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The Links between Trauma and Eating Disorders

Links between Trauma and Eating Disorders
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Jenny Tomei [00:00:11]:

Hello, and welcome to the Jenup Podcast. I’m Jenny Tomei. I’m a qualified nutritional therapist, eating disorder coach and personal trainer. We’ve got Sam Woodfield here, who is my co-host. So, Sam is an excellent cyclist and has recovered from anorexia orthorexia and exercise addiction. So, welcome to this new series of the Jenup Podcast, focusing on all things sporting performance, mental health, physical health and removing the stigma around eating disorders. But you want to ask us anything, you can find us at Ask Jenup on Facebook and on Instagram and also with my new TikTok @jentomei, I’m going to pass you over to Sam Woodfield, who is going to introduce our guest for today.

Sam Woodfield [00:01:01]:

Welcome back to the Jenup podcast. We know it’s been a bit of a break, but we needed it to come back, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running again. Can’t start. Can’t. Wow, we’re rusty. Clearly can’t. Want to get started with this new series and bring some fantastic guests onto the podcast and discuss all things around sport, sport performance, physical health, mental health and hopefully remove a little bit of the stigma around the eating disorder. Today we have Dr Natasha Trujillo, who is licensed in counseling and sports psychology.

Sam Woodfield [00:01:39]:

She obtained her doctorate degree from Purdue University in Counseling Psychology in 2019, where she built specialities in grief and loss, self injury and addressing mental health needs and access to services with collegiate athletes. She completed her APA accredited internship and postdoctoral study at the University of Northern Colorado, where she provided individual group consultation and crisis support services in both the counselling centre with the general campus community and in the athletics department, working with individuals, teams, coaches and the administration. She primarily works with clinical concerns related to grief, loss, eating disorders, trauma, anxiety, perfectionism and the athlete mindset. A little bit of a light hearted note. That last sentence pretty much summarizes the last seven years of my life. Unfortunately, since the loss of my mother in 2015, my life changed and I’ve pretty much gone through all of those whilst also being trying to be a high performing athlete as well. So it’s great to have you on board today, Dr Natasha, and we can go over loads of different topics. I know this has taken some time to get us all together in one room or in one studio to record, so it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on board.

Sam Woodfield [00:03:08]:

So I’ll hand you over to Jenny. Jenny will go over the first couple of questions. I’m going to cover off more of the perfectionism in the athlete side of things and around a bit of grief and loss stuff, and Jenny’s going to cover more of the health and the eating disorder approaches. That’s how we tend to do stuff when we can split the podcast down this way.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:03:30]:

Cool.

Jenny Tomei [00:03:30]:

So, Natasha, how firstly, how did you get into this line of work that you do now.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:03:35]:

So I initially started in residential treatment facilities for risk youth and that was really where I wanted to stay and so that’s what kind of motivated me to get my PhD. And then once I got to my doc program, I was introduced to working in college athletics and that really just kind of changed my whole world around. So I still came from a trauma informed desire to know more about trauma and work with trauma and grief and loss and then of course just the world of sport really expanded. I was a former athlete so it allowed me to still be connected to sport and to my competitiveness and to the drive that I still have and just my passion and love for sports but be able to merge that into a career path as well. So I started in college athletics and then kind of bounced around. I was at two different universities and then worked at an eating disorder facility where I really kind of honed in working with athletes with eating disorders. And now I’ve been in private practice for about a year and a half, almost two years now where I’ve been full private practice. Okay, nice.

Sam Woodfield [00:04:47]:

And what is your sport?

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:04:50]:

I played basketball.

Sam Woodfield [00:04:52]:

Okay, cool.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:04:54]:

Nice.

Jenny Tomei [00:04:55]:

That’s cool. I would say well, because I know you work with eating disorders and obviously trauma. So I think it would be really good if you could explain briefly the links between trauma eating disorders and especially like grief and loss because I think that would be really useful for people listening.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:05:17]:

Oh absolutely. They’re definitely not cause and effect relationships. You don’t have to have grief and loss in order to have an eating disorder or you don’t have to have trauma first and then have an eating disorder, right? Any of those things could start and those paths can all look very different but there is a lot of overlap and connection, right? So for example, oftentimes trauma and or grief and loss are reasons why eating disorders get started, right? Eating disorders can be a function of control or punishment or simply like manipulating and controlling something in their environment that someone might not be able to get in any other domain. So sometimes it can be born from trauma or born from grief and loss. But on the flip side, oftentimes having an eating disorder can bring about trauma, can bring about a lot of grief and loss. Even entering recovery and choosing to focus on health and discover how to get better in these domains can come with a lot of grief and loss. So I think the very complex, very multilayered layered and very bi directional if you look at the relationships between those things and it’s not specific to just one type of trauma or just one type of grief and loss. It could be death loss, it could be non death loss.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:06:43]:

It could be trauma related to abuse or to neglect or to racial injustice. Right. It can be a variety of different types of trauma, different types of grief and loss that contribute.

