, what is your biggest diet culture pet peeve? But I want to hear from you.
What's your biggest running culture pet peeve?
It's like intermittent fasting. I can't stand the fasted community where, oh, I'm running fasted because I'm trying to burn more fat or I'm trying to be more hardcore.

[39:02] Just everything around and fasted running like really irks me.
Oh, that's so interesting. Cause I like wondered about that with the early morning workout and like the whole debate of like, is it important to eat before or not? That's really interesting.
Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, like you're, you're sleeping and you're not eating and around like four or five o'clock in the morning, there's this natural like spike in cortisol because it's your body preparing to wake up.
And then you get up and you take that cortisol spike and you go running on an empty belly.

[39:33] And And you've like stressed out your body so much because you didn't give her the resources to have the fuel she needs in order to go running.
So it's just like the simple thing. If you're struggling with tolerating food that early in the morning, we can figure it out.
We can have like an applesauce squeezy with some Scratch Lab sports drink.
We can sneak the calories in. That's not an excuse.
I can tell you're passionate about that.

[39:57] So the question I love to ask everyone is we're both anti-diet of the intuitive eating framework. work, we throw around the word intuition a lot.
And I love to ask, what does intuition mean to you and how do you experience it?

[40:09] Ooh, intuition is like a feeling. And I use a lot of like somatic practices in my work.
And so I always say like, I can feel sensations in my chest usually is where I'm feeling, but sometimes like it's in like the top of my stomach.
So when you say to me, what is intuition?
Like the first thing I felt was like almost like my heart trying to like leap out of my chest. It's like where like my body is telling me like is right.
It's like, it's truly a feeling for me. And it's like, Like I can feel if like something feels bad and I kind of like shrink away from it or I feel like hesitant, like I pause before I respond or if I'm like leaping at it almost like before I've even really logically thought it through sometimes, I can like feel it in my chest.
I don't know if I answered the question. You did. You did.
That's so beautiful. And it came to you so quickly. It makes me wonder, I don't know if there's any research on this.
I know there's research that like folks who do like yoga and meditation have higher interoceptive awareness.
What about for runners? I feel like it's probably the opposite.
I feel like we're very disembodied because it's like a lot of like, I'm in the pain cave.
I'm ignoring my body. I'm looking at the numbers, the pace.
Like I think we tend to get very disembodied. I think this is from like healing and doing like work with mentors who have like taught me about somatic practices.
Like I think that's why I'm more attuned, but I don't think it's a running thing.
Yeah. Okay. That's interesting. I could see that. I've heard the pain cave thing before too. It's like put your head down and grind.

[41:37] Yeah. Okay. Is there anything else that we missed or anything else on your heart that you're hoping to share with the people?
You know, there was something else that I wanted to say it before and I was like, maybe it'll come up again.
But I do just want to take a moment if you're like really interested in everything we're talking about today, Molly Seidel's book, Good for a Girl is amazing.
And I remember when I read that, like a piece of my eating disorder recovery or like eating disorder, like what spurred my eating disorder, it clicked for me.
And she talks about like this research that shows that when a girl gets her period, how there is just naturally this like decline in athletic performance.
Like this is just something that happens to the female body when she is like adapting to being a woman and having all these hormones and things.
And I think that's so interesting because I remember like getting my period and I remember my performance tanking in high school.
And I remember looking at this girl who was also on my cross country team, who was much thinner than me and thinking.

[42:34] The reason she's faster is because she's thinner and not understanding like, oh, my body is growing and changing and all the things.
So the only reason I'm saying that is if you have a daughter or a niece or I don't know, anyone in your life who maybe is in cross country in high school and you know she's going to get her period, I think that's a really important thing to say is if she notices that dip in performance, it's heartbreaking, very valid.
She's going to be distraught and I get it. But just like reassuring her like this is normal.
It's temporary, like her performance gains will come back like in your 30s is when you really become like an excellent long distance runner.
So I don't know, that's just something that I didn't really know until very recently when I read that book.
And I was like, dang, I'm like, okay, that explains so much.
And I wish somebody had told me that when I was in high school.
Good for a girl it's called. Yes.

[43:25] It's excellent. I love that. I'm so glad any resources like that are always great to share, especially especially if it really landed for you.
Is that thing about your peak performance in your 30s for long distance running? Is that true?
Yeah, like for marathon and half marathon, yeah, like tend to do really well up until like 40.
Then there's like the decline again. But yeah, like early 30s, especially mid 30s, as we get into older 30s, where I'm entering, maybe not so much.
But like, still, there's definitely performance gains that can be made in like the ultra marathon and your upper 30s. So, so interesting.
Can you share where people can find you to stay connected and learn more about your work.
Yes, I am always on Instagram. So I would love for you to hang out with me there at Serena Marie RD.
And then I also have a website SerenaMarieRD.com where if you wanted to learn more about working together, but really just send me a DM and we can chat and get to know each other.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Serena. It was so wonderful chatting.
Awesome to talk to you, Leah.

[44:22] Thanks so much for tuning into this week's episode of Shoulders Down.
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Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

[44:56] Music.