Disordered Eating Journey
with Allie Ostrander
02 Aug, 2022 · Track and Field
Allie Ostrander, a graduate of Boise State and NCAA Steeplechase Champion in 2017, 2018, and 2019 shares her journey with disordered eating.
Guest: Allie Ostrander
“A 3x NCAA Champion's Journey with Disordered Eating”
[00:00:00]Allie O: Have confidence in your ability and trust that your body will be the best at the place where it. has everything that, it needs and it's healthy. And. You're not good because of your body. You are good because you're talented and driven and you work hard and those things won't go away just cause your body changes.
[00:00:29]Stef S: welcome to the voice and sport podcast. I'm so excited to have another Alaskan athlete on here with us today. Today's guest is Allie Ostrander, a middle distance runner specializing in the steeple chase and such an incredibly accomplished athlete. She's a graduate from Boise state where she was the NCAA steeple champion in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Along with many podium finishes in cross country and on the. Since graduating college, Allie has been a powerful voice in the running community. Speaking out about her experience from disordered eating and the healing process in which she's still going through today, because we are gonna go deep today in Allie's experience and journey with disordered eating.
We'd like to advise anyone listening that if you are struggling with an eating disorder to connect with a professional, either at voice. Board with one of our experts or somebody from the national eating disorder association. There's a hotline you can access at any time at 809 3 1 2 2 3 7. Please know that you're not alone.
And we are here to help today. Ally shares with us, her own experience with disordered eating. She shares her advice on dealing with harmful narratives around body image. all also highlights that whenever we make decisions about our health, we have to consider our future selves and how these decisions now will impact our bodies and our minds later, we are so grateful to have her on the podcast.
She's a newly vis league mentor on the voice and sport platform, and we're excited to see her grow within the vis community. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast. Alley Sally.
[00:02:11]Allie O: Yeah, thank you for having me on.
[00:02:13]Stef S: Absolutely. I mean, we always make time for important conversations like this. And I think just over the last year, how open you have been about your own experience has really been inspiring. And I'm excited today to walk everybody through your journey as a middle distance runner, specializing in the steeple chase.
You have just accomplished so many incredible things at Boise state where you were the NCAA steeple champion in 2017, 2018 and 2019, along with a lot of other podium finishes in cross-country and on the track. So your voice has been powerful, but your results have also been powerful.
And in a recent post, you said since the age of 10, you have prioritized athletic achievement over everything else, including your health. And I think what you didn't realize according to your post was the toll that it was taking on you. Until you reached a breaking point last summer. So what we want to do in this episode is really unpack that journey from age 10 to now and talk about how do you put your mental and physical health first and get back to professional running. So let's start with back when you were age 10 growing up in Alaska like myself. I love to see other Alaskans on the voice and sport podcast. Let's talk about that early years of when you started to run.
[00:03:35]Allie O: When I was younger, I played other sports. I was into basketball and soccer and also cross country skiing. I mean, you get it. We're from Alaska everyone's skis.
[00:03:46]Stef S: Yeah.
[00:03:46]Allie O: Just kind of something I did, but I was definitely starting to realize that it was probably the sport that I was the best at. And I, I definitely liked that aspect of it being competitive. It was fun to win. But yeah, I didn't decide that running was for sure what I wanted to do in college until midway through high school.
[00:04:06]Stef S: that's amazing. So you played basketball and you also ran. And what was really interesting of your experiences that your mom was also your coach and running. So how did that change your perception of sport and training and having a strong female role model like that as your coach?
[00:04:21]Allie O: Yeah, I mean, my mom basically was my coach because she had to be like, no one else was really willing to coach high school, cross country in Kenai. So neither of us wanted that would be the situation because as someone that didn't necessarily want to be the person coaching, she put everything into it.
She tried really hard to make great workouts and would individualized paces for like every single person down to our slowest runner, which was awesome. And I don't really think that many coaches would put that much effort in. But it was definitely hard. my mom is very controlling and she struggled with a bunch of high school kids who think that they know better than her. So there, there were a few conflicts along the way, but looking back, I definitely appreciate everything that my mom did.
[00:05:14]Stef S: Yeah. I was wondering like, did you feel added pressure because your mom was your coach and did that show up, in your experience or did it make you more competitive? Cause you wanted to like do well for her as your mom and, and as a coach.
[00:05:27]Allie O: Yeah. I feel like it wasn't any extra pressure from any direction. Like I said, my mom wasn't my coach, because she was some like hyper invested parent who was like crazy making me run on the weekends and giving me extra workouts to do at home and like trying to like mold me into this perfect athlete.
Like we're not the Ingebretsen like, I just we just needed a coach for my team. And so she coached me, but she was never pushing me into running. My parents were incredibly supportive and every sport that I did, which I super appreciate but as supportive as they were, they were never putting extra pressure on me to choose a certain sport or to do certain competitions or hit certain marks. None of that was ever a part of what my parents did.
[00:06:22]Stef S: Yeah, that's so great. Cause not everybody has it that way. Even if their parents are not their
coach, they're putting pressure on their kids to play a certain sport or to, or to specialize at a certain age, thinking that that's going to actually help them become the best at their sport. But you were in high school, not just running, you were playing basketball. So do you think this impacted your development as an athlete, playing multi sports all the way through high school?
[00:06:44]Allie O: Yeah, think it was a really great move. I mean, props to my younger self, I guess. Not only was it great, just because I really enjoyed those other sports and they helped me meet different people and have a more diverse friend group, but also it just made me a way more well-rounded athlete. And I think that's part of the reason it was So easy for me to get into steeplechase.