Sam Woodfield [00:06:59]:

Yeah. I mean, just from a personal point of view. Natasha I lost my mom in 2015 after about a seven and a half to eight year battle with cancer. And it went fairly downhill from the Christmas until the April when, unfortunately, my mother did pass away. I was a PT, a personal trainer at the time, into the gym. Fairly lean, but fairly big for like a PT wasn’t massively into endurance sport at the time. And due to the timing of my mother’s past, it was an opportunity to go outside and ride my bike and it was an escapism to start with. And then basically, it was just during a ride that I met up with someone, as you do on the UK British roads.

Sam Woodfield [00:07:50]:

And we ended up going for a ride, we ended up going for a coffee and a scone. And then he went, oh, you’ve got a bit of an engine. Then he turned around and said, I’m a coach. And then it pretty much spiraled from there. And his methods, his methods is the wrong way of describing his ethos, was, you’ve got the engine, let’s get your overall body mass down and try and maintain the power output that you currently have. Obviously, you will get fitter over time and we’ll keep it in kilos. I was 95 kilos at the time, the lowest, which was about the end of 2017. Start of 2018, I’ve got down to sub 70 kilos.

Sam Woodfield [00:08:37]:

So I lost about a quarter of my body mass, bone mass as well. I did have osteopenia and certain places on my hip and spine were osteoporotic. I still have therapy to this day for the grief of my mom. She doesn’t believe that I have grieved properly. And we believe that the eating disorder and the control yes. Was there from the exercise and the want to get fitter and stronger. But actually, the crux of the matter was I needed a control in my life at that time. So, yeah, it was a tough one.

Sam Woodfield [00:09:22]:

I’ve learned a lot from it. But I totally agree with yourself that actually when I was coming out of the recovery process, I grieved the loss of the eating disorder and the control. And that’s one of the hardest ones I found was actually, pardon my friendship, I’m now actually losing something like that was such a strong part of me because it actually allowed me to feel and not everyone likes feelings.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:09:57]:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, a couple of things stand out to me about that one. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your story. And you’re completely right about we also have to include the athlete identity and kind of bring that into the fold, too. So if you look at grief and loss, if you look at trauma, if you look at eating disorders, we also have the cultural messages around what it means to be an athlete and what is normal in your sport and what is body image, right. What is expected. And so all of those pieces can play a really strong role in the development of the eating disorder. Yes.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:10:33]:

And this is something that I consistently cover with people when I do clinical work, is just how much grief and loss is associated with losing the eating disorder. And I think that can really get lost. Right. The eating disorder gets very demonized in treatment and it just has to go away and we have to stop these things. And we do have to kind of take a step back and realize, yes, even though it is harmful and ultimately we want people to be in recovery and free of their eating disorder, it does bring about some gains for them as well. Right. Like kind of looking at it from this gains and losses perspective. And so you have to be able to recognize that and kind of honor and validate some of the good that it brought to someone, even if the bad much outweighs it.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:11:17]:

But being able to honor that and allow you to grieve in your recovery process, what you’re losing with the eating disorder, too, is a really important part that I do think gets missed a lot of times in eating disorder treatment.

Jenny Tomei [00:11:30]:

I was just saying I don’t think that’s spoken about enough. Just sort of in general like that, like grieving the loss of it, because obviously I had anorexia and I went through a lot of depression after it. Like grieving the loss of it and it was really bad and no one ever talks about that.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:11:55]:

It’s tough pieces. Yeah, well, there’s so many pieces of it that you can kind of extrapolate and look at the different types of losses. So oftentimes you have loss of how your body changes in recovery and there are some perceived losses in that. The structure, the rigidity, the routine that brings people a lot of comfort. Right. When you’re in recovery, it’s different. You’re changing things up, you’re working to be more flexible, more spontaneous. There’s losses in that.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:12:32]:

Right. Relationships. You develop a relationship with your eating disorder. Yes. It’s an inanimate object, but it becomes something that people become reliant on and it is a dependable source, even if it is harmful. And so there’s relationship losses there. And that’s just internal. Of course, there can be external relationship losses too, associated with it, if you have to take a step away from your sport for a bit or reconfigure some of your relationships with people who might not be the best influences in that front.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:13:05]:

So there’s just so many areas where losses inherent in the process of recovery, even though recovery is overall right. Positive in the direction that we want to be going, it’s still hard. Oh, God. Yeah. Sorry, Sam.

Jenny Tomei [00:13:21]:

What were you going to say?

