The thing you should know about eating disorders is that they don’t really discriminate. Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups (not excluding men). They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. This episode is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit, specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience.
This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Funny Song”, and “Enigmatic” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “End of Winter” by Rest You Sleeping Giant, “March of the Mind” by Kevin MacLeod, “You and Me” by Borrtex, and “Twinkle Twinkle” by David Mumford.
(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.
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(SABINE CONNORS): I used to struggle with bulimia. It was hard because, I mean, have you ever taken laxatives—in the woods? You literally can’t predict that shit. But in the end, I learned that people care in all the right ways and that wiping your butt with leaves is never the right answer.
(KK): You might remember this clip that we used for the trailer in 2018. You might even relate to it. This is Sabine, climber and doctorate student based out of the southeast. I don’t know many humans who thrive purely on coffee and sunshine quite the way that Sabine does, but I gotta say: however she does it, it’s working. This girl can hustle as hard as she climbs—and she does it with grit, moxie, and grace.
It’s been estimated that in America, thirty million people of all gender and ages suffer from an eating disorder, as stated by the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders, or EDs, affect all races and ethnic groups, not excluding men. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. The thing to remember is that having an ED isn’t actually a choice, like choosing to skip lunch. It isn’t a fad, or a diet phase, or a lifestyle choice. They are real, complex medical illnesses that really feed off of shame and stigma.
The episode that you are about to hear is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit—specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience. Thank you to the people who contributed to this episode. You can go to http://www.fortheloveofclimbing.com and check out the resources available at the end of the transcript. This is episode nine.
(SC): For me, it’s a lack of control. So, I was a very competitive swimmer in high school—like pretty damn good. And I was supposed to swim in college and the university I went to, they actually cut their women’s team. You know, every eighteen-year-old who swam twenty hours a week—you all of a sudden take them out of that environment and like, what eighteen-year-old isn’t going to get a little chubby? Or whatever, shit happens. There’s no one moment where I realized, “When I didn’t have a period, I could run fast.” For me, it was just the perfect storm of a lot of different things: I had a roommate in college who’d struggled with anorexia her whole life. This is the first time in my life I’d ever dieted or I’d ever been even remotely close to needing to lose any weight.
And it was this perfect storm where I’d just discovered running, and I was really surprisingly good at running, just off the bat. And my roommate just taught me all these terrible tricks for losing weight and it just turned into this number game and I just lost control for five years, just binging and purging. And I ended up purging all sorts of different ways—anywhere from laxatives to running a hundred miles a week.
(KK): Sabine described this “perfect storm” in her life where everything inescapably led her to bulimia, but EDs literally can and do affect anyone. They don’t always originate from a past history of abuse or trauma or daddy issues or a million other potential “whys” and “hows”. And they’re really not selective based on your race, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality; they are pretty much as diverse as the people who have them.
(SC): I’m a twenty-five-year-old climber from—kind of from Atlanta. I guess my permanent address is in Atlanta right now? And I am finishing up my last year of PT school, which is a three-year doctorate program. So, I’ll be kind of on the road for the last year doing my clinic rotations. I started climbing when I was about eighteen, yeah, about eighteen. Right around that time, I finished high school. I started climbing ‘cause I really liked a boy and then I liked climbing way better than I liked the boy. So, I kept climbing. And then, climbing has been kind of the one constant throughout kind of a nasty couple bouts with bulimia.
(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.
– Most of you are probably familiar with some of the more common types of EDs: such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. There is a more comprehensive list of disorders at the end of the transcript on the blog.
(SC): There are a lot of people out on social media I feel like, like, it’s their thing. They get on social media, it’s very cathartic for them to talk to a lot of people about it—especially people who are pretty far out from it. And I try not to talk about it too much because it’s kind of all-consuming. It is your life. There is literally not an action during your day that isn’t calculated or factored into it. I feel like the more I would research, the more bad ideas I would get. Especially now where, you know, recovery is a lifelong process. So, even now I kind of don’t like to look at statistics, I don’t like to look at definitions or any of that stuff.
