Ryan Duff: From Binge-Eater to Ultra Runner

Dec 21, 2018

Racing down grocery store aisles and anxiously picking up packages of junk food, I was in full binge mode. It was past midnight, and I was just off a 16-hour ambulance shift where I worked as an EMT. I had one goal in mind: food. Eat lots of food. Now. This wasn’t the first time. I had been wrestling with these sporadic yet intense binge urges for the past two and a half years. Years prior, I had tried my hardest to eat as little food as possible, yet all that deprivation had transformed me from almost anorexic to a full-blown binge-eater. I felt out of control and powerless to change.

The Moment of Clarity

But this particular grocery store free-for-all was different. I had been trying to maintain a vegan lifestyle for the past few months, and I had done relatively well, except when it came to my binges. This night, before throwing processed junk food into my cart, I paused to check the labels. I looked for eggs, egg whites, milk, whey, whey protein isolate – anything derived from animals. This time, I just couldn’t allow myself to consume animals and support the cruelty of the animal agriculture industry. If this binge was going to happen, I’d be damned if animals would suffer for it. After checking and re-checking each junk food label, my thoughts settled down, and something clicked.

In one moment, I was frantic and out of control, and in the next, my mind was silent. The compassion for myself and for all sentient life had, immediately, stifled this binge. A light turned on in a crucial part of my mind that shut down my primal, urge-driven brain. Something…switched.

I knew intellectually from the beginning these binges weren’t serving me, and they weren’t serving others. But tonight, I could feel it. I could dissociate from this urge completely. And giving in would mean taking a step backward, jeopardizing my self-worth, my finances, my relationships, and my fitness. This binge wasn’t just about me. And it wasn’t just about food. It was about something bigger.

And just like that, my anxiety, tension, frustration, fear, and relentless internal dialogue just dissipated. That all-consuming, rapacious need to eat every cookie and candy bar in sight was flushed out of my system and replaced with clarity, calm, and peace. I left that grocery store parking lot, empty-handed and full-hearted. It was a monumental achievement. I knew now I had the power to sit through these urges. To get comfortable being uncomfortable. And given enough refrain, I could eventually be free of them altogether.

I had made the switch for good.

Making the Transition

The process of rejecting a cruel, animal-centered, standard American diet and adopting a compassionate, whole-food, plant-based one did not occur overnight. As previously mentioned, I had tried and failed more than a few times. Even after maintaining the lifestyle for many months, and admittedly even after conquering my binge-eating, I still allowed myself to partake in dairy foods at weddings, parties, and a handful of times on my own dime. But I always knew better, and my soul and spirit regretted this choice each and every time. My understanding of the plant-based lifestyle, from a medical, environmental, and spiritual perspective, allowed me to never lose focus. I just needed another moment of clarity.

Enter Dotsie Bausch and Dr. Milton Mills.

A few weeks ago, Switch4Good hosted an event at the University of Minnesota, my alma mater and current medical school. Dotsie and Dr. Mills were the guest speakers, and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend. I admired and related to both of these individuals – Dr. Mills for his work as a plant-based doctor and Dotsie for being a fully recovered anorexic-turned-Olympic athlete.

What transpired that evening was so inspiring, informative, and motivating that I knew I would never consume animal products again. The night is forever ingrained in my memory, and now, finally, I’ve made the ultimate switch4good. No more occasional dairy or animal-based foods, not even at special events. That last one percent of me that seemed unable to escape social pressure and intermittent desire for harmful and cruel food had been vanquished permanently. Just as I had conquered my eating disorder, I was now blessed with the focus and clarity to say no to any lingering cravings for animal products.

Spreading the Message

In my unique position as a marathoner and (future) physician, I can attest personally and scientifically to the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. My soreness is almost non-existent. I can recover from strenuous efforts with relative ease. My resting heart rate is at an all-time low, I no longer experience midday fatigue, I don’t feel bloated after meals, and my focus is sharper than ever. But don’t take my word for it – the overwhelming body of evidence, from epidemiological studies to randomized control trials, proves that this lifestyle is a major contributor to health and longevity, for athletes and non-athletes alike. Switching for good helped me end binge eating, it helped me on my way to completing my first self-supported 50-miler and my second Boston qualifying marathon, and it brought me closer to the earth and all of its creatures. And in the future, it will help my patients prevent and reverse their chronic diseases to live longer, happier, and more fulfilled lives.

So give it a shot. Ditch dairy. If you slip up along the way, it’s not over. Just keep at it. It might take years to fully transition. Trust that your willingness to change your life, and the lives of all animals, is monumental. Don’t forget that. And along the way, you’ll be surrounded by the best athletes, brilliant physicians, and compassionate, loving, supportive individuals who are willing to share their experiences with you and help make your transition possible. And believe me, if I can make the switch, you can, too.

In love and good health,

Ryan Duff

Ryan Duff is a second-year medical student at the University of Minnesota, vegan ultra-runner, and former Eating Disorder sufferer. He writes about his races and events on the blog unleashtheduff

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