Sam Woodfield [00:13:24]:

You’re doing a very good job of making Jenny, and I very speechless today. Natasha, this is honing in on some pretty good points here, which is why we do the podcast, right? This is why we’re here. And it is to discuss these matters, and it is to remove the stigmas around it. I would say stereotypically. I have to remove a stigma because I’m a male athlete who actually developed anorexia later in life, in a career. I had a career. My loss was a career. So I actually lost my career and fell into being a full time athlete.

Sam Woodfield [00:14:05]:

That was my major loss. It’s taken its time, it’s taken its toll on me. So I turned 33 this year, and mine arose at 24, 25, and it took a long time to grieve, to kind of get out of it. The body shape change was one of the biggest ones for me. The body shape change was a massive one. I can no longer weigh myself. I have one mirror in the house, and it’s not full length. I work in a gym, and unfortunately there are mirrors in gyms, and I have to be very conscious of where I place myself for that reason.

Sam Woodfield [00:14:57]:

My question is, and this could be a very long answer and it doesn’t need to be do you truly believe that full recovery can happen, or do you believe it’s ingrained into someone’s personality for the rest of their life?

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:15:21]:

Great question. Oh, man, I have so many thoughts about this. I do think from a behavioral perspective, yes, someone can maintain recovery and live the rest of their life without whatever their disordered behaviors were. However, it depends on how you define recovery. Because if you are looking at recovery and defining it as, I will never have thoughts, feelings, behaviors, anything regarding the eating disorder again, or it doesn’t even have to be an eating disorder. It could be a substance use problem.

Sam Woodfield [00:16:01]:

It could be an addiction, basically, whatever.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:16:05]:

The vice is, I guess I don’t think that that’s a realistic expectation or way to define recovery. And this is something I talk about with my clients a lot. Our goal is not to rid them of any thought, any behavior, any emotion that could trigger any sort of disordered eating or eating disorder behavior. Our goal is to help them feel like they are capable, adaptively, and in a healthy way, managing how to cope with those things as they do arise, right? So someone could be behavior free for 15 years, and then something happens in their life, right? It could be some sort of loss, right? Somebody could die suddenly or they could lose their job, right? Some sort of identity crisis, regardless of what could happen. And all of a sudden that automatic thought could be, oh, well, I could turn back to the eating disorder. I could turn back to the again, fill in the blank, substance use, self injury, whatever it might be. So I think recovery can be achieved in the sense of behaviors can be gone. But I do think people have to stay consciously aware of the potential for thoughts, feelings, behaviors to pop up at different points of their life as time goes on.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:17:24]:

And so I just want to help people be better equipped to handle those things as they do pop up, rather than trying to set themselves up to believe that, oh, this will just go away forever and I’ll never struggle again.

Sam Woodfield [00:17:41]:

Because in my mind, I know I’m going to have to battle the thoughts, the feelings for the rest of my life. Even though behavioral wise, I agree with you. I’d say I don’t know if we’d called it 9.9 times out of ten, those behaviors aren’t going to reappear unless something happens. But I personally do think my thoughts, feelings around food portions, carbohydrate intake, whether it’s high low, high low, medium sports performance, that’s where my mind goes to. And that leads quite nicely onto the next question, which is working with the athlete mindset, the perfectionism, the self worth, the high achieving. We’re five days past me doing the national twelve hour time trial here in the UK. I finished twelveTH. Yes, I am happy.

Sam Woodfield [00:18:36]:

Yes, I’ve already signed up for next year. Yes, there’s already learnings and procedures in place of how to improve, but the team around me in that build up to the week knew what I was like and it was a case of monitoring behaviors. And actually, I’ll fully admit, for someone with an eating disorder, someone that has suffered with an eating disorder, especially under fueling and red relative energy deficiency syndrome, my week was just carb like max, literally as much food as I could eat until Saturday night, and then I could barely eat on Saturday night. And that actually starts to ply on your mind because you’re then relating your entire performance to that carbohydrate intake, not actually what your body can physically produce, the watts, the heart rate, obviously staying in an aerotop position for 12 hours, would not recommend it to anyone. My neck is still broken from the eating disorder side. I’ve had to really drum in that it’s not all about food that week and it’s a real draw on that in my eyes. And I was just wondering how that athlete mindset kind of plays on that eating disorder part.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:19:57]:

Oh my gosh, yeah, absolutely. So your question makes me go a few different ways in my head here. I think one of the biggest things that stick out to me about what you just said is how I mean, perfectionism as well. It is incredibly hard to keep your recovery mind focused when you are still training, when you are still very submersed in your sport and in that culture, because you’re also not only having to internally continue to do all. The work that you’re doing in your recovery, but you’re also having to kind of combat and shield yourself from other messages or whether that be from a coach or on your team or just kind of like society at large about expectations and what an athlete should look like, what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing. So there’s a lot of components and things to consider here when it comes to perfectionism and the athlete mindset. I often think about how so frequently some of the traits that make athletes very successful, things like high achieving over compliance, going above and beyond, having rigid routines that they’re really good at sticking to for their training, right? Some of those personality factors can also give them very strong eating disorders, very strong levels of perfectionism, very strong levels of other mental health concerns as well, right? Like definitely bordering I just described some OCD tendencies and things like that. So I’m by no means saying that every athlete has those mental health disorders, right? But there’s definitely overlap and there are definitely tendencies that we see.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:21:44]:

And so that can make, again, that athlete mindset very challenging when it comes to fueling yourself properly or managing distress or setbacks in your training. Because that perfectionism is all about achieving this forever increasing level of perfection. So you’re constantly chasing it, always feeling like you got to raise your expectations, you got to do more. It’s not good enough. Right. The sense of inadequacy that can keep you quite stuck because your improvements and the gains that you do make don’t really matter that much because you’re already on to, well, that wasn’t quite good enough. So how do I keep going? So it can feel like you’re constantly racing with no breaks? No breaks, no finish line in sight.

Sam Woodfield [00:22:34]:

Yeah. And yeah, there was a finish line. It was twelve minutes past six on Sunday evening and there was no greater achievement than swinging my leg over the bike to get off. I must admit there is a fantastic photo of me having a smoothie afterwards. But anyway, we digress. So, moving on to that, do you think obviously I like the phrase that actually Sir Bradley Wiggins used and that’s racing a bicycle up a mountain is someone basically holding your head underwater and then asking you to breathe. And then I then link that back to another phrase that a friend has used before and that’s I’m going to hold your head underwater, but I’m not going to tell you for how long you’re going to panic, right? If I tell you I’m going to hold your head underwater for three minutes, it might still be a struggle, but you might get to the three minutes, you might be able to relax and breathe. And that’s where I have to go now.

Sam Woodfield [00:23:38]:

And it’d be interesting to hear your opinion on this is I just lived 52 weeks, 365 days, no change, head in the game for three years. That’s all. I did virtually the same meal, same portions, blah, blah. For about three years, same routes on the road. I just knew where I had to be. Now I go ten weeks out from a big goal that’s when I put my head under the water and it’s held, come out the other side, week off, and then maybe we go again, maybe two weeks, depending on goals. Road racing in the UK is a little bit different. We can race week in, week out here, so you can go from April to September with no weekend off if you really wanted.

Sam Woodfield [00:24:31]:

So it’s that immersion, and then it’s that kind of immersion when we come out. And it’s that immersion that I’m really interested in, of how that person goes back into reality, especially with the perfectionism and the high achieving aspects of how to kind of decompress from that period of time.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:24:53]:

Yeah, so, again, I think it’s multifactorial. There’s a lot of different pieces that are involved, but a couple of things that come to mind are helping people kind of live more in the gray rather than those extremes or polarities. And oftentimes that means helping people. Sometimes that is behaviorally, right? So sometimes it’s challenging themselves, behaviorally, to take that rest day if they need it, and to learn to manage the distress. Of course it’s going to be distressing, but how can you sit with that? How can you manage it in a way that you’re not just white knuckling or not just simply avoiding it altogether and continuing to push through? So sometimes it’s behaviorally, sometimes it’s cognitively, where we’re helping people kind of look at what are your belief systems and which beliefs may not be serving you, right. Maybe you thought they were really aligned with your values, but they’re not getting you to your intended outcome. So sometimes it’s looking at values and beliefs and figuring out what might need to change a little bit. And sometimes that can be a really scary idea for people because I have heard, well, I don’t want to change my values because I really value and I like about myself, that I work really hard and then I’m always willing to do more.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:26:16]:

And so I always, again, try to pull them into the gray, where it’s like, yeah, let’s keep what works well, let’s keep what is important to you. But how can we reshape it? Just redefine it in a way that is not so self destructive. Right. Even if I take a rest day, so it’s kind of like zooming in and zooming out. Even if I take a rest day, that does not erase all of the other training and hard work. So it’s kind of helping them think through. Well, a recovery day is actually part of my training plan. I am still training, I’m still doing what I need to do.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:26:51]:

I’m actually taking care of myself in addition to the workouts. Right. Or if I’m seeing my psychologist or if I’m going to physical therapy or if I’m meeting with my dietitian or whoever else somebody might be meeting with, those are all parts of their training plan too. So cognitively, there’s a little bit of, like, mental gymnastics and just trying to help people recognize what are some other ways that we’re not going to fundamentally change your belief system. But how can we tweak it to work? More in your favor and maybe channel some of that energy that has in the past been self destructive into again, just more adaptive ways to still live out your values, but without doing so much damage to yourself. And please keep in mind what I’m saying is way much easier said than done. Right? This is a lot of conversation, this is a lot of work, a lot of yeah.

