It’s taken me months to write this and it took me just as long to figure out why. It’s not because I’m lazy – it’s because I’m scared. I’ve been very open about my battle with body image issues and how running helped – but “body image issues” is pretty vague. Not many know how far it actually went.
Most of my friends and family don’t know I was 14 the first time I tried to make myself throw up and remember thinking “that’s not so bad.” They don’t know that I went through bouts of bulimia throughout high school and college. Or that I saw a counselor when I was 19 but made the decision that I’d rather be skinny than figure out this problem I knew I had so I stopped going.
I convinced myself I wasn’t bulimic because I didn’t make myself throw up after every meal. It was only when I felt like I overate. And sometimes I’d go months without doing it, but sometimes I was doing it every day. Even today, it’s still hard to use the word “bulimic” to describe myself and have realized by writing this that I still have some work to do about understanding that part of my life.
When I was 23, I was overweight and unhappy with myself. Just like my entire life, I thought being skinny would make everything better. Being skinny was always the goal. Never my health, never my happiness.
I started Couch to 5k, a run/walk program with the goal of being able to run a 5k in nine weeks. I hated running at the time and equally hated running outside because I thought everyone was judging me. So I did most of my training on a .9 mile indoor track.
Nine weeks later, I completed the program and soon after ran my first 5k race. I felt something for my body I had never felt before – pride. I was proud of my body for what it accomplished. Not because of a number on the scale or the way my arms looked, but for what it DID. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a turning point.
I kept running. I remember when I ran four miles for the first time and I was over the moon. Soon after I signed up for a half marathon. The training was harder but was so damn proud of myself every time I completed a distance I’d never run before. Signing up for a marathon was a natural (and scary) next step.
During this time, the way I thought about myself was slowly evolving. Less self doubt, more positive self-talk. Don’t get me wrong – the negative self-talk was still there (and still is today at times) but was taking up less and less of my thoughts.
A few years after running marathons, I found myself on the trails with a few running friends. Running trails was a totally different experience than the roads and I was intrigued. I’m sure you know what happened next – I learned about ultramarathons.
That was four years ago. A lot has happened since then. I’ve completed countless 50ks and 50-milers, and a few 100-milers. I learned to love my short, muscular legs – a body part I once detested. I run in a sports bra because I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about my body. I learned that bodies are capable of incredible feats. My relationship with food changed – food became fuel, not “good or bad.” Somewhere along the way and I can’t pin point when exactly, I stopped making myself throw up and I honestly can’t remember the last time I even felt the urge to do it.
I still have days where I’m unhappy with how my body looks, but I work through it with positive self-talk and focusing on what amazing things my body has accomplished. And it works!
I can now fully reflect on the past seven years and understand what a huge role running (and especially trail and ultrarunning) played in changing the way I think about myself and my body. Although I hate how much time and energy I gave to thinking about calories, the number on the scale, and what people thought of my body – this experience taught me how powerful running can be, for women especially.
These days, I spend my time running trails and volunteering for Girls on the Run, a non-profit that teaches girls 3rd – 8th grade what it took me my entire life to figure out – that they are capable and strong just as they are. Seeing these girls learn this at a young age makes my heart swell with joy. If we can inspire girls to love themselves and their bodies and teach them how to deal with negative self-talk at a young age, that’s half the battle.
I want females of all ages to activate their limitless potential and set their sights high for themselves because they can and they are capable. This doesn’t mean you have to run ultramarathons or even run for that matter! It’s about finding your passion and not being held back by yourself or others. For many of us, this is what running is all about.
I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I didn’t start Couch to 5k seven years ago – and I’m glad I’ll never find out.
Feature Photo: Amy Broadmoore