Educating Women on Eating Disorders: The Lane 9 Project, by Orrin Konheim


img_0026.jpgOn the trails, photo by Lane 9 Project

Orrin Konheim wrote this piece about the Lane 9 Project, a non-profit organization located in Washington D.C., dedicated to teaching active women and girls about nutrition, fertility, women's health, eating disorder recovery and sport.

Founded in February of 2017 in the D.C. area, the Lane 9 Project is a non-profit dedicated to raising voices about issues including body image, women's health, and especially eating disorder recovery in the sport of running The project's three founders all have varying backgrounds in the sport: Samantha Strong is a student pursuing a Masters of Public Health in Denver, a running coach, and a blogger about her experiences with mountain running, recovery, and autoimmune disease. Alexis Fairbanks is a kindergarten teacher, running coach, and an active runner working on long distances. Heather Caplan is a registered dietitian running coach, as well as a trail runner.

The trio have written a series of blog posts on their own experiences as runners with issues of body image and eating and provide a forum for other women (and occasionally, men suffering from the same pressures) to share their experiences. In addition, they have led workshops with high school cross-country teams and had speaking events.

At a recent event they held at Pacer's Running Store at Navy Yard, the trio each spoke from personal experience to show how pervasive eating disorders and issues of body image were but how often runners, particularly women, might feel alone in these struggles. As they say on their website:

We want a loud, strong, evolving conversation about the prevalence of eating disorders and amenorrhea amongst female athletes -- girls and women of all ages and at any level of endurance or competition.

Their website also blends the personal with the pedagogical. Here's an example of how they approach the female triad:

Female Athlete Triad (the triad) is a syndrome of three interrelated conditions: energy deficiency, menstrual irregularity/amenorrhea, and bone loss. Energy deficiency, often via food restriction or obsessive exercising, typically precedes the other conditions. A lack of fuel leads to amenorrhea, irregular (or nonexistent) periods. Menstrual and hormonal irregularity leads to bone loss. Bone loss leads to injury. Injury leads to less running, mental anguish, and a desire for control. At least, this has been our experience.

Recently at Pacers Running Store in Washington, D.C., the Lane 9 Project hosted an event called "Share Your Story" where the three founders were all present and shared their stories. Fairbanks, for instance, spoke of her feelings of dependence on measuring her progress in terms of weight and calories and frustration as a top-level collegiate runner at SUNY-Cortland and her subsequent frustration when she had a bad season and running was failing her. The trio also invited other speakers they met through their website to get up and speak and led interactive discussions with the audience.

The Lane 9 Project is a volunteer-run non-profit organization dedicated to educating active women and girls, and their support systems, on issues including women's health, eating disorder recovery, fertility, and sport. The project came together by active ladies who strive to be lady (health) activists.

I caught up with the Lane 9's Samantha Strong and asked her further questions via e-mail after the event:

Q: Tell me about your friendship: how did you all meet?

A: Running brought us together - the first time the three of us came together was for a run on a chilly morning in DC. I (Samantha) met Heather through a women's running group in the area, and Heather and Alexis met through Alexis' grad school program. Heather brought the three of us together thinking we'd hit it off as running partners - we each felt pulled to do something about the silent suffering so many women runners endure when it comes to disordered eating, body image, and the pressure to equate thinness with performance. We ended that chilly run with warm cups of coffee and found ourselves brainstorming ways we can tackle this toxic mindset and culture.

Q: What was the conversation like in terms of building this pro?

A: The evolution of Lane 9 Project has been and continues to be very organic. We strive to respond and adapt to what our community needs and wants. That being said, when we launched Lane 9 Project, we discovered the empowerment that comes with telling one's story and taking charge of your own narrative. We wanted to give other women the opportunity to harness that power.

Q: How did you balance this on top of jobs and to what degree is the project designed to be self-sufficient? Are you always going to be at the center of it?

A: Although the three of us have jobs, school, and other commitments, Lane 9 Project is something we are deeply passionate about and therefore it is something we make time for regardless of how busy our schedules are. We're certainly always learning and growing and things don't always shake out the way we plan, but we believe what we're doing is important and so we put as much time into it as we can. It is hard work, but it honestly doesn't usually feel like work. We do hope to maintain at the center of the project as so much of it is built off of our personal stories and experiences.

Q: Are there cases where ppl are too stigmatized by anorexia to speak up about it even if it is in the past? How do you approach those people? Do you let then write anonymously?

A: Absolutely. The stigma around eating disorders is lessening, but it is still quite strong and there are often women who send us messages thanking us for Lane 9 or reaching out for support, even if they may not be ready to go public with their story. We hope that we can help people get to a place where they are comfortable with sharing their story openly but in the meantime we have a number of individuals who have published anonymously.

Q: What are some of your future plans? My impression is that you guys have somewhat of an evolving business plan with the school speeches.

A: We hope to continue to share our stories and the stories of others. We hope to delve deeper into the education and awareness side of things and to reach a wider demographic of individuals.

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