By Art Remillard
Jane Johnson gave an extraordinary lecture to club members Oct. 21 on the subject of eating disorders, a topic that enlightened some and painfully resonated with others. While women certainly face the stringent bodily regulations of contemporary society more than men do, Jane noted that eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender. Indeed, male runners seeking faster times or sleeker bodies sometimes try to run themselves thin. “Running anorexia,” she said, is no less dangerous or destructive.
Surprisingly, Jane told us that she had never fully explained her story to anyone until that night. With pictures and emotionally charged commentary, Jane discussed how challenges with self-image plagued her throughout her life. Looking at Jane and knowing her as a club member, it’s hard for us to imagine her having a distorted self-image! And this, she explained, is part of the problem. Despite the best intentions of friends and family, sometimes compliments and comments about her body only strengthened her resolve to lose more weight. In her own words, Jane made her body a “report card,” and a positive or negative change in weight or appearance reflected directly on her self-worth. Jane explained that managing her eating disorder came with the help of faith and family – both slowly helped her understand her inherent value.
In running, Jane explained, there is a fine line between dedication and obsession. Runners, especially the younger ones, are prone to the latter thus making it extremely important for parents, friends, and coaches to keep an eye out for the warning signs. Confrontations on topics such as these are never easy – and we discussed some tactics. Mae Cleveland noted that a direct approach could oftentimes have a negative effect, thus making a subtler advance more effective. For example, by asking the person if they are “happy,” you quietly open a door to address the problem without drawing immediate hostility.
In all, the evening gave us much to consider. When I asked Jane to give a lecture, I never imagined she would discuss what she did. As Jane explained to me, her difficulties in the past now give her an opportunity to share these meaningful experiences. It takes great fortitude to do what Jane did, and I know everyone there appreciated what she had to offer.