I’ve been thinking of writing about this subject for nearly a year, but finding the perfect words to express everything without writing a novel became overwhelming. So I decided to just write and not worry about the length.
I felt embarrassed to some extent, to delve into details of my past and the inner workings of the deep parts of my mind, but I also felt that it was important to bring up my past so you could see where I am coming from. I also felt it was an important topic of discussion, one that maybe, just maybe, could help someone or cause someone to think about something differently. I’m hoping so.
Marathon running has given me something that I really don’t believe anything else could. It has given me the ability to view my body and eating in a completely different and positive way. I’ve learned a lot about myself because of it. And finally, FINALLY, I’ve been able to develop a good and healthy relationship with food and eating.
Back in high school, for some moronic reason, I remember looking in the mirror and telling myself, “Wow, I’m so fat. I need to lose weight”. I could totally thump myself now, as I was a very active and healthy young lady of a healthy weight. I honestly don’t know why I decided to do this. Many people start controlling their eating when everything else in their lives seems out of control, but I honestly think that for me, it was that I simply wanted to be thinner, and that’s all. I’d never liked my muscular, pear shaped build, and I always wanted to be one of those thin models from George Michael’s videos (I’m guessing you can tell about what era that was). The crazy cycle of self-loathing and torture began when I was a junior in high school. I’m not going to get into the gritty details because I don’t think it’s relevant, but I lost over 30 pounds in a few months. I purged in various ways, I restricted, I exercised to excess, I did it all. I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. And all the weight I lost was never enough. Now, I can clearly see the addiction that comes with something like that. You don’t see yourself in any way, shape, or form the way others see you and the way you see others. You see yourself in a carnival mirror, and it’s never accurate, no matter how much you twist and turn it. You may be shrinking, but you feel yourself expanding. It’s a scary and lonely place to be.
Finally, several months later, I got tired of it. I tired of starving myself, of being hungry, of being sick to my stomach, of being miserable, green, and a formerly happy and active high school girl. I lied to my parents, but most importantly, I lied to myself. I thought I was fat. I was ugly. I wasn’t worth anything.
When I confessed to my parents that I needed help after they begged to tell me what was wrong, they were scared and yet, relieved. They knew something was wrong, but they, like so many parents, didn’t know what it was and didn’t know how to find out. I immediately went into after-school counseling for eating disorders, and I became the master of liars there as well. I did start eating again and not feeling so terrible about it, but there was no way I was going to just gain weight for the sake of gaining weight. I kept exercising and when I was honest about it, they told me not to exercise. Well, I just quit telling them that I was. Of course they didn’t understand that when I was running, I was just me, without thinking, without worrying. I needed that run as much as my body needed food.
It took several years for me to get over the majority of the self-loathing what I saw in the mirror. Then I was always just “ok” with what I looked like, how I was shaped, and I had a love/hate relationship with food. I fed myself, but it wasn’t a healthy relationship with food, per se. I did what I needed to do to give myself the energy to do what needed to be done. It’s crazy I went through so many marathons, half-marathons, races, and having two healthy children, that I really, honestly, hated what food stood for and what it “did” to me. The verbal abuse towards myself continued as well, although the more years that went by, the more it eased.
Can’t you relate? We can be so mean, so evil and nasty as we tell ourselves we are fat, ugly, terrible when we would NEVER, EVER see that in, let alone SAY it to other people. Sometimes and some days, we are just never good enough.
So what changed? Maybe it was maturity, maybe it was luck, maybe it was some sort of divine intervention. Maybe one day I just got it. I remember saying some pretty terrible things about myself, that I needed to drop a few lb’s, and how ridiculous it was that achieving only THAT was difficult. Then I saw my arm. I don’t know what it was, the little arm hairs I saw? The few freckles, probably made while having fun in the sun? I don’t know, but something changed in me that day. I saw myself as a person. I saw myself as a little girl, one who was constantly berated by her own self, and I didn’t like it. I grew up in a family of love and my family now is full of hugs and kisses and laughter. So felt like I was treating my own self like the black sheep, like she didn’t belong and didn’t deserve to be there. I actually tear up as I think back to that moment, maybe an “AHA” moment, where I started, just slowly, but I started to feel differently.