(KK): Question: does anybody ever tell you to “put on a happy face” or “just be positive” when you’re in a funk? Yeah, annoying! And, ok—sometimes they’re right and it works, and it’s just a matter of shifting gears and attitude. But having an ED is similar to having depression, and it is all-consuming. So, it totally makes sense that Sabine would want to create some space between her social media and personal life. Those obsessive and negative thought patterns really complicated Sabine’s life. Signs of having an ED can vary, but for most people—everything becomes heavily calculated. For Sabine, sometimes it was losing control and just binge eating entire jars of peanut butter—and then cranking it out at spin class the next morning at five a.m.
(SC): It’s always complicated. There’s always so many more factors. Like, I can’t even explain how much my day was ruled by, “Oh, the walk to my building is .47 miles away. That’s only forty calories instead of a whole half mile, which is fifty calories.” I used to be that person in the dining hall who would put peanut butter and jelly on a slice of bread and like, scrape the peanut butter off of the bread with my teeth and not eat the whole slice. It just rules your world. Literally, everything you do is a numbers game. It’s awful.
(KK): Secrets have a way of forming really bad habits, and EDs thrive on secrecy. Not only had Sabine devolved into calorie counting and food limiting, but there was so much silence surrounding her ED that, while she started to form habits that supported it, she also created habits to protect it.
(SC): I think the most detrimental one is you learn to lie really well. And it impacts a lot of relationships. People get really worried about you! They see you at the gym, they’re like, “Why are you here? Weren’t you already here earlier?” And you’re like, “Oh, I was looking for you.” It would get to this point where if I sat still for too long, I would panic and I would make up reasons why I needed to go. The university I went to had this huge lake: if I was out at the lake with my friends, swimming around wasn’t enough. I would be like, “Guys, I forgot I had some homework to do! Somebody needs to drive me back right now. I need to do an hour at the gym.” Being outside wasn’t enough. To this day, I refuse to play card games because it got in my mind: I was sitting, and sitting isn’t good. Like, you can’t sit. Sitting is not active. You’re not burning any calories. It just destroyed a lot of relationships.
(KK): At this point, Sabine is pretty dang active. There are a lot of active people who consider shedding weight in order to gain a more competitive edge. We mentioned it in the last episode: endurance climbing is a sport that demands an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio, and what winds up happening is a lot of climbers choose to lose weight instead of building muscle strength. In a lot of ways, climbing is considered an active and very healthy sport, but at the risk of sacrificing your muscles and overall mental and physical health, some climbers work really hard to lose weight in order to perform better. But what’s the real cost?
(SC): You’re in such a bad mood when all you’re consumed by is, “I haven’t done enough pitches,” or “I haven’t climbed hard enough,” or “I haven’t moved enough today. I haven’t burned enough calories.” And you’re out at fricken’ Horse Pens, which people would kill to climb at. Yeah, and I’m absolutely flabbergasted by some of the people that stuck with me through all of that because that must have been fucking annoying. And, I mean, you do stupid shit. I remember being like, “Ooh, if I’m cold, I’ll burn more calories. No, it’s ok—I don’t need two pairs of pants. I’m fine.” And you just shiver your way through the day and then you’re miserable and you don’t climb and then if you don’t climb, it’s this self-loathing cycle you get into.
(KK): Sabine was dating somebody, who, at the time, was probably the best person for her to be with. He was really stable and, most importantly, he normalized food for her.
(SC): God bless that guy. He just normalized food as best be could, which is the best thing, I think, you can do for any person. It’s not like a, “Oh, hooray! What can I make you? It’s so good you’re hungry!” Like, fuck that shit. I already feel weird enough about it. Like, I know what I’m doing is wrong—everybody knows what they’re doing is wrong and you just can’t stop it. You just spiral.
(KK): Well, it’s an addiction.
(SC): Yeah, you lose control. Yeah, it’s an addiction to a number. It’s an addiction to the scale. It’s an addiction to, “I ran six miles yesterday; I have to run six today or else I don’t do as well.” Like, “If I eat seven hundred calories worth of chips today, I have to run seven miles tomorrow morning.” Yeah, it was just all-consuming—I feel like I missed out on five years of my life. I felt like I missed out on college. I missed out on eating Zaxby’s when I was hungover, or dollar slice-dollar beer night after climbing. I never enjoyed it while I was there—all I could think about was, “Oh my god.” You know, “I haven’t eaten all day because I want this one slice of pizza after climbing.” And then you eat it and you feel like a total piece of shit.
(KK): Relationships with food, like any other, are…complicated. As are the side effects. Specific to Sabine’s ED, which is characterized by intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control, some of the side effects of bulimia can include: inflamed and sore throat, worn tooth enamel, esophagus rupture, acid reflux, dehydration, and hormonal disturbance. And if it gets really bad, it will create an imbalance of electrolyte levels, which can actually cause a stroke or cardiac arrest. Other long-term side effects can include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heart disease, and type II diabetes.
(SC): Oh—the other part of being bulimic and having no body fat and running a hundred miles a week and climbing, all this stuff, is—you’re tired all the time. I used to fall asleep standing up—like, not kidding. I fell asleep at this boulder called “Bursts of Joy” at Rocktown—standing up. Leaning against a rock. I used to fall asleep in the most ridiculous positions. I mean, any time my body got the chance to stop—I was out. It was bad. Like, I was falling asleep driving. I was falling asleep in class. I was falling asleep taking exams—like, I used to put my head down in the middle of an exam and take a nap.
(KK): Not only are you tired all of the time, but your risk of osteoporosis is also a lot higher. The medical complications that result from bulimia can cause severe dehydration, damage to endocrine glands, and ultimately, will lower your bone density. This was something that Sabine had to find out the hard way.
(SC): So yeah, you have the brittle bones of a sixty-five-year-old woman and I remember running on the treadmill. I was twenty, and I got this hip pain one day and it wouldn’t go away. And, you know, I’d been popping Advil for all of these insane overuse injuries over the past years. Like, I ran through a broken ankle, I ran through a torn something in my knee—I never even got diagnosed. And then, I ran through this hip pain for two or three weeks in my left hip and it was bad—I was dragging my leg. And, of course, I wasn’t going to drive to campus because I only lived half a mile away. Why would I waste burning fifty calories driving to campus when I could just walk there? And I remember, just dragging my leg to campus and back and getting on the treadmill and trying to run. And one day, the hip pain was too bad and I hadn’t taken any Advil so I couldn’t really run through it. So, I got in my car and I was like, “God. I’m going to go home and take some Advil and then I’m going to come back and run.” But I got in my car and I was like, “Oh my god. I can’t push my clutch in. Like, I literally can’t move my leg.” So, I called my dad, and my dad was like, “Ok. You just need to go to the doctor. You probably hurt something. You run a lot. You know, you’re hard on your body.” Like, very gentle dad-like. He knew I was just screwing my body up.
Within five seconds, my MD weighed me, asked me how much I ran, did one test on my leg and was like, “You broke your hip. You need an MRI.” I fell asleep in the MRI—immediately! No earplugs needed. And they called me and they were like, “Crutches. Don’t do anything. If you actually fracture this hip all the way through—this is a bone in your body that can and will die.” The hip bone and a bone in your hand are the two bones in your body, if you break them—they die. So, I was twenty and I turned twenty-one with a broken hip at the Red, because, of course, I climbed through it—like an idiot. I went to Hueco with a broken hip. And to this day, I have really bad left leg issues. My left leg is an inch smaller around than my right leg. I don’t know, it’s just depressing—like, you’re twenty and you have a broken hip. And then, your metabolism takes an awful hit from it, too. It’s taken years for my metabolism to bounce back. Your body essentially goes into survival mode. Laxatives were a huge problem for me for a long time—it was a thing I tried to hide. And I had to get colonoscopies every six months as a twenty-five-year-old because I wrecked my colon so much. Just laxatives, laxatives, laxatives. I have done things like, shit the bed and pooped myself out climbing because, you know, laxatives—you don’t effing know when it’s going to hit you. It’s just frustrating to know that everything that I was doing to myself has impacted me just so much more down the line.
Climbing is the one constant through all of this. I think I put a lot of pressure on, eventually. I was like, “Oh, you know, you should send. If you’re lighter, you send harder. You can crimp harder. And then, it turned into this thing that was routine. It wasn’t necessarily because I loved climbing, but it was a routine. That’s what we did: we went outside, we climbed on the weekends. And it’s only been in the past year or two that I feel like I have really come out of the throes of everything. Like, I still struggle. You know, I had a really good day of climbing the day before and was like, “Oh my god. You’re not going to climb that hard again if you eat an entire box of pasta.” That’s the kind of stuff that runs through your mind—who knows why!
But, the climbing was the one thing that was always there for me. You know, when I broke my hip—you can’t run, you can’t get on the elliptical, you can’t do anything. But I could hangboard and I could do pull-ups and I could do that kind of stuff. And climbing has become one of those things where you are so rewarded for being healthy. You’re just so rewarded for being good to your body that it was one of those things that I definitely grew to love the whole process behind climbing. And when you fail at climbing, you succeed at something else. If you fail at one thing, then you kind of succeed at another. Like, if you fail at this long route because you’re pumped and you’re tired or you didn’t pull hard enough or you can’t pull hard enough, you’ve succeeded in that you’ve learned more about yourself and what you need to do in order to do it. There’s a process with every sport. Like, there are just as many variables when it comes to running or when it comes to anything else, but climbing is one of the ones where I’ve come to love the process.
(KK): I think that, in a lot of ways, we’re still pretty surprised when we hear about eating disorders among climbers. And maybe it’s just sort of assumed that, aside from the occasional injury, climbers are all young and healthy and gunning for it. Rock climbing as a whole is considered one of the healthiest, most active sports—both mentally and physically. And that isn’t an untrue statement, but it also isn’t completely accurate, either. Even if you haven’t been climbing for long, chances are that you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. (In fact, I am willing to bet money on it—and I don’t have a lot of money to be making bets on!)
Confronting an eating disorder, whether it’s you or somebody you love, means being brave enough to recognize that there is a life-threatening problem. And, yeah—it’s a process: climbing, recovery, all of it. Having an eating disorder isn’t a choice, but challenging it and the monsters that it manifests is.
(SC): One day, I was like, “You know what? I’m a fucking adult and I am good enough in my own skin now that I see what I need out of the world.” The day that it all just kind of kicked off was when I just kind of nutted up enough to kick myself in the ass and be like: “You are going to be fine if you don’t run today and you’re going to be fine if you’re single. It’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Just eat the cookie.” I started climbing for myself and through that, I started doing everything else for myself. And it all just kicked off with leaping off into the unknown and just nutting up enough to kind of discovering the world without a crutch.
(FEMALE VOICE): I have struggled with eating disorders since I was fifteen. I’m thirty-three now. It comes and it goes, you know? I know bodies don’t matter. What you look like does not matter. But for some reason, gaining those five to ten pounds spins me around a million thousand times. So, I’m here and I’m still dealing with it—but this time it’s more me wanting to maintain things so that I continue to climb how I have been and it’s definitely a fight.
(FEMALE VOICE): Climbing helped me realize just how out of control my eating disorder had gotten. Put on my shoes one day and got on a V0 I used to run laps on. Halfway up, I started seeing black spots. By the time I got to the top, my head was spinning and my total intake for that day after working a twelve hour ICU shift: four hundred and eighty calories. My climbing partner hatched me out of that hole. Even now, he still checks almost every day to make sure that I’ve eaten enough, that I’m not filing back into the same patterns because they’re easy to go back to. My biggest triumph so far? My weight hasn’t changed in two months. I have reasons to fight, and that’s all thanks to climbing.
(FEMALE VOICE): So, I still struggle with body dysmorphia. It’s difficult to remember what I look like or am in my head, or believe what people say in regards to how small or fit or beautiful I am. Especially when I’m surrounded by and admire really fit, athletic people. I guess, basically, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of self when I’m surrounded by people in general. I think it’s because I tend to place others before me, even to the point of making myself disappear in my own head. But instead of finding an answer or a single point of perspective, I just let it flow. As in: it’s ok to feel what I feel as long as it doesn’t become detrimental to what I need or want to get done.
(FEMALE VOICE): I just wanted to share that I struggled with an eating disorder starting in high school and while I am way more compassionate to myself now than ever before, I still struggle with these things. Especially when life gets rough, which of course, it does. I think growing to appreciate my body for what it’s able to do and where it’s able to take me has empowered me on levels that I never thought were possible.
(FEMALE VOICE): The biggest issue I have dealt with in climbing is the feeling of imposter syndrome. And this often has to do with how I and how I perceive others to view my body. I’m curvy and athletic, which is not often the lith, spidery and tiny look I often see of other female climbing sensations. This has made me feel self-conscious when I’m not strong enough to pull certain moves and then I feel self-critical of how I’m built. This isn’t something I’ve entirely gotten over, but I believe that recognizing that I feel this way and talking about it with others helps open the dialogue. By surrounding myself with partners that don’t define my success by my body or my feats in climbing have made me feel more comfortable and successful, on and off the wall.
(FEMALE VOICE): I’m not naturally athletic and it’s taken a lot of work to get to where I’m at. And then I see all these amazing athletes on social media and in my gym, and they’re in the best shape ever. And there’s even weekend warriors that are just like, sculpted. And here I am, trying to hang with the big guys, and just runnin’ around with my jiggly little legs and a big ol’ butt. It just sticks out, it’s not muscular, it makes leggings really hard to find—and it’s just there. You know, and you move down a little bit and you get to my hips and then there’s these things. And they’re just like—saddlebags?! Saddlebags! What? How do you get these? Where do they come from? Why don’t they go away? They never go away—no matter what I do. They’re just these pockets of jelly and I don’t know what to do with them. But they’re just there to annoy me and frustrate me that I don’t look like or climb as hard as the people without big butts and saddlebags. But maybe, it’s my big butt that’s pulling me off the wall when I try to climb hard things?
(FEMALE VOICE): I looked over and there was this typical gym crusher girl in her racerback tank top and she could do stuff like, upside down and dyno to things—and I didn’t even know what a dyno was—I just knew that this girl could fly. And instead of being awed by her climbing ability, I remember just staring at her back muscles and her biceps and her forearms and being like, “Oh, I will never be a climber. If that’s what happens if you get these muscles, I don’t want it.” And I remember being really bummed because my body dysmorphia was going to ruin all this fun I was having at the gym. But then, moving from that and now that I climb all the time and it’s such a huge part of my life and my body has changed so much and I’m proud of my muscles—it’s so helpful dealing with body dysmorphia and body image issues—to learn to just love that your body does this rad thing for you.
But I did have the experience where I went and visited some friends who I hadn’t seen since I started climbing. And one of my friends was like, “Oh my god! You got so buff! Like, not like gross buff. Not gross. But, super buff! Holy shit.” And I was really taken aback, because, what do you mean, “gross buff”? Like, how could my muscles be gross? They do all this cool stuff for me. And then I caught myself looking in the mirror and wondering like, “Am I that girl now from the gym that people are looking at and are like, ‘Oh my god. I do not want to climb ‘cause I don’t want man arms, or I don’t want crazy big blood veins,” or something, ‘cause my own friends were telling me that I was “so buff” but not “gross buff”. I was like, “Well, you know, shit. I don’t want to be ‘gross buff’. I do want to climb hard.” And then it became this battle in my mind of, “Ok. I want to climb hard and the tradeoff might be getting ‘gross buff’ and, you know, having big back muscles or big shoulder muscles or whatever.”
