Editor’s Note: This article speaks about eating disorders and may be triggering for some folks.
It’s February 2017. I’m somewhat frantically going through my pantry looking for something with enough carbs to sustain me through my first half marathon. I had read countless blog posts and articles on how to train for and race half marathons, all of which pointed toward getting a good amount of carbohydrates in pre-race. So, I went through my pantry and pulled various items off the shelves until finally, success! Bagels for the win.
To understand why this scene is a core memory we need to go back to the summer of 2012. I was going into my senior year of college. I was also in outpatient treatment for my eating disorders. Yes, disorders plural. Long story short, I learned that I had spurts of anorexia, bulimia, overeating and exercise bulimia throughout my entire life. Part of my treatment was to have everything I ate prescribed, and my exercise limited to 3 times per week for 30-40 minutes.
One of my rituals in college was meeting up with a friend every Friday at the bagel shop on campus for breakfast. The sad reality of my disorder was that I also had a ritual of working out for hours at the gym on Thursday nights to earn the bagel. Then I would restrict food intake throughout the rest of the day on Friday after eating the bagel. Don’t get me wrong- I LOVE bagels. Presently, I even eat two bagels a day sometimes! The starchy carbohydrates do wonders to help my body stay recovered and strong.
I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent getting help. When I left eating disorder treatment, I was still on the same exercise restrictions, but I was set free to decide what and how much I would eat. The privilege to feed myself became a precious freedom that I protected like a delicate flower.
In 2016, during my annual physical and 4 years into recovery from my eating disorders, I talked to my doctor about the anxiety I was experiencing. I had fully expected to be referred to a psychiatrist to be evaluated for medication. Instead, what I got was quite the opposite. She explained that anxiety was at the root of the behaviors that caused my eating disorder. Without my disorder to mask the anxiety, I now needed a new outlet. She suggested I increase my workouts from 3-4 days per week to 5-6 days to help with my anxiety. As scary as it was to have my exercise restrictions lifted, I decided not to overthink it and trust in the work I had been doing in my recovery. In 2017 I ran my fist half marathon and began my journey as an endurance athlete.
In my disorder, my body and mind were at odds with one another. Like the same sides of a magnet, repelling. In my disordered thoughts, my body was disobedient and my mind was always working overtime to punish and control it. Throughout my journey to becoming an endurance athlete, I saw that my mind and body slowly turned from being at odds to working together in harmony- now opposite sides of a magnet glued together.
As my running increased the anxiety went away and I now had a new tool to help me carry on in my recovery journey. The determined mindset that once kept me from eating now helped me push through the pain of mile 40 in a 50 mile race. Food, which was once the enemy, now fueled my long adventures on the trails and helped me recover quickly. It has been such a beautiful journey going from restricted exercise to having the trust in myself to put in the long training, and fuel my body, for ultramarathons.
I don’t find healing in the PRs, medals, or race podiums. The healing happens in the in between. The healing happens in the moments dancing across the trails with no one to judge me but the insects and deer. The healing is the pop tarts at 5am before a run and the egg and rice scramble to recover after a hard effort. The healing happens in the awe at cresting a hill and being overtaken by the beauty of nature. The healing is the deep breaths while I stretch my arms out as far as they will go, feeling myself take up the space that I was born to. The healing is taking a gel every 30 minutes without fail so I can keep conquering my back-to-back long runs. The healing is in the choices I make every day, before, during and after my runs to take care of my body.
As runners we often joke about running being our therapy. I vehemently refute this. Only therapy is therapy. Running for me is simply the canvas for me to paint my recovery journey on. It is not the activity that healed me to begin with. If you find yourself in a dark place or experiencing disordered thoughts and behaviors, I urge you to reach out for help. My hope for everyone is to find a space where their soul and body can be as free as mine are on the trails.
If you or a loved one need help navigating an eating disorder, reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). (212) 575-6200 or https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ to learn more.