Fast forward a few years. I’m not perfect, and there’s days when I just can’t stand to think about bathing suit season. But then I realize that I am not perfect. And that’s ok, because no one really is. Finally, I can give my body the credit it deserves. How many miles have I made it run? Thousands. How many marathons have I run? Yeah, I’ve run seven. It has given me two very healthy children. I’m healthy and able to run my ass off when I want to. I can work, paint, throw my kids on the couch and watch them laugh and say “do it again”. I’m very lucky to have that, and I don’t take it for granted. Marathons were the mediator between a healthy vision of food and me. That’s what brought us together in a good relationship.
I view eating very differently now. And I’m so thankful for the new perspective. Food is fuel. It’s a source of energy, nourishment, and pleasure. When you put junk in, you get junk out. When you don’t put anything in, you get nothing out. You learn so much about your body and fueling when you don’t do it right, that’s for sure. And another thing. I stopped comparing myself to others (for the most part). I will never be anyone but myself, so might as well just realize it now and quit trying to make myself into someone else. It’s pointless. I think of all the time I wasted thinking about, planning, and worrying about what I looked like and dieting and food and just stupid stuff.
It’s a long process, the self-awareness that comes with marathon running. You push yourself, but you literally CANNOT do it when you don’t fuel your body. Instead of a downward spiral that comes with having a bad relationship with food, the downward slowly disappears and then turns into an upward spiral of appreciation, of need, of understanding the true and “normal” relationship you should have with food. The yin yang of eating and running. I can’t have one without the other. No, I may never truly LOVE what my body looks like, BUT I truly appreciate what it does for me, and really, I’m happy with that. I would have never known marathon running could do that for me, but it’s given me a relative freedom from the demons that will probably always reside in a cavern in my head, whispering their little lies to me. I do not believe them anymore. I’d much rather be strong than skinny.
It is now several weeks after the Boston Marathon. I think about all the hard work it took to get me there. All the years I spent training to try and qualify, only to come up short. The races between the marathons. The marathon when I did qualify. All the training since then. Hundreds and hundreds of miles, biking, swimming, yoga, strength. I think about how the relationship I have with food has actually turned into a good one. I appreciate the fuel I give myself as much as I appreciate my muscles as I see them work hard, see them growing and changing as I get faster and have more endurance. Food = muscle power.
I do have to say that there is a difference between having a good relationship with food and a good relationship with body image. This has come to light recently, when I got a few pictures back from various races. I don’t mind most pictures of me, but when I get race pictures back, good Lord I just want to shred most of them. My husband pointed out that I don’t see me the same way anyone else does and I have to admit that he’s right. I recently told coach that I wore shorts over my tights so others couldn’t see my fat butt jiggle. Why I had to say that out loud, I don’t know. But at that moment, I realized how stupid I sounded. That day, I decided that I wasn’t going to SAY those things. Because when you SAY them, you THINK them. Well, maybe, just maybe, if I stop saying bad remarks about my body (the same one that ran over 17 miles just because), then I will eventually stop thinking them. Truly, I do love my body and what it’s given me. So it’s time to start treating it like I do.
So here. Here’s a picture that I never shared because I hate the way my thighs bulge out. Saddle bags. I had gained 5-10 pounds right before the race so I was heavier than normal and now. But I had just ran over 26.2 miles and the first thing I worry about is how my stupid thighs look, so I didn’t share the picture with anyone. Kinda silly, right?
So I’m still a work-in-progress. The key is that I’m making progress. I’m realizing what’s really important, which is to be thankful for what I do have and take care of it. I know I can’t have a scale in the house. I literally cannot play that game. I have no idea what I weigh, but I don’t care and it doesn’t matter. I base my eating on what I’m training for, how I feel, and how my clothes fit. I’m sure I’ll always be a work-in-progress, and that’s ok. It’s kind of fun to drop some of the dumb stuff and think back to how stupid I was “back then”, and I’m sure in another ten years I’ll look back and think that something I’m doing NOW is stupid! So be proud of yourself. Be proud of what you can do. Keep working, keep appreciating. For every negative you find, find two positives. Don’t SAY negative things. Be YOU.
If I could say “Thank you” to marathoning, I certainly would. Marathons have given me so much more than I could imagine. Happiness. Freedom. Thank you, Marathon, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me what nothing else could have. Peace.
Thank you for sharing your story. You’re an inspiration and I’ve been touched by your post. Thank you!