Sam Woodfield [00:27:46]:

So from a personal point of view, I’ll fully admit last six weeks I’ve been selfish. There were no stones unturned. If my coach says it’s 4 hours, it’s 4 hours. Like it’s not 3 hours, 50, it’s 4 hours. And don’t get me wrong, I’m now past, way past the I can’t have a rest day, that’s no issue because I train hard enough that actually I look forward to my rest day, right? I actually look forward to that. But then I’m selfish on a rest day. And if it’s a weekend that is sat on the couch probably watching some cycling and some films and that’s where I become the selfish person. And that’s where it’s like, yeah, I’m doing nothing today.

Sam Woodfield [00:28:35]:

I’m better doing washing up and laundry on days I’m training and then I recover really hard. And I know from my past it was I’m not doing anything on my rest day. And it’s going into that selfish bubble for six weeks that I personally know I need to work on to keep kind of, as you said, the beliefs and the values there as a person. Because I can lose sight of certain things and I know within certain sports, especially age group, triathlon age group, marathon running age group, ultra running age group, cycling to an extent, even though age group doesn’t really exist. I know unfortunately you can’t race miles without doing miles. And to do miles you have to do hours. And it’s just finding time to condense that and understanding that outside of the miles there is other things that need to be done in life as well. I don’t promote the 05:00 a.m.

Sam Woodfield [00:29:41]:

Wake up as a coach. I don’t promote that. I’m not someone if I’ve got 4 hours worth of training, but I’ve got, I don’t know, a family lunch at eleven, I’m not going to wake up at 04:00 to do my 4 hours. I won’t do that. I know some people do. I value my sleep. So it’s just understanding that. And it’s also how to tell a partner, a loved one, a family member, a work colleague, that I might be a little bit crumpled today, but it’s okay for me to be crumpled like my little skewed.

Sam Woodfield [00:30:18]:

And it’s just putting those ideas across and it’s, again, going back to the high achieving thing and it’s just working on that relationship. I’m doing loads of talking, but it’s just you’re making so many valid points. I’m like just trying to put them all together so people understand what kind of happens in that mindset.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:30:38]:

Yeah, absolutely. I think another thing that you said that just made me think about the connection with identity and self worth. I think for a lot of high achieving athletes, self worth can become very contingent on achievement and on accolades. And then if you add perfectionism in there, it doesn’t matter how many achievements or what accolades they get, it’s still not enough. And then you do have some athletes that have won every race they could win right, have kind of maxed out in terms of what they can do achievement wise. And that’s always very sticky territory. So you’re just reminding me of the importance of helping people learn and understand how to diversify their self worth, to not be so connected. Right.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:31:26]:

This kind of like cause and effect with athletic achievements or even outside of athletics, just achievement in general. Right. So helping people recognize what you do versus who you are and build some self worth in some of those other arenas too, which I think is really important work for athletes, especially as they are transitioning out of sport, whether it be retirement, their choice, not their choice. But that is just so huge in helping them kind of reformulate their identity and look at how to find purpose and meaning and gratitude for themselves in ways that aren’t contingent on medals or yes.

Sam Woodfield [00:32:05]:

I mean, let’s take one of the greatest athletes. Let’s take Roger Federer, for example. He walked away on top. I think he’s one of the greatest sportsmen to ever have lived. He held himself in such high know, he’s walked away on top. Yes, he had an injury, but he clearly came to a point he had achieved everything and he didn’t just keep pushing. So he was clearly content.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:32:38]:

Ish right, and just kind of recognizing what else is there. So, again, going back to diversifying your identity and how you spend your time and thinking of training more broadly, of course, your time with your coach, strength training, conditioning, those pieces. Yes, those are direct, very no question those are part of your training plan. But there are a lot of other things that people can add to their training plan or are part of their training plan, and they don’t necessarily see it that way, but it could be quite useful to see it. That way just to give them more of a well rounded perspective and again, help kind of attack some of that athlete mindset that maybe is not as beneficial or as mentally tough as they might think it is.

Sam Woodfield [00:33:32]:

That’s been brilliant. Natasha, I’m going to hand you over to Jenny so she can do a little bit of the talking on more covering off kind of the stuff on the actual eating disorder side and the health side and how to deal with body image changes and all of that. That was really my main crux of what I wanted to ask you and kind of portray to our audience this afternoon, evening, morning, depending where you listen to. So don Jen, you can ask a few of the questions now to over to Natasha.

