Editor’s Note: This article speaks about eating disorders and may be triggering for some folks.
They say to find what you love and let it kill you.
There’s little room for consideration in such a bold, blanket statement. Consideration that maybe some things just aren’t worth dying for.
I can’t exactly pinpoint when my relationship with food and my body and my self-worth all became tangled into an unrecognizable ball of shame. I remember being a first-time mom at the age of 22. When all of my friends were picking out college classes, I was picking out diapers and nursery items. I recall the distinct and uncomfortable shift from the celebrated pregnant body I checked into the hospital with, to the soft and foreign postpartum body I went home with. I did not feel like a young 22 year old anymore. My body was not my own anymore, and I bore the marks of new motherhood.
Many years would pass, more babies would come. Four in total. Each time, I would try every way I knew to cover my shame of my soft, sagging skin and stretch marks. I would eat as little as possible which would often lead to hunger and over eating. I found running in this same time, more as another way I could torture my body into submission and attempt to form myself into what I believed I should look like. My obsession with running took hold, I would run until my shins were so splintered I could barely hobble home. I was certain that if I just ate a little less, ran a little faster, I would finally look like the young 20-something I was supposed to be. I was dying to be an ideal of what I thought a “runner” should be.
I would yo-yo with this line of thinking for years. Running was never done for joy, only for punishment for what I ate, permission to eat later. I would chase longer finish lines: 10k to 13.1 and eventually 26.2. I was never satisfied, no finish line was good enough, no pace was fast enough, the number on the scale would forever determine my worthiness. Every morning, that scale would determine if it was going to be a good day or a bad day. There was little room for self-love-only disappointment in falling short and an overwhelming sense of not good enough. If I was smaller, I’d be faster. If I ran more, I’d be skinnier.
This battle would come to head in 2019, as I trained for my third full distance Ironman triathlon. Stress and life and obsessive exercising and a cycle of disordered eating and taken its toll on my body. I had sunken to a point where I would no longer eat. In my depression and obsession, I was killing myself in the name of what I love…swimming, biking, running. My body was resilient, rising to every task and demand I placed on it. I was exhausted, and cold, and hungry. I could no longer run more than 6 miles without taking a break. My family was worried, but the other comments of how great I looked would over power the concerned voices of those I loved. It would take a world-wide pandemic and the loss of racing and training to bring me back from the dangerous edge.
When I had decided to take on ultra-running, it was purely for selfish reasons. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained in quarantine. With the added miles, came added hunger. I tried for weeks to ignore it, until one day a sweet friend simply told me, “You have to eat.” I decided then that if I was going to finish this race I had set before me, I was going to do everything possible to get myself to that finish line. I poured myself into ultra-running and endurance nutrition. I was forced to take a long, hard look at what I had been doing-using food and exercise as excuses to harm myself. I had to learn to re-frame my mindset that food is fuel, its meant to nourish and feed our bodies. Our bodies are wonderful, they will continue to rise and perform and execute every demand we place on it. Even when we abuse and neglect it.
I completed that 50 mile ultra-marathon. In the process, I fell in love with dirt and trails and mountains and food. I realized that I don’t have to look like a “runner” to be a runner, I AM A RUNNER! The mountains and trails have never asked if I am worthy of being there, the number on the scale does not determine my ability to run. I have thick, strong, muscular thighs-and they carry me up mountain tops without fail. I have strong arms, that have held the love of my life. I have a strong, warm and soft tummy that has cradled and grew life. I laugh loud, I have scars that tell my story. I pour wine for friends and share meals with those most dear to me. My body is strong and worthy-no matter the size or number.
I will no longer try to die for what I love, I will not live with guilt or shame or unworthiness. Instead, I will LIVE-passionately, relentlessly, unapologetically-for what I love.
Thanks for sharing your story! I can definitely relate as someone who had struggled with an eating disorder in the past and has now found a love of trail running and can see it as a source of strength and fun and not punishment or to change my body.