Cause I actually, I, I do consider myself just an athlete. Like I can do most sports. I mean, no, don't sign me up for darts or pool, but like basketball, soccer. I've tried most, every sport. I'm not going to say I'm like an animal at all of them, but I can make my way. I don't want to sound like, I think I'm a w NBA star. I'm not that, but, I know how to move my body in ways that aren't running.
[00:07:36]Stef S: So when did you really decide, running is what I want to do in college? was there a moment that happened for you in high school that you were like, yes, I've got my eyes set on becoming a division one athlete?
[00:07:47]Allie O: Yeah.
I think it was after my sophomore year of high school. So freshman and sophomore years, I played soccer and. soccer was my first love, I thought I would go to college for soccer, but then after my sophomore year of high school, I was just kinda like, you know what, the opportunities just aren't there for soccer.
But my high school team, people just don't try hard. The coach doesn't care. Like I'm not getting much out of this, that the team doesn't play well together. And it's just, it's not really the environment I want to be in, I way preferred the running team, the track team. And I loved that. I was able to be in charge of my own results instead of having to rely on other people to actually care.
And so I was just like, you know, I think I'm just gonna focus more on running because that's where I see myself having better opportunities and. I started to prefer running to soccer, just because of the people that were involved in it and just the dynamic that it had. And basically just my ability to work for something really hard and then see direct results from that. Instead of working really hard at being great at soccer and then being one of 11 people on the field.
[00:09:13]Stef S: And looking back now, do you still have that joy in running that you had back in high school?
[00:09:20]Allie O: Yeah, I think most professional runners probably love running, but I, I believe I'm in the top 0.1%. Like I get excited every time I'm going for a run. Like my boyfriend Spencer makes fun of me because I get giddy leading up to runs. I'll be bouncing around. So excited to go. And yeah, that, that love has never gone anywhere. And I don't really see it going anywhere ever.
[00:09:44]Stef S: That's amazing. Well, let's talk about that journey of joy throughout your whole experience, you know from when you started at a very young age with having disordered eating and then kind of moving to being very public about your experience with your eating disorder last summer. So I want to really dive deep into that in this episode today, because I think that often we know girls are falling out of sport because of body image issues, lack of confidence potentially lack of support systems and in the community of running we know that there are unfortunately a lot of young women who are dealing with body image issues, but also disordered eating. And we really want to catch that early for young girls so that they don't develop it into an eating disorder. So, we want to kind of bring it back to like, when did this journey really start for you.
And how did that take away from your joy of running? let's go way back and just, if you can remember your earliest memory with food and when you started to have an unhealthy relationship,
[00:10:48]Allie O: Yeah. So I have an older sister and she was two and a half years older than me, but three grades above me in school. So when I was in fifth grade, I was watching her compete at her eighth grade year in middle school track. And I just remember like between seventh and eighth grade, she had kind of hit puberty.
She'd grown a lot. And and. Her race that year. Like she ran. Okay. But she just, she didn't improve from seventh to eighth grade. She just kind of plateaued. And I remember that just really scared me. So I was like, oh, like she didn't get faster when she hit puberty. And I mean, I just knew so little about development or, athletic potential, any of that. And just in my head that immediately was puberty is bad. Puberty will make me not as good of a runner. If I hit puberty, I will. You know, plateau I won't keep getting better. That bowl stall my progress. I just saw it as a bad thing. And so that's just, when I remember starting to think more about food and thinking like, okay, well I just, I can't give myself enough energy to be able to go through puberty. And I mean, I think that that's a pretty common age to start having those disordered thoughts, because it is just uncomfortable thinking about all the change that will happen. But looking back now, I'm just so frustrated because I understand how important puberty is not only for like your development as a healthy human, but also your development as an athlete.
There's a reason that women don't peak when they 11 years old. They are peaking when they're in their late twenties or thirties, because that's when they've had time to slowly develop their aerobic strength and their lactate threshold and their. Speed and their muscle mass and all of those things.
And in order to be able to slowly develop those over time, you need to have a really strong body and strong bones and healthy hormones. And like, none of those things are possible. If you don't actually allow your body to have all the energy, it needs to fully develop.
[00:13:05]Stef S: Absolutely. So when you first developed, starting having some of these internal conversations and thoughts, do you recognize that it was something that you came up with on your own? Or was there just in general, a narrative around the sport of running that you started to pick up on and then it started to develop into these own thoughts yourself.
[00:13:28]Allie O: Yeah. I think that that moment was when I kind of started seeing And hearing that sort of a narrative in your running. And then from there, it just felt like I was constantly bombarded with that same narrative, that puberty was bad and that I was good because I was small, but once I wasn't, as small, I would be worse at running. And it just seemed like those comments never really stopped. And it was hard to convince myself that they weren't true because I just kept hearing them over and over from different people.
[00:14:02]Stef S: Yeah. And I think the media social media doesn't help. Right. I think we have to continue to show case all women, all types of women and their successes. Right. And so that also as young young athletes, we see that especially in the sport of running you peak when you are much older, once you have actually developed the strength and endurance, like you said and the impact of what people say has a huge influence on us as humans.
Right? I mean, I think that's like in general, whether you're talking sport or not like words matter. And I think to any girl out there that might be hearing some of these kinds of comments, what would you say to that young girl? If they are surrounded by comments, like, Hey, well you're fast because you're small and you know, you're fast because you haven't yet hit puberty, all these things.
What would you whisper to those girls today now that you've been through your own journey?
[00:14:56]Allie O: I would say if small people are fast, then women would, would peak at, at 11 or 12 or like a random skinny person you see on the street would be able to beat you in a race, but that's just, that's not the way it is. And all of the top level athletes at some point went through puberty and their body changed. And that isn't a coincidence, that's a necessary process to go to, to reach your max performance. And even though it might make things a little bit more difficult in the short term and the longterm it's way better for your overall health and your athletic performance.
[00:15:42]Stef S: Absolutely. And this narrative of like, it's okay to not get your period. And that's normal, that is something that we really need to educate all young women on it is healthy to get your period. You want to get your period. And it is actually a good indicator of how healthy you are and if you're fueling your body correctly.
So what was your experience with your own period in that journey? Did you lose your period at a young age and did you think it was okay that you had lost it?
[00:16:10]Allie O: Yeah, when I was younger, I, I never got my period and I've actually, like, I recently went off birth control to see if I'll get a natural period. Cause it is really important at all ages. Yeah. When I was younger, I didn't get one. You know, even when I went to college, I had never had one and it didn't seem to be that big of a concern to like any doctor that I went to or anyone in general.
And I think that that's changed a lot now. it's way more common of knowledge that that's just not okay. But at the time I wasn't concerned. I was like, yeah. Gymnast don't get their period, you know, dancers don't get it. It's normal for me to not get it. I'm a runner. I didn't really understand any of the positive things that came with getting a period.
So I was just like, it's nice. I don't have to deal with it. But it's so important for bone density is like the one that sits in the top of my head. It's very important for your bones.
[00:17:07]Stef S: Absolutely. And so you went through all of your high school and college career, not getting your period naturally because you then got on birth control. And at what point did you realize, Hey, maybe that's part of the issue here.
[00:17:23]Allie O: Yeah. So I started realizing that probably during my sophomore year of college. I got like a bone density scan. I had lower than normal bone density. And , that was when the doctors were like, oh, like, it's, it's weird that you haven't gotten a period. We should be concerned about this. And kind of started working with an endocrinologist and they realized that it was really important for me to see a dietician and work on it from that point of view. But also they were like, oh, well, we need to have you taking hormones so that you'll get a period.
And so that's why I, I took the birth control pill for a bit. Like estrogen patches and stuff, but that's just, they researched just doesn't really support that is helping with bone density. And it really is important that you're getting your period naturally. Yeah, so that's why I now working with a dietician.
She really wanted me to go off of birth control and just make sure that I can get one natural.
[00:18:30]Stef S: Yeah, because then you can like really listen to your body. Right. And know sort of like how you're feeling your body, the indicators, the things that you're doing, how that then affects if you get a period or not. And I think it's a really important tool. I like to say voice in sport, it's a super power.
Your period is your super power. So use it to like really, really think about how healthy you are. And I know that that's not been a common conversation that a lot of young girls can have with their coaches. Especially, you know, in high school when you're sort of just starting your journey with getting your period and then you go into college and mostly it's male, male coaches, and it's just not a natural conversation.
So looking back now on your time in college with these conversations, what advice would you give to young girls about , speaking up and , telling their coach and talking to their coach about their period.
[00:19:22]Allie O: Well, I just think that like, there's this huge stigma around it. Like I remember when I was younger, I was like, nervous about. And get one that's embarrassing. It's just, it's weird, but, like you said, it's actually really positive and it's, it's good to have. And it's also something that.
you can use to gauge whether you're over-training or you're recovering enough or you're eating enough. Like it's just this really good training tool, honestly. And so like if you're not getting one, it can be a concern. And if you're really serious about running, it's important to tell your coach about things that might impact your ability to train or your recovery and all of that.
So it just makes sense to involve them in that conversation.
[00:20:09]Stef S: Absolutely. We'll you, you've been really open Allie about your journey and recovering from an eating disorder. And so I want to talk about just what that journey was before you got to, you know, last year where you were openly discussing how you were going to approach your recovery. Often times, you don't know you're in a bad situation and that comes in many, many forms, right?
And today we're talking about disordered eating and then now that can trigger and go into eating disorders, but for you, did you notice, was there a moment that happened where things went from not great internal dialogue, not great behaviors around food and fueling to to a full eating disorder.
[00:20:52]Allie O: Yeah, I wouldn't say that there was any distinctive moment. Definitely more of just a progression over time. I think that eating disorders can be really competitive. Like internally, it's almost like, oh, that's what I did yesterday. I'll do better today and I'll do better the next day. And like, it just continues to build on itself and you try to like change little things here and there, and it just keeps progressing.
And that's exactly what happened with me. It wasn't one specific time. It was more of just kind of a natural progression. Like I continued to change more small things over time.
[00:21:36]Stef S: So let's go back to high school then. And talk about your high school experience. You know, when you were around like 15, 16, and you were playing a couple of sports, you were thinking about you know, competitively running in college at that point. What did your disorder eating look like?
Can you now reflect back and, point to it and kinda name out things Oh, that's how it started my journey here.
[00:21:59]Allie O: So I think that at that time it was definitely just like a huge control mechanism. Everything that I ate was just very carefully, calculated in my head or I would measure things and I was always eating, I wasn't skipping meals. I just would be really careful about the things that I did eat.
And I only allowed myself like certain amounts of food or certain types of food. And I mean, yeah, that was, that was pretty much it. I think I was just. Careful about everything. Definitely like counted calories. But yeah, like when I was around. a sophomore in high school my sister was like really concerned about me.
And so she talked to me and just basically begged me to, to change the way that I was eating and to please just like eat more and take care of myself. And that did really inspire me to try to change. And after that I started trying to just feel myself better and stop being so restrictive with my eating and all of that.
But I was still, and I did do better after that. I think that that was like a very pivotal point in time because I stopped completely reinforcing those habits. And so that's just really important as far as like brain wiring goes and like trying to recover. Now, if I had just continued to be in that same cycle through the next, you know, 10 years, I think that that would have been almost impossible to recover from, but my sister snapped me out of it.
But I started trying to feel myself better, but it was really difficult for me, like to let go of that control. So I still ate more, but I did it in like a super carefully calculated way. And so basically, I increased the allotted amount. I was allowed to eat a day, but it still wasn't really enough, but that's just kind of what I continued to do until I was in college.
[00:24:22]Stef S: and at that point, did you ask for help or did your sister say, Hey, maybe you should meet with somebody. And did you have anybody else that was, having these conversations with you or was it, was it really just like a very personal like sister to sister, like looking out for you and you thought you were making those changes, so it didn't think you needed to ask for help.
[00:24:44]Allie O: Yeah.
I didn't really think that I needed to ask for help. I mean, at that point to only my sister, would I ever admit that I had an eating disorder? Like anyone else? I would not. I would not openly say that. Even my parents, like no one else other than my sister really knew, or I was comfortable talking to. And so, and even her, I hadn't told that she just knew because we're so close. And she could just tell, but no, I didn't get any professional help at that time. And looking back, definitely wish I had, because while I am grateful that I changed some of my behaviors, then I really wish that I would have just addressed the full issue and tried to fully get rid of all of those habits and behaviors at that time, because. like I said, the longer you reinforce
them, the stronger they become. And so it just like now that I'm really trying hard to
address everything, it's a lot harder than it would have been at that time, because they just had more time to like set roots in basically.
[00:25:57]Stef S: absolutely. So if you could whisper something to your 15 year old self Allie , what would you want to tell her? I'm sure there are other young girls out there in the same moment that you were in when you were 15.
[00:26:09]Allie O: I would say, I know that you're really scared to let go of control And you're afraid that you won't be as fast. But there is never going to be an easy time to do this. And even though it's hard right now, this is the best time to do it And you will regret it later if you don't. Yeah. I don't know, if there's much else that I would say. I mean, it'd probably be a long conversation. I'm stubborn then and now, so it wouldn't be easy.
[00:26:44]Stef S: I love it. Well, thank you for sharing that, cause I'm sure a lot of young women listening to this podcast will appreciate that. So let's, let's move a little bit from your high school journey, and sort of where you were with disordered eating and into your experience in college.
So, you know, you went to university of Boise state and obviously that's not in Alaska, so You did move away from your family and your home state. And I want to talk a little bit about your decision to go there and what was that transition like for you as a college athlete, who, you know was already struggling with disordered eating, because it can be difficult to go into a whole new environment as an athlete period. But you add that on top of it and you have a lot of things changing as athletes, right? You're going into a new coach, a new team, a new city in your case. What was that transition like for you?
[00:27:36]Allie O: Yeah, I was super excited. I knew that I wanted to go outside of Alaska for college, because I just wanted to experience something different. And I loved Boise and the transition to Boise like athletically and academically was awesome. Honestly, like I felt like it was a really natural fit. But it was definitely a big stressor and I was scared going into college.
You know, you hear about like the freshman 15 and all of that. And so I was really like apprehensive And you know, always just, I, wanted to be a great athlete. I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen. And so it was definitely something that revved up my eating disorder, .
[00:28:21]Stef S: And what advice would you give to a girl who's just transitioning from high school to college, about strategies to acknowledge, like when you're starting to spiral into those maybe negative thoughts or disordered eating behaviors.
[00:28:34]Allie O: Well, it's. Obviously just really difficult. I think stress or anxiety is like a huge trigger because a lot of the time, like eating sort of behaviors are a coping mechanism. And so I think it's really important that you find other coping mechanisms that you can go to instead of those behaviors. And maybe that includes, like opening it up to some of your friends or teammates or coaches about that and being able to talk about it.
Or maybe that includes having a professional on your team, like a therapist or something like that. That's there to support you and provide you with coping strategies or maybe it's honestly just like taking up some sort of hobbies that really help you de stress. But like, I think finding other more positive ways of coping with stress is super important.
[00:29:28]Stef S: And for you, what changed, in that transition for you, that it actually made your journey with your eating disorder worse and like, what can young girls really know going into the college experience, I guess, and learn from your, from your journey?
[00:29:45]Allie O: Well, first of all, my training got more intense and I don't blame that on my coaches at all. And I was really wanting that. I was like, okay, I'm, I'm a collegiate athlete. Now I need to train harder. I need to train more. And so I started just like increasing my training volume and at the same time, I was just.
Being more restrictive with what I was eating. I said, I was just super stressed about, gaining weight when I went to college and didn't want to let that happen. But I think that,
so I ended up getting injured halfway through my freshman year and I don't think that's a coincidence at all. And it's definitely.
The same sort of thing that it's like, okay, like I get it, that's it, it is kind of a scary transition, but if you want to be successful, like it's really important to take more of a long-term approach and just trust your body, you trust like that. It knows how much food you need and just don't try to rush your training or like, get to the top immediately. Because I had a lot of success in college, but I also had a lot of injuries and I like looking back, just think that I would have been so much more successful if I hadn't constantly struggled with injuries or was having to like modify training because I was scared of getting injured or I was injury prone. And like a lot of that is just because I was not properly recovering. Cause I wasn't fuelling myself.
[00:31:23]Zosia Bulhak: Thank you for listening to the voice in support podcast. My name is Zosia Bulhak and I am the producer of this voice and support podcast episode. I run track and cross country at the university of Houston. I love working with voice and support in order to empower young girls and women in sports. And I would love it if you would join us in trying to make it to.
