It is really hard to be a female in this society and have a normal relationship of food. Normal isn’t even the right word because I am not sure that a “normal” relationship with food exists among anyone…how can it in our current food environment? I can’t say for sure, but I think most people have some degree of disorder when it comes to eating. I recently wrote a post about calorie counting vs. eating whole foods, in which I detailed how I have tried to train myself to view food in terms of the nutrients it contains and not the calories. I also use my love of running to motivate myself to make better choices. But therein lies another struggle, athletic achievement and diet, the two are inextricable.
There are societal pressures to be thin, as well as athletic pressure to be healthy. I’m going to speak from my perspective and experience as a young female and an endurance runner…trying to find the balance has been a really hard journey for me, and it is still not over.
Over the last several years I’ve been obsessed with nutrition. I’ve read almost everything I could find concerning weight loss, calories, different diets, eating disorders, and achieving optimal health. My crash course in diets began with my spiral into eating disorders when I was 15. At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school my training for XC was ramping up, and unbeknownst to me I wasn’t eating enough to keep up with the energy my body used. I realized I had lost weight when I had to weigh myself for PE class (a cruel practice), and after that moment, I was consumed with trying to eat less and run more. Compounding that, my high school coach would make fun of girls on the team for their bad eating habits or excess weight. It may have been in jest, but I wanted to be the best runner I could and so I took all his remarks seriously, though none were ever aimed at me.
What followed were years of stress. On the pictures to the left (above) I am a senior in high school, 17. To the left (below) is the transformation I underwent when I first became anorexic. I went from normal skinny during the fall XC season to scary skinny in the spring track season. I remember feeling terrified of what I was doing to myself, I hated the way I looked. I compared myself to a reptile because my spine looked like the spiky back of a lizard and my skin was dry and scaly. But I also couldn’t stop restricting my food. I needed to see my bones or I believed I was gaining weight. I developed a bad tendency of measuring my arms with my hands…and to this day I still do it.
Physically, I was always cold. I was stiff, even though I ran for miles everyday, including my weekly long run of 20 miles once a week, I could barely climb the stairs at my school. I couldn’t think clearly, even though I maintained straight A’s during this time. I began to get dizzy, have insane heart arrhythmias, and I was always depressed. I didn’t feel like I had any emotions, I can’t remember feeling much at all except for scared and obsessed.
I hid food, I spit it out when no one was looking, I threw my lunches away and skipped breakfast. I was compulsive about running and needed to exercise every day. Occasionally I felt guilty about how scared my mom was, but her tactics to get me to eat only steeled my resolve to eat less, as long as I wasn’t dead my dad believed I was fine. During this whole ordeal, I ran two marathons, one when I was 16 and then when I was 17…I must be really strong because it’s a miracle I didn’t die, both times I probably weighed about 80lbs (naturally I settle around 100lbs.)
Somehow I started eating more, and then I dealt with a whole different monster, bulimia 😦 I spent my first year alone in college locked in my tiny apartment, eating and throwing up, over and over again. My body was fighting me for food after years of being starved. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to eat. If I wasn’t binging, I was trying not to eat. I never told my family, if anyone asked, I made up fictional meals that I had cooked for myself.
The point of my story is that I want people to know how my experience with food has influenced the way I see it now. This is why I am so AGAINST dieting, processed food, calorie counting, etc. This is why I despise the pressure I feel to stay skinny. As someone who has never had an overweight problem, there are a lot of things I am sure I will never be able to understand. But now when I post about what I eat in a day or about my views on a whole food diet, you have some context. I lament that I am still really obsessive. I’m picky and strict about what I consume. There might be remnants of ED behavior influencing my habits, but I am also Type A, and I only want to eat what I feel will give me the right fuel to run fast. I’ll never be nonchalant about my diet, but I have come so far compared to where I once was. Being skinny is no longer my most fervent wish. More than anything now, I want to make the Olympic trials in 2016. If I can do that, I’ll set my sights on the Olympics in 2020. I’m ready to reach the highest heights and the only thing that can stand in my way is me.
My struggles have taught me that you do run better when you are skinny, to a point. And then you crash. Runners are skinny because they run, and if they’re smart they eat the right nutrients and enough energy to sustain their workouts.
I’ve come to understand that I will never be an amazing marathon runner if I am only eating to stay skinny. In the picture below (sorry, MarathonFoto) I am not dieting, I am not worried about being thin. I care about having enough energy to feel strong and kick ass for 26.2 miles. The sad thing is, I wasted several years trying to whittle myself away to nothing, for what? I have the capacity to be a much more amazing person now. As long as I eat right and exercise, I’ll be fine.