And just trying to come to terms with, my body isn’t going to look the way our society thinks that women’s bodies are supposed to look. And my body’s going to be able to do really cool things and take me places with really cool people. And I’ll get to experience all these amazing views—like sunsets off of Tahquitz and really fun campfire conversations and I’ll get to feel this dopamine dump in my brain if I am able to push past my body dysmorphia. Just feeling that rush of projecting a route and then finally sending it and you’re just like, “My body did that! That’s so cool!” That’s so much more exciting and validating and worth it to me than when I would meet my calorie goal or be the skinny one at the party or something. And now I’m like, I want to be the one who can put up topropes and the one who’s strong and encouraging and sends my projects and gets to feel that celebratory rush where I’m just like, “Oh my god. That was amazing and so worth all the work I put into it—even if my muscles are scary now, or like, I’m the buffest girl at the party.” (laughs) It’s so much better and so much more fun.
(FEMALE VOICE): Body positivity can be a really hard concept to really understand and accept. I mean, I’ve struggled with this idea of being happy with my body for a really long time and, honestly, I still do struggle—especially when I’m climbing. I don’t envision wanting to have this model body. Like, I envision wanting to be these badass women who can send these amazing routes and have strong and lean bodies. And in the outdoor community, there are so many of those women and that’s kind of what I aspire to be: a badass strong woman. And then, there’s this image that I have of what that looks like and sometimes I see these women in the climbing community who are just lean, toned, and so damn strong. And I’m constantly comparing myself to them and thinking, “Should I even be here at the same crag that they are, trying to climb the same routes? Like, am I even strong enough?” So, I’m just always struggling with how my body is and where I want it to be. I mean, I want it to be strong and lean and what I envision what an “outdoor body” should look like.
So, I’ve had this idea in my head for a really long time. And then, a wonderful woman came into my life who is a dear friend of mine now and the idea of body positivity changed completely for me. I mean, she’s this badass, strong, skilled woman that I’ve always looked up to but she doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotype that I had in my head. And she taught me that it’s not about who was the strongest, who was the best—and instead, it’s about having fun and trying hard and being with people that you love and can support you and encourage you, and most importantly, she taught me that it’s about feeling good in your body. If you feel strong and love what your body can do for you—like, get you to the crag, up the rock, across rivers—whatever it may be. I mean, our bodies do so much for us! And now, I tell myself every day that my body is a temple. And sometimes, I still do struggle with body image. But, I love my body and all the places that it can take me and I’m so fortunate to have a capable body and to love what it does for me.
(MALE VOICE): I went through an eating disorder that took me about four years to recover from. It’s something that we don’t talk about as much, but we should ‘cause it’s a sport very prone to inducing people towards this kind of behavior.
(FEMALE VOICE): So, I took a little while to finally sit down and record this, I guess because, talking about eating disorders is not really easy—which is silly, because it should be something that we can talk about. Like, I don’t think that it should be a taboo subject anymore. The thing about eating disorders is it’s not just physical; it’s a mental struggle. I would look in the mirror and I was just never really happy with myself, and so I would choose not to eat thinking I would feel better and that maybe, I would be more lovable. But, you know, the thing about it is that it wasn’t even just that I wanted to lose weight or wanted to be skinny; it was the one thing that I could control. And I got really bad. You know, it got to the point where I would almost pass out while doing silks or rock climbing. It was making me not as strong as I should have been. So, luckily I got out of that relationship. I was finally learning to love myself for me and got a hold of my life. I had told myself that when I finally was able to kind of overcome that and be happy with who I was and where I was, no matter what, that I would get a tattoo. So, I did—I got the NEDA symbol. So, the National Eating Disorders Association with a blue lotus. Lotuses bloom out of the mud, so for me, it kind of symbolizes overcoming obstacles and blooming through them. So, I have this tattoo now on my side and, I think for me, it’s just a really good reminder of what I’ve been through and what I’ve overcome. And so, anytime I look in the mirror and I want to think negative thoughts about myself, I see that and I’m reminded of everything that I’ve been through. It helps me open up more about my past struggles and I think that it helps other people. ‘Cause you never know who else is struggling with it, and if you’re open with them to talk to them about your past and be like, “Yeah, if you’re still struggling with it—it’s ok. You’re not actually alone.”