Jenny Tomei [00:34:06]:

Thank you for that, I enjoyed listening to that. It was really interesting. I guess my question would be more about the link between sort of eating disorders and endurance athletes. So I would ask you, I think that I do see a lot. So do you see more eating disorders within endurance athletes? And if so, why do you think that is?

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:34:35]:

Yeah, great question. I have my anecdotal answer and then I have my empirical answer too. Research tells us that, yes, aesthetic sports, endurance sports, weight class sports, weight to ratio sports, we see more eating disorders in those populations. And then anecdotally, I would say. I mean, I have seen disorders, eating disorders across all sport. But yes, I do a lot of work with endurance athletes. And I think a lot of that comes back to kind of what we were talking about earlier. But just the culture, the culture of the sport, the beliefs around the sport, the expectations, the norms.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:35:17]:

And a lot of those things are not questioned or not challenged. So, I mean, I’ve heard over and over and over again this idea of leanness, right, the leaner you are, the faster you are, the less I weigh, the better I’m going to perform, right? So some of those beliefs are not challenged, are not questioned, it’s just norms kind of in the sport. And so I think that puts people more at risk as far as, oh, I must fit this certain body type, I must do this certain thing, I must engage in these certain behaviors because that’s what’s going to make me perform better. I also think in some of those sports you just tend to see behaviors more frequently and can kind of observe and pick up on them. So, for example, what I mean by that I remember working in college athletics and just how different an experience it was for me to go to a team dinner with the football team versus a team dinner with the track and cross country team and just paying attention to how they spoke about food, what kind of food was even offered the plates. Right? Like what that looked like. And then even the discomfort, noticing how people ate, how people interacted around food. It is a vastly different experience.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:36:34]:

So, yes, I think a lot of the expectations within the sport kind of lead to endurance athletes being potentially more at risk. Although I do want to be clear, I think any athlete is at risk.

Jenny Tomei [00:36:47]:

Yeah, no, for sure. We’ve talked a lot about reds on this podcast, so a lot of the side effects of that and what that does to the body. I mean, Sam and I have both suffered with that and I had a lot of issues with my hormonal system because of that, which took years to recover. So I definitely feel like there’s more education sort of needed within that area.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:37:14]:

Yeah, it was really, I guess, interesting just to learn the more I’m in this, how many yeah, so I guess I also like to make the distinction. A lot of people start out just wanting to perform better and so they are unintentionally under fueling and not doing what they need to. So it’s not always this intentional, very conscious thought process. Sometimes it is just more trial and error and that sort of thing. So it’s a very common problem and I think I see all the time before I do this work just how many athletes are under fueling and how, again, the awareness, the lack of education, really.

Jenny Tomei [00:38:02]:

With me, personally, I think that I look back at my sort of which was a very short lived running, let’s say, period. For me, once I had a goal in my mind, that was it. I was like, Right, I’m going for it. It was just like it was very black and white sort of thinking. But obviously I became a very good runner really quickly. Of course, I joined one of the best running clubs in Kent because I was like, right, I’m going to join the best club, and I joined the best club and I trained there, but I firmly believe I was actually going through something emotionally because I was so like, the inner critic. I think I use exercise as a way to manage particularly strong emotions that I had going on in my life because now I’m at a point where I’m actually feel really good and I’m like, well, I don’t really need to do this anymore, so I don’t enjoy it. And it’s kind of like I don’t know if you have anyone that you’ve worked with like that, but I don’t see anyone speak about it.

Jenny Tomei [00:39:09]:

Because I always say when I’ve done talks in schools, I always say about my history of that sort of say yes, okay. Exercise is great to manage our emotions, but I firmly believe I was literally going for a lot of anxiety, escapism and all that type of thing, and I got really good really quickly. But now I’m at a point where I’m like, do I want to go back to that? Do I want to perform again? Honestly, I still don’t know the answer to that question to this day.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:39:40]:

Yes, absolutely. Such good points. Yeah, it’s interesting too, because there’s a lot of identity wrapped up in that as well. I think once you join a club or once you have performed and have done pretty well, and if that’s what people are asking you about, then it’s kind of like, dang, I do have to keep living up to these expectations. But you also made me think about how frequently I have conversations with athletes who I will directly ask them, how was your last workout? And when we really break it down, they’re like, oh, it was horrible. I felt terrible the entire time. But that relief after the workout where they’re like, oh, yes, I did this. That’s what they’re going for, so right.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:40:31]:

Like, that escapism or just some of that being aware of your intentions with your training and what you’re really doing it for. And particularly, I found people struggling with reds, people who are struggling with eating disorders and still trying to perform at really high levels and aren’t giving themselves the rest and relaxation they need. I hear that more often than not, where they’re like, yeah, my workouts suck, to be honest with you, but I got to keep doing them right. I can’t back off because I still perform in school. And that relief. That is the best part of my day. When I’m done with a workout and I can tell myself, hey, I just did that. That is really what they’re going for.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:41:12]:

