My happy medicine against anorexia
A nice crunchy bagel and a banana. All gassed up. Ready to hit the road. The fuel I’ve nourished my body with is felt as a burst of energy. I extend my hip joints. My toes then propel me from the ground. Throwing myself through the air, bouncing from foot to foot, I feel the power in my body. Such strength. Sweat drips down my arms and the droplets fly off my elbows. The sun shines on my beet-red face. My hair is pulled completely back into a high ponytail, accentuating my lovely round face which I fought so hard to render thin when I was struggling with anorexia. My long, messy mane of hair swings to and fro- in synchrony with my stride.
Here’s how I feel: strong and healthy.
Like my fellow blogger Perry Ryan, