Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Apart from the many other things I love about running, I love that it can serve as a great tool of exploration. I spent the past week in Nottwil Switzerland, situated perfectly on the shores of the Sempachersee, which also offers itself as a perfect 20km running loop around the lake. Instead of doing the usual loop around the edge of the lake, I ventured up into the hills with farms sitting so invitingly at it's crest.
The fantastic thing about Switzerland is that everything is so well sign posted, so eventhough I wasn't exactly sure which sign to follow, I randomly picked one and followed its lead.

The first 5km took me along the usual loop  until I veered off that path and entered the forest and a steeper than expected hill stared me in the eyes. I wasn't unhappy about that because I had been growing board of flat runs. As I trotted my way up the incline the forest grew darker and more dense. I began having flashbacks to the movie "Snow white and the huntsmen", which I had recently seen, and began convincing myself that the branches of the trees would reach out for me at any moment, or some abstract creature would jump out of the scrub and see me as the perfect breakfast... Oh the mind games that can be created never fail to amaze me. At that thought though, my pace certainly increased to more of a gallop than a trott.

Out of nowhere I hit an intersection. The forest was still so dense that I couldn't see any of the farms I was headed towards and I'd lost my orientation a bit. The path that I was to follow was marked with its sign (a yellow diamond shaped logo) painted onto a tree. The sign was there, staring me in the eye, yet I didn't quite trust it. I became hesitant and with a hint of mistrust I eventually followed the marked path.
This pause in the path lead to the start of a question brewing in my mind. How often do we see signs but don't trust them, or choose not to see them, because a sign seems like something outside of our control. And the human species love control.

There were so many signs that attempted to highlight the beginning of my battle with "The Bitch". Initially I would do subtle things like eat a bit less, exercise a bit more. I grew overly interested with the appearance of my stomach, continually asking for reassurance, from family and friends, if I looked fat. Now, these things can appear normal (to a degree) and innocent, but in my case they were the initial signs of which would turn into a long hike.
Here are some signs  that should be looked out for when confronted with anorexia, especially for family and friends. There are Behavioural signs and Physical signs.
Initial Behavioural: (initially its mostly behavioural signs)
  • Obsession with weight and focused attention on one body part
  • Decreased portions/food intake
  • Elimination of food groups
  • Sudden dislike for previously enjoyed food - especially sweets and meat
  • Sudden increase in exercise
  • Subtle weightloss

Intermediate Behavioural:
  • Refusal to eat at the table
  • Excuse that "I ate earlier... or at a friends place"
  • Mood swings
  • Urge to eat at set times
  • Routines - such as weighing food, time routines... these routines can then stretch further than just food related.

  • Noticeable weightloss

Advanced Behavioural:
  • Increased obsession about food, food preparation and food consumption (including liquids and anything with caloric value)
  • Self isolation - becoming increased anti-social and not attending family or public outings
  • Increased interest in feeding and cooking for others, yet not eating anything themselves
  • Extreme Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Exclusion of people
  • Living in a routine
  • Hair loss
  • Bad breath
  • Dry Skin
  • Loss of Menstruation
  • Severe fatigue
  • Decreased concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Self abuse/Bruises
  • Constantly cold
  • Akne
  • Bone protrusion due to severe weightloss
  • Bloating due to malnourishment
The signs, like on that path, were there. One pointing me in the direction I should be going, one pointing our the direction I shouldn't be going, Both however, are pointing out something, we just need to learn to look and trust. If we are aware of the signs, we are so much less likely to get lost.

I finally exited the forest and was now surrounded by open farmland and cowshit accross the whole path. The sun had risen above the lake and I had found a farmhouse that was selling fresh berries. Always prepared, I had 10 bucks in my pocket, so I feasted on a breakfast of blueberries, rasperries and strawberries, perched at the top of the fields, overlooking the misty lake.

Although my family pointed out and were aware of signs of my abnormal behaviour, I could always find a way to justify those signs. And eventhough my family could see the signs, they also chose to ignore them. Surely their daughter wouldn't follow that path... we are all victims of denial sometimes.

Descending was a much easier affair. I had the lake in view the whole way down and could also see Nottwil over the other side of the lake. It was hot, I'd been running for a good few hours, the end was in sight. I plunged into the lake where a group of friends were already enjoying the welcome ice bath the lake offered to be and glared over at the forest, thankful that I'd chosen to follow the sign.

Even if you get lost and go down the wrong path, there's always going to be another sign to help you find the right path, or prevent you from going further down the wrong path. I got rewarded for trusting in the signs (when I eventually chose to), physically and mentally.

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