And so then we just try to kind of help them understand, well, how else could you get that? And I think that can be a hard conversation, too, because I can even speak to this in my own athletic experience. Having the game of your life, right, playing incredibly well, nothing really beats that. So that is an incredibly hard feeling to recreate, yet at the same time trying to figure out what else might give you that same sort of rush or satisfaction. And again, redefining your self worth on more than just your performance becomes really big in that. And then, of course, like you said, knowing your intentions, are you doing this to escape, to cope with your emotions? And if so, how do we continue to disentangle that relationship between exercise and disorder?

Jenny Tomei [00:42:00]:

Yeah, thank you for that. I think that’s just such a fine it’s such a fine line, I think, because it’s like you’re trying to when I speak about it, and I think it’s so important because I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, and if someone talked to me about it, I’d been like, okay, actually, what is my intent behind this? Why am I doing it? It would have helped me to answer those questions to myself. So, yeah, I just think it’s so important. Thank you for that.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:42:28]:

Yeah, absolutely. Knowing your why, right? Again, that’s a question that I always ask my athletes. What is your why are you doing.

Jenny Tomei [00:42:39]:

No, it’s interesting. No, thank you for that. It’s really insightful. I think we have time for one more question, maybe from sam, then we’ll have to wrap things up.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:42:50]:

Okay.

Sam Woodfield [00:42:51]:

Oh, we leaving this wonderful question to me. You love leaving me with this one, right. How would you guide an age group athlete without naming names here? Potentially me through a transition from full time athlete by accident because of what I was going through. I was a full time athlete by accident because of what happened with my loss of mum and the anorexia. I couldn’t work. Yeah, let’s go with I couldn’t work for a period of time. I then had to transition into basically having a job. Again, I think what we can establish from this conversation today, it’s all about how you define yourself and your self worth and your self identity.

Sam Woodfield [00:43:51]:

But how could you help an athlete deal with that transition period? Not really talking on the professional end here because obviously some multimillionaire sports stars don’t really have to worry too much. But there are obviously athletes that have to move from that are in lesser paid sports, do have to go to work. They can’t retire at 35 and just sit on the beach for the rest of their life, unfortunately.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:44:21]:

Right. Well, and again, even for those athletes who have achieved those financial milestones, there’s still the identity component.

Sam Woodfield [00:44:29]:

Absolutely.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:44:30]:

Their sport. So, yes, the self worth and the identity piece are huge. I think one of the most powerful things I have seen in my work with athletes transitioning out of sport, for whatever the reason, is naming it as grief and loss, naming it as something that is difficult and challenging and that every aspect of their life is completely different when they are done playing or training or whatever. Right. Even the idea. I once had a college athlete tell me I’d worked with her for about two years while she was a college athlete. And then when her season was done, she hadn’t quite graduated yet. Right.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:45:10]:

So she still had a little bit of her college career left before she graduated without sport. And she came to me so upset one day and just kind of collapsed in the chair of my office, and she was like, I just figured out why I’m struggling so much. And I was like, all right, fill me in. What’s going on? And she said, I don’t go to practice anymore. I just exercise. And I don’t know how to just exercise if I don’t have a goal. That was such a big epiphany for her because, again, she recognized how every aspect of her life was changing as a result. Relationships change.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:45:46]:

Right. This is also something that I hear all the time. I don’t know how to make friends. I don’t know how to make friends if we’re not all kind of suffering through the same training together or if we don’t have this space where we already know we have these shared interests and the shared passion for things going on. So when I think about people retiring from sports, naming it as grief and loss and recognizing that every aspect of their lives will be affected in one way or the other, and just giving them the space to talk through that. Yes, we’re going to hit on some self worth and some identity components, but a lot of it is also figuring out what do you like, what do you do when you have a couple of hours of downtime, what are you interested in? So a lot of it, yes, that’s identity work, but really getting to know themselves again and redefining their relationships and not changing their values, but maybe reorganizing them a little bit as they transition and then also helping them cope with, again, what I was saying earlier, but that sense of missing satisfaction. Again, when you’re performing and you do really well in your sport, nothing beats that feeling. If you get a nine to five job and you’re going to work, there’s not as many opportunities to feel that sort of thing.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:47:04]:

So helping them kind of recognize how else can they still feel alive in adaptive ways and continue to figure out how to find those rushes and to get those dopamine hits that they’re just not going to get in the same way.