Go follow us on Instagram tick-tock and Twitter at voices, port for more amazing content, you can also sign up for free and join our community of female athletes. Uh, voice in support.com for mentorship, sports, content and inspiration. Thanks. I hope you enjoy the rest of this episode.
[00:32:03]Stef S: Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about like what you said that the freshmen 15, because that phrase in and of itself, you know, I feel like triggers a lot of people to go into college, concerned about what's going to happen with their bodies, that whether you're an athlete or not. and so.
Knowing now, how you went into college and your own experience And knowing that as women, we continue to develop through the years of our collegiate years, right. We develop into the women that we are going to be. And that does mean your body changes. so how can we reframe this freshmen 15 conversation for young girls that are in high school and they're, they're going to college.
What would you like to say differently or, you know, to your younger self now? Or how to think about this constant narrative around freshmen 15? So young girls today,
[00:32:59]Allie O: I mean, I just think like the whole idea of the freshmen 15 is just like it's just diet culture. It's just about phobia. It's just. Like society trying to tell you that that's literally the worst thing that could happen to you. Well, if that's actually the worst thing that happens to you in college, it's got a pretty damn good college experience. Like that is really not that big of a deal. And also everyone wants to be successful their freshman year of college, but if you struggle a bit your freshman year and don't have quite the performance as you want to like, that's not the worst thing. If that means that you'll have a sustainable college career and can continue running afterwards. Having to sacrifice maybe one year of your best performances for your health, that's definitely worth it in my book. Like that means that you can run without having chronic injuries throughout college. Like that's it, that's pretty.
[00:34:01]Stef S: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, and you ended up having, I mean, pretty.
incredible and successful, you know, four years in college, you won the steeple chase Nanshan NCAA championship in 2017, 18 And 19. You also came out with really high grades as part of the honors program. I think your GPA was 4.0, I might be wrong, but you balanced, incredible performances with incredible academics. And I know, it wasn't perfect. But looking back on that experience, would you have done anything differently?
[00:34:39]Allie O: Yeah. And I think that. There is always a lot below the surface that people don't see, but I'm super proud of my performances in college athletically and academically. And I think that I wouldn't necessarily change college. What I would change that I would've wanted to address my eating disorder when I was in middle school or high school.
But I mean the same applies to college. If I didn't address it, then, like I wish I had done it in college. It definitely would have impacted maybe a year of my college. But if that means that like I could have just continued running and professionally and not had to like take time off from that, then that's worth it to me.
It's just like the earlier I had addressed it, the better, because that just gives me more time to like actually build my bone density and more time to like train without the chronic risk of injuries And all
[00:35:39]Stef S: And did you struggle with comparison at school and body image? Was that ever something that you were working on to try to overcome?
[00:35:48]Allie O: Yeah. definitely struggled with comparison or body image. Not just to like between myself, my past self, my future self, all of that. But also with other athletes and CAA and I mean, social media, so like professionals as well before I was a professional. Like, it's just so hard not to do that.
And it's still something that I am continually trying to work on. Just like a really tricky issue I don't feel like I have that much advice for people on that front because I'm just like, Not good at it myself. Don't feel like I'm an authority on the matter, but yeah. I think the biggest thing that I always try to tell myself is that I don't look at other people and immediately judge them because of the way that they look, I care so much more about everything else about them.
And that's definitely true for the way other people look at me and it should be true for the way that I look at myself as well.
[00:36:52]Stef S: Yeah , it's a, unfortunate thing, but even the national Institute of women says 78% of American 17 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies, so you are not alone. And that is one of the things that voice in sport. We're really trying to inspire girls to know that our bodies are amazing and there's so many incredible things that we can do with our bodies if we love them.
And really it's hard to not compare yourself to other people. And that's, I want to just go into why do you think it is happening so much in the running community?
[00:37:28]Allie O: I think because there's just this really unrealistic idea of what a runner needs to look like And Like there obviously is a reason for that. Like a lot of professional runners are very small, are very lean. But the ones that are successful, I think for the most part got there in a more natural way that maybe that's like actually their natural build.
People are like constantly striving for this just unrealistic body type that isn't necessarily achievable, especially not when you. haven't been training at a high level for like 20 to 30 years. And just expect to look like that to be good. Instead of looking like that eventually, because you have been good for a really long time, you know?
[00:38:23]Stef S: Absolutely. what do you think are some of those systemic issues that we need to recognize and maybe start to shift to create a healthier culture and a healthier expectation of what a runner looks like
[00:38:36]Allie O: Like that's a question that I ask myself a lot . and I just don't feel like I have a great answer for it because I'm still trying to convince myself, you know? Okay. Like maybe you won't be the best runner you can when you're the smallest that you can be like, maybe that's not the way that you'll be the best. and I think I'm like slowly proving not to myself, but it's really hard to trust that when it just seems like. Every great runner is just this super liens, specimen of the sport. And so I think it's just going to be hard to change that narrative when it just seems like it's so correct, but in my head, like I know it's not correct because I know that I can't be.
That size without getting constantly injured, you know? And so I think that that's just, what is kind of convincing me is basically, okay. Body composition is very, obviously a part of the equation in being an elite distance runner. But so is consistent training, like, so is, mileage. So is intensity and you can't really have those things. If you're constantly getting injured, you can't adapt to, training if you're not recovering. And so, like I think that being able to adapt to training, being able to run consistently without getting injured, being able to run high mileage, being able to hit hard workouts. and those factors are all going to be more important than body composition, because it doesn't matter how lean you are if you're not training and you're not, you're not performing. So that is just, that's the only way that I can kind of switch that. Is basically what matters the most, what is going to make you the best at running? And that's not going to be body composition because that alone obviously will not make you a great runner.
