‘Fat Talks,’ an Investigation, and a Reckoning: How Collegiate Runners Forced Reform

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Crooke told Parsons to write down everything she was eating and to review the journals with him, she said. He told her to keep their discussions private, just as he had done with other runners, because, he said, it would “cause people to stress and worry and it would negatively affect the team’s performance,” Parsons said.

In the spring of 2012, Palmer spoke with the then outgoing athletic director John Biddiscombe and incoming athletic director Whalen about the culture on the track and cross-country team. While her weight had not been addressed by the coach, she felt responsible to speak up on behalf of her teammates, bringing their testimonials to the meeting.

She said they asked her what she wanted to change in her relationship with the coach. When Palmer said she was not concerned about her relationship with coach, the meeting came to a close.

“If I was a better, faster runner maybe he would have had the ‘fat talk’ with me and I could talk about my own experience,” she said. “I was trying to bring to light a cultural systemic problem. They weren’t hearing that.”

When runners are told to drop weight, they can quickly — and dangerously — find themselves lacking the energy required to maintain their health, said Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, the director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Ackerman pointed to Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports, a common syndrome in female runners marked by the loss of a period or missed periods, low bone density, disordered eating, and debilitating injuries.

“People are not unidimensional,” said Dr. Paula Quatromoni, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Boston University and an expert on the intersection of sports nutrition and eating disorders.

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