Sam Woodfield [00:47:24]:

Personal. So my hardest transition going to work was I was still suffering with anorexia. So my transition was a little bit harder. I was still competing. I still held my elite level license here in the UK. I had to go to work. I was actually working around food. I was managing a cafe.

Sam Woodfield [00:47:45]:

Cafe, so barista stuff and food. And I had to train. But it was more like eight to six. So 08:00 a.m. Till 06:00 p.m.. How do I fuel a day? I still need to train. I still need to squeeze in hours. That was the hard transition for me.

Sam Woodfield [00:48:02]:

If I’m being brutally honest with you, Natasha. It wasn’t so much the transition from being full time athlete to going to work, it was I’ve now got to teach myself how to eat. Basically. I can’t reword it any other way how to eat. That was the Firest thing for me. I remember the first time I’d go all day on virtually nothing until about 2 hours before training in the evening and it would then be a 90 minutes workout and I then put the fuel in. That was the hardest thing for me to transition through.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:48:44]:

Yes. And again, right just to that point of there’s really no stone that is left unturned. And so it is just kind of helping those people recognize what are the biggest challenges, what are you noticing that is the hardest kind of thing to wrap your head around and naming that as grief and loss in some ways and helping them figure out how to do that. Yeah. Because if you’ve got coaches, if you’ve got dietitians, strength and conditioning, if you’ve got people telling you, hey, this is what your workout is going to be, this is what you’re going to eat today, this is when it makes sense based on your schedule and that sort of thing, and then going from all of that to nothing. Yeah, that is so hard.

Sam Woodfield [00:49:24]:

It was a very interesting two years to say the, so I think that pretty much wraps us up today. I’ve got one more question, but we’ll do the outro, Natasha, and then we’ll let you end the show with a definition that I’d like to hear from you and let’s see how you define what I’m going to ask you and we’ll leave the show on that. So I just want to say thank you very much to everyone for listening to the Jedup podcast today. It’s good to be back. It’s good to be back with, hopefully, series three and a packed series three. The main host of today has been Jenny Tame, and I have been your co host, Sam Woodfield. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram at ask Jenup and head over to Jenny’s website for any more info tips. I think there’s some contact forms on there and that is WW Jenup.com.

Sam Woodfield [00:50:25]:

If you visit her website, you’ll find lots of different resources available there. We will also double check with Natasha. We will put all of Natasha’s information on there. So if anyone wants to reach out, hopefully we can direct you in the correct direction towards that. Please remember, guys, as we always say at the end of this podcast, I am not trained to deal with any form of eating disorder or mental health. I’m purely a personal trainer who has experienced an eating disorder whilst racing at the elite level in the UK. I will guide you in the right direction. I will happily talk to you.

Sam Woodfield [00:51:04]:

I would rather talk about bikes, coffee and carbohydrate intake because that’s kind of what I know and I’m qualified to do, so so that’s my piece said for the day, I’m ready for dinner and Jenny probably is too.

Jenny Tomei [00:51:22]:

Thank you very much, natasha, that was great. We really enjoyed having you on the podcast.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:51:28]:

Oh, my gosh, yeah, thank you so much. Such good conversation, great questions and, yeah, thank you for both sharing your own experiences and the vulnerability in that, too. So awesome.

Sam Woodfield [00:51:39]:

Yeah, no pressure. Natasha, here is the final question and you can end the show on this and then we’ll all say goodbye. One of the hardest things, and we asked this in our first relaunch of the GENup podcast, how would you define athlete? And we can end the show on that.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:52:00]:

Interesting. Gosh. So, again, for me, this kind of falls back to mindset, right? Because I think athletes, I don’t just think about an athlete being an elite level professional, right? I think there’s all levels, there’s all sports, there’s so many different domains that encompass athletes. So I guess I kind of default to the mindset which I guess makes sense given that I’m a psychologist. But this idea of what is this hard thing? And it’s kind of scary, and I’m not entirely sure if I can do it, but I really want to go after it, and I want to do it really well. And so I want to have these goals, right, this continual striving for this pursuit of excellence. So when I think about athlete and define athlete, those are some of the components that really come to me is what is the mindset behind it? What do all athletes, regardless of level or experience or accolades, kind of have in common and can say something, and every other athlete in the room is like, yes, I know exactly what you mean. And so I think some of that expectation and that striving are big pieces there.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:53:15]:

Excellent.

Sam Woodfield [00:53:15]:

Thank you very much for that. And interestingly enough, the first lady we asked that to was a dietitian, and she said the same thing. It’s all about the mindset. So clearly you’re an athlete if you’ve got a strong, probably slightly stubborn mindset.

Natasha P. Trujillo [00:53:33]:

For sure.

Sam Woodfield [00:53:36]:

Excellent. And we will leave it on that bombshell for today.

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Links between Trauma and Eating Disorders