[00:40:49]Stef S: Yeah, let's talk about that. Then often in college, you get asked to use these DEXA scans and body pods, and, you know, there's a lot of power in the coaches and how they attach narratives to the data that comes out from, monitoring your body composition. So did you have any experiences yourself using those various, you know, technologies and what do you wish, I guess your coach would have encouraged you or set along with the data?
Because I think that it can be pretty detrimental to girls to have constantly being rated by their body composition and being, having that sort of data points, being connected right back to performance without other conversations happening at the same time.
[00:41:38]Allie O: Yeah. So I was pretty fortunate in college. My coaches, like once I started trying to work with the dietician and stuff, they kind of realized that I was vulnerable towards eating disorders and like that things? like body fat percentage tracking could be triggering for me. So. Our team did use like an InBody scanner once a year or twice a year, maybe, but like, they would never, like, show me my results or talk to me about my results or anything.
Because you know, they just knew that it would be detrimental to me, which was, I mean, great of them to realize I'm sure there were other people on the team that, that might've been the case for as well, that did get their results and did get talked to about their results. But I don't know that for sure.
But I, when I got DEXA scans in college, that was to look at bone density, which was helpful. So I think that overall in college, like the coaching staff did a pretty good job of not emphasizing, trying to manipulate body size in order to have success. But I feel really, really bad for everyone that's in a program where that is the emphasis, because I was already such like an underlying current of that being the emphasis that like, you don't need any extra emphasis on it. In order to, you know, develop disordered thoughts or behaviors. So I can't imagine how difficult that was.
[00:43:02]Stef S: Yeah. I mean, I think it's really unfortunate that it's sometimes used for like, you know, tying directly to performance because that can take, anybody down a path, male or female. That's not really healthy. what is the systemic things? I think we can really take a look at his coaches, right? Coaches have a huge influence on their athletes and how they communicate and talk about food and fueling. And so, what do you wish you could have had, I guess, the courage to tell your coaches about how you were doing for the girls out there that might feel like, they have a supportive coach, but you know, they, they just can't quite find the words to talk about it what advice would you have for them?
[00:43:45]Allie O: Yeah, I think that I was always scared to talk to my coaches about these things, because I didn't ever want it to change the way my coaches saw me. You know, I just wanted to be an athlete in their eyes and not, you know, if somebody was struggling with an eating disorder. But until like those behaviors are addressed, like they do impact training and they do impact the way that you'll adapt to training and they impact your injury risk. and so like, if you don't want to be known. Or treated in a different way because of having an eating disorder, then like you just need to address it and get rid of that factor because until it's addressed, like it is a factor in your coach does need to know.
[00:44:34]Stef S: And where you in communication with your coaches in terms of fueling, like, what were the, what were you aware of in terms of the risks of under fueling.
[00:44:42]Allie O: Yeah, they talked to us about at the beginning of the season a little bit about how it could increase your injury risk. But then I just feel like it wasn't really talked about again ever. And. Mainly I think because the coaches were just scared, they were like, we don't know how to talk about this.
We don't, we don't know how to address it. We're just going to talk about it at the beginning of the year so we can check the box and then we'll move on. And so I think that that's what you do come into that is like a box. It get checked or has like, it's actually kind of something that
you can't just address once and then move on?
[00:45:21]Stef S: It's, it's more about creating a safe space, right? For your athletes to create conversations around these topics. And it shouldn't just be time at the beginning of the season, right. It should be kind of consistently how you feel your body is important. And So I guess if you looking back on your college career before we kind of talk about your professional life what would be like one piece of advice you, would have for other young runners in college that are maybe struggling with their body image?
And they're seeing their body changing and they're struggling a little bit with their journey.
[00:45:56]Allie O: Just have, have confidence in your ability and trust that your body will be the best at the place where it. has everything that, it needs and it's healthy. And. You're not good because of your body. Like you are good because you're talented and driven and you work hard and those things won't go away just cause your body changes.
[00:46:27]Stef S: And if you, I'm going to switch the question up a little bit, instead of whisper this time, if you could just yell, something to yourself, like really loud so that you would hear it, like really hear it in college, what would that one thing be
[00:46:41]Allie O: It would probably be like now is not the most important time of. Because I think that I get stuck in that whatever moment I'm currently in. I see it as the most important time of my life. So I was always like, I know that this is something I need to work on and address, but I can't do it now because like got indoor track or I've got outdoor track or got to get ready for And, I was always just so focused on the exact moment I was in which isn't a bad thing. Like that's normal to be like a driven athlete. You're focused on the season. You're in, it's normal, but I was just like, so focused on that one moment that I couldn't see the term. And I couldn't see that I was taking opportunities away from my future self.
[00:47:32]Stef S: Well, I appreciate you saying that. Cause I mean, you, you decided to forego your last season of eligibility And the NCAA and sign a professional contract with Brooks Beasts. So what was that process like and why did you decide to sign with them instead of finishing up in the NCAA.
[00:47:51]Allie O: Yeah. Well, first off I had a great opportunity with Brooks. I knew that professional running was something that I wanted to do. So I felt like if that opportunity was there, like why not now? And I felt that I had had a good experience in the NCAA, but that I had experienced at all. And just, I had graduated and it felt like a natural time to move on.
[00:48:17]Stef S: What were some of the most surprising things about being a professional runner that maybe you, you weren't expecting?
[00:48:24]Allie O: I was not expecting the amount of travel that involved. Like I. You know, always lived in Seattle, but when I was with Brooks beasts, I think I spent about four months of the year, like actually in the apartment that I pay rent in. So it's crazy. Like you would just travel so much, did not expect that. And then I also just didn't expect. How much more spread out it is. And then college, I guess like that was a big adjustment. You kind of take it for granted when you're in college that like your house and the track and the training room and the gym are all within like a mile and half. And then like, once you're a professional, it's like, oh my gosh, I have to drive like 15 minutes between each thing. This is ridiculous. And so that, that was a big adjustment, but Yeah. I think those were the two things.
[00:49:19]Stef S: Well, after two years of running professionally for the Brooks piece, you recently decided to step away from the professional running. And you said that your passion for running and competition is as strong as ever. However, the string of injuries has made it evident your body cannot currently handle the volume and intensity of training.
So I want to kind of go back to that because just full circle, where we started this conversation with the podcast at age 10, like you've, you've always prioritized, your incredible ability to be an incredible athlete. What do you think you know, what do you think needs to change in the world of sports?
So that young athletes don't have to compromise their mental health to perform.
[00:50:03]Allie O: You know, I think that definitely small things can change, maybe coaches address these issues a little bit more directly, or maybe like society stops putting as much emphasis on the way we appear and those things. But I think that in general, like, It's such a positive place and I, in no way regret like heavily invested in the sports community. I love it. I, think that a lot of it, I put on myself, I think that I just needed to be more invested in my own future instead of just the present moment. and I think. I needed to have more confidence in my own ability instead of trying to manipulate my body. and I think that I just. You know, needed to be more serious about addressing behaviors and thoughts that I knew were a problem, instead of letting those continue to build and there are definitely different aspects of sports or the community that surrounds it, that made it difficult to do those things. But I still put that responsibility on myself and. So I think the main thing that I would ever want to change is just letting people know that like, that is something that needs to be done and there is urgency surrounding that and yeah.
Yeah. I think that's all.
[00:51:39]Stef S: Well, you were very public right about, you know, Deciding to go in and take care of your of your mental and physical self and really get better. You know, why did you decide to do that and share your stories and your, you know, what you went through with so many people and I'm sure that must have been tough. so you know, why did you decide to, to share your story so publicly.
[00:52:04]Allie O: Yeah. I mean, it, it was. hard, But when I was in the eating disorder treatment center, one day we had to like work on basically not deciding, but writing down what our core values were and just kind of determining while we believed. And one of my very top core values was authenticity and that is something that's super important to me. and I just felt like I wasn't being authentic because at the time, you know, I was posting on Instagram, was posting on YouTube and I was showing my authentic personality,
but I wasn't being honest about the situation and the circumstances that I was in and
I felt like that was doing a disservice, not only to myself because I wasn't being authentic, but also to the running community, because I wasn't being honest about what I was struggling with.
And I was kind of only showing the good things in my life. And. Just knowing the situation that I was in, I would have felt so much better if I had known that, you know other professional athletes had gone through the same thing. And so I wanted to kind of be able to be that role model for people knowing that, you, know, they weren't the first ones to go to a treatment center or that that it was pretty normal that I had done it before I survived all of that. I know, that I'm not the first person that went. There are centers specifically for athletes with eating disorders.
So obviously I'm not the first one to go. They didn't make all of these just for me. But like I had just never heard about anyone going. and so. like, I was the first one and that was super scary. So I just kind of wanted to take that away for other people and have someone that they could know, went through it and share a little bit about what it's like and open that door to the communication. But yeah, once I posted, I thought like flooded by DMS, like other professional runners telling me that they had gone to eating disorder treatment, or even like the same treatment center that I was in. And I was like, yeah. So obviously like, this is really normal.
[00:54:22]Stef S: Wow. Isn't that interesting? Like, well thank you for, for doing what you did, because I think it allows a lot of other girls to kind of come forward, whether that's to a friend, to a parent, to a coach or you know, to their own community. And, and so thank you for doing that because I, I I'm sure you know this, but it just inspires so many other women to take a look at themselves and say, wow, like, what am I going to do here for myself to make my experience better?
And then to be so vulnerable to share it with so many people I just want to say thank you,
[00:54:58]Allie O: Well, yeah, And also, I don't want to like make people that went to treatment and weren't public about, it seemed like villains in any
[00:55:07]Stef S: of course.
[00:55:07]Allie O: Everyone's journey is going to be different. Like I hate saying the word journey, but I don't know what else to say, but it going to be different and whatever they needed to do for their own mental health and their own wellbeing. like, the do that, you know, it's not like there's pressure to be open about it, but I just felt like beneficial for me to be open. I think it helped me more accountable and it was more in line with my values. And so that was something that I wanted to do.
[00:55:34]Stef S: So what did you learn coming out of that experience in the treatment facility? What have you learned that you can pass on to anybody today struggling with an eating disorder?
[00:55:44]Allie O: Well, I learned a lot, not just about myself, but about like eating disorders in general and the people struggle with them. And one of the things that stood out the most to me was basically that eating disorders, just doing. Have a look like going into the treatment center. Like I had an idea in my head and I think a lot of people that in my immediate circle that knew I was going, had an idea in their head of what people would look like. And it's just like, you have to smash that it's not, it doesn't exist. Like I think if someone walked into that room without knowing what the reason people were there, where it was. I wouldn't have known why we were there because it just looks like a random group of people. And so that that's just a huge thing. Like if someone is struggling with an eating disorder, but they don't feel valid in saying that because they don't look a certain way. That's just sad. Not everyone within an eating disorder looks the same way. That doesn't mean there isn't a problem. That doesn't mean it isn't valid. That doesn't mean that you aren't like harming your longterm health.