(FEMALE VOICE): I remember one time, I had only had Triscuits and an apple all day. And I collapsed with stomach pains. But I became a rock climber and when you’re climbing, you’re burning so many calories. You’re needing more food, and I didn’t recognize that because I was thin. I continued to feed my eating disorder through climbing, and I think it really affected my performance, my relationships with my climbing partners—especially living on the road with someone who expects you to perform at a high level and you just can’t because all you had was potatoes that day. And they don’t understand; they don’t see that. It’s another reason to hate yourself and another reason to keep the eating disorder going. I’m really working hard to force myself to eat more, especially when I’m climbing. To eat a lot of healthy foods, but not really care about if it’s healthy or not—just to eat. And that’s my main goal. And I think when I can get to a place where I can go climbing and have enough energy to do what I want to do and have fun with my friends without feeling left behind because I’m so low in energy—I think that’s when I’ll know when I’ve truly made it. Anyway, love you, Kathy. You’re such a bright light and I’m so glad you’re doing this podcast. It’s so cool.
(FEMALE VOICE): I am proud to say now that I sought professional help for my mental health issues. I am in remission from anorexia. I kind of hate the word “survivor”, but I am an eating disorder, I don’t know, kick-asser? (laughs). And I love my job in the climbing community and I climb again, and I get up on the wall and I make friends—and I don’t panic. And—that’s pretty amazing.
(FEMALE VOICE): I think while climbing can be so positive like, learning to view your body as this amazing tool who does this cool shit for you and pulls you up these really beautiful climbs. Climbing can be so positive—and all of that positivity can so easily be undone with social media. It seems like the trend lately is just climbing pictures are just another advertising model. And so, it’s less about what grade that climber might be able to climb or how much work he or she has put into it. And for me, climbing was this cool escape where I could go climbing and not think about the way I look and not think about how I’ve been pressured since I was a little girl to be beautiful. Disney movies and our whole society and basically everything we’re told from the time we’re little is that our value comes from our “beauty”. And the main character, the main woman, is always beautiful—and that’s her defining characteristic. And I know that was part of my eating disorder and my body image issues is, I don’t look like a supermodel. I look like a person! And I thought that that was wrong ‘cause all I’ve ever seen in media was these beautiful women and I thought I was a supposed to be them.
And then, climbing happened and all of a sudden, I could just exist out in the woods with no reception and just drink beer and goof off and go climbing and my body felt so cool because it could take me to these beautiful places. And I’ve watched sunsets off of multi-pitches and slept on crash pads with my friends, and climbing was the one thing where I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. What mattered was: was I safe belayer? Was I good friend? Was I fun to be around? And I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. That was not the requirement.
And now, when I look at social media it’s like, “Oh—it’s not enough that you climb hard. You also have to be hot.” Like, you’ve also gotta be a babe. I don’t know. I was talking to someone and she was talking about how when someone’s taking pictures of her, she’ll have to make sure the way she’s climbing doesn’t obscure her face and she doesn’t put her arm up above her face and block the camera view. Whatever. And I was just like, “Fuck that!” I just want to rock climb. All I care about when I’m climbing is the movement and the flow and sending, hopefully. And there’s all this pressure to prove on social media that we’re cool and it just sucks because I want climbing to be about how much effort I’ve put into it and the community I have in climbing. And it’s, lately, becoming just another tool for beauty brands and we all want our sports bras to match our cute pants and our harness has to be clean. And, I don’t know, I look at those pictures of those models climbing and I don’t see fat rolls hanging over their harness which I see when I look down if I’m hanging on a route, and I’m like, “Ah, fuck. There’s my fat hanging over my harness.” And I used to not worry about it too much. Now there’s just more pressure, I feel like, to be beautiful while I’m climbing when I used to just climb.
(FEMALE VOICE): I suffer with anorexia and bulimia and have since the beginning of high school. I ran track at the time but was actually removed from the track team for being so anorexic. What I think about is, I’ve had an important discovery that my eating disorders are emotional manifestations of my anxiety and depression. Essentially, when I feel out of control, I can control my food intake and size. So, fast forward: rock climbing now changed my perspective on my body. I have found strong beautiful, rather than small. And to be strong, I have to be nourished. And to be nourished, I have to digest good food. While I’m definitely not cured and I’m not really sure if I ever will be—I am healthy. And I am getting stronger. Thank you for letting me share my story.
(FEMALE VOICE): I chose to take a gap year
and fill it with
everything but me
But when I started the tale
were all I wanted to see
The letters were all wrong
how I write
But the spaces between my words
were a stunning
And so I figured out
that my talent
lies in between
So why bother about the letters
when there’s such
blanks to be seen
I eagerly developed
this wonderful talent
The fulfilling in-betweennesses
If I tell you about my gap year
or describe who
It’s three times, long and hard
the space key that
The story of what was happening
Under my hands started gappening
The font of my writing
Blurred to pencil strokes
ghostly intruders in the Holy Gap’s
On my every train of thought
a singular announcement
…mind the gap, mind the gap, mindthegap…
Subconciousness’ Subway Headquarters’
My legs racing to
keep up with the
Keeping my feet drumming along
until my knees blow
I chose to take a gap year
to open up
But into the gap I t
now my perspectives
The gap’s sides, sharp
But I shall recover them all
cushioning the hurtful
Thus I’ll close off my gap year
close it off
I’ll start out by
(don’t get this wrong)
making my legs cross that extra mile
This is something I wrote a couple of years ago about how I got obsessed with the thinness of my own body. The “gap” I’m talking about is the well-known “thigh gap”. It wasn’t about body image. It was about challenging myself and willpower and pushing through obvious cries from your body that you’re in need. So, I decided to just stop eating and I pushed it further and further. And to this day, the decision I made as a stupid, bored teenager who thought she could make herself more interesting by becoming complicated and by having issues (sigh) have really affected the course of her own life ever since. Climbing was this new challenge. It was this new thing that I could challenge myself with and it could take up the space of this eating behavior…addiction. Climbing was going to save me.
(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.
– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, and a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.
Resources for you and/or loved ones:
National Eating Disorders Association: 1-800-931-2237
This helpline offers support Monday–Thursday from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. EST, and Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. EST. You can expect to receive support, information, referrals, and guidance about treatment options for either you or your loved one. You can also contact this helpline through its online chat function, available on its website. Additionally, there is an option to send a text message if you are in crisis by texting NEDA to 741741; a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line will get in touch with you.
Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207
This eating disorders helpline offers treatment referrals nationwide. Its website also provides a wealth of information and resources about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. Through its website, you can join an online chat group where you can speak to others in your shoes to gain support, advice, and hope.
Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673
This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Sometimes, people with eating disorders might feel so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. If this is true for you, this hotline offers nationwide assistance and support from volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention. You can talk to someone day or night about anything that’s troubling you, even if it’s not related to an eating disorder. You can also call if you need referrals to eating disorder treatment centers.
Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who “need help getting through a meal,” and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.
Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664
This hotline is available to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area. Contrary to popular belief, Overeaters Anonymous is not just for people who are concerned about eating too much; it is also intended for those who have anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, or any other type of eating disorder. If you are reluctant to attend an in-person meeting or are not geographically near one, its website offers you the option to participate in an online- or telephone-based support group.
Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (formerly the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association): 1-617-558-1881
This organization offers education, information, referrals to clinicians who specialize in eating disorders, support groups, and additional services for people with eating disorders in the New England area. It also offers information about nationwide treatment centers and is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday.
The United Way’s 211.org: Call 2-1-1
The hotline is intended for anyone living in North America who has any type of crisis or who needs help locating specific resources, including information and referrals for eating disorder treatment. Available 24/7, it can offer information and referrals to treatment organizations in your area.
Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741
Available 24/7, 365 days a year, this organization helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues by connecting callers with trained crisis volunteers who will provide confidential advice, support, and referrals if needed.