To the Editor: I applaud Julianne Harwood for her courage and honesty in writing her story of running, body shaming and eating disorders. (“Please don’t tell me I look like a runner,” Eagle, March 24.)

Sadly, his story is almost a textbook: subtle and not-so-subtle negative commentary on his size and shape; suggestions (likely unsolicited) that she would be a more competitive runner if she were slimmer; congratulate when she lost weight; obsessive thinking about food; and the adverse health consequences of a low heart rate, abnormally thin bones, and likely others she didn’t mention.

As a doctor for adolescents, I have treated many young people with eating disorders and I know how very difficult it is for patients (and their families) to recover. Fortunately, Mrs. Harwood had many positive and healthy supports in her life and was able to overcome these unhealthy behaviors and move on with her life. Many are not so lucky but instead suffer from the chronic psychological and physical aspects of anorexia nervosa.

Ms Harwood is correct that the comments she received from others about her having the ‘right’ body to be a good runner were not meant to be malicious. But they were certainly harmful. In our thin-obsessed society, many people seem to believe that weight loss is always good and commendable, without thinking about the reasons behind it. Cancer? Severe depression? No money for food? Excessive exercise? Anorexia nervosa?

Like runners, ballet dancers and gymnasts are other groups of athletes at higher risk for developing eating disorders. However, eating disorders are equal opportunity diseases regardless of sex, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, the number of people seeking treatment for eating disorders (including in emergency departments) has exploded.

Best wishes to Julianne Harwood as she moves on to college. I suspect she will be a role model for other young women, including runners who don’t look like runners.

Barbara K. Snyder, MD, Stockbridge

The author is a Doctor of Adolescent Medicine with Community Health Programs in Great Barrington.

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