And so that was the biggest thing I learned. And it's also something to like take with myself moving forward, because I mean, even as I go through recovery, . One of the things I have to keep in mind is that it's not about how I look on the outside. It's the thoughts that I have on the inside and the actions that I take that are actually What, matter.
[00:57:14]Stef S: Let's talk about that as the close to our conversation is just, self-talk is so important, right? As affirmations, like I'm a big believer in affirmations in the morning. And it can also lead you down a path that's not healthy. Right. And so how have you been working on your internal conversations through this recovery process?
And like, what have you learned from that that we can also pass on to younger girls
[00:57:40]Allie O: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things that I'm trying to do right now is notice some of those more destructive thoughts, call them out and just say basically to myself, nah, that's no, that's not true. Or like, that's not valid and just like? constantly trying to catch myself whenever I have a thought, that it's tearing myself down or just isn't beneficial in any way.
And just being like, no, let's not think that because that's just not true and it's not helpful. So no, we're not going to do that right now. I know that at one point I want to move more towards like replacing all of those thoughts with more positive ones. But right now I'm still in the stage of just like noticing when I have destructive thoughts and being like, no.
[00:58:34]Stef S: Well, one of the things you talk about is, you know, and even, even your profile right on Instagram and on social media talked about being a mental health advocate. What does that mean for you? And how does that show up now in your day to day life?
[00:58:49]Allie O: I think it just means empowering people to pursue being their healthiest self, mentally, physically, emotionally, all of that, and not being afraid to. And get help or admit that there's a problem and just not feeling as much of a stigma around it.
[00:59:11]Stef S: Absolutely. I mean, I think it's been amazing just to see how vulnerable you've been even today on this podcast. So thank you for, for sharing with us. And I think you said a lot of amazing and heartfelt things that I hope young girls out there, here and take into their experiences and stick up for themselves and use their voice and ask for help.
If you could just take a step back and say, okay, like one, one piece of advice for all of the young female runners out there today, what would that one piece of advice be?
[00:59:47]Allie O: I just think it would be too trust your ability and trust your body and know that you will be your best when you are healthy and giving yourself what you need.
[01:00:04]Stef S: I love that. So that's been a positive message. Well, one of the things we're trying to do at voice and sport is ensure that. young girls have a place to go and ask for help have a safe space to ask questions or get the resources that they need. What would be one piece of advice you would have to young women out there that might be struggling with an eating disorder in terms of where they can go for help?
How they can access resources if they feel alone.
[01:00:30]Allie O: Yeah, I think that a big step is like trusting people and opening up to people about it, because then that adds accountability. But as far as resources. There's like any da.org that you think that is a really good resource. They have all sorts of stuff. There's helpline, there's links to all sorts of different providers. There's lots of helpful articles and stuff on there, so that can be a really great resource. Yeah. I mean, I think that that, that one probably takes the cake. All the other ones are just an umbrella of that. So.
[01:01:00]Stef S: Well, you know, since we're in this together and a big part is building communities that will help support yourselves during your experience in sport. If you do see a friend or a teammate struggling with, with disordered eating or an eating disorder, being on the other side yourself, like what is a good way to approach having a conversation with your friend or teammate?
[01:01:27]Allie O: I think that just. Sure that you're coming at it from the point of view of concern and wanting to support and not so much blame or criticism or judgment, and just really trying to be there for them and be supportive. I think that trying not to mention anything about appearance. When you show that concern is usually a pretty safe call to say, don't do that but overall I think. if you and them have like open communication, I think the best thing to do is just to ask them what the best way to support them is. Because everyone's so different. I can't really give a generic answer. But even if they don't know, maybe that will, you know, urge them to think about it a bit more and be able to invite people in to support.
[01:02:33]Stef S: Well, thank you so much, Allie, for sharing so many details with us today. Just about your experience and, you know, can you tell the community at voice and sport just what's next for you?
[01:02:44]Allie O: Yeah, so right now I am working as an assistant coach just volunteering at Seattle Pacific university. And then I'm still posting on my YouTube channel and just kind of trying to, or if he's an advocate, figuring out what my next steps are, but I'm definitely not done running or racing. so, I'm just trying to get to a point where I can get back to that
[01:03:11]Stef S: Well, we'll be cheering you on and excited to see everything that you do for girls out there, whether that's on the track or off the track around mental health. So thank you for all of the conversations, Allie, and thank you for being part of our community.
[01:03:26]Allie O: Yeah. Thank you.
[01:03:27]Stef S: This week's episode was produced and edited by vis creator. Zha bull Hawk, a track and cross country runner from the university of Houston Allie's journey reminds us to prioritize our future self and our future health. She also reminds us to watch out for ourselves and for each other. Especially around the time of puberty, when harmful narratives about body image, start to emerge, ally points out that we need to have confidence in our ability and trust our bodies to do what they were made to do, help us lead a happy and healthy life.
Like all said, we are not good athletes because of our physiology and what we look like, but because we are talented and driven and hard working and none of those things go away as our body changes and. We are so thankful that ally shared her story with us today and excited that she will be a mentor on the voice and sport platform.
You can follow ally on Instagram at ally underscore oand. You might also wanna check out some previous episodes like podcast number 29 with professional runner and steeple chaser, Colleen Quigley ready mindset, go or episode number 19 with pro runner Olympian, Elise cranny, fueling your body and mind both incredible VI league mentors on the voice and sport platform.
Head to the feed on the voice and sport platform and filter by journey or by running and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at. Check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete or runner and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our vis league or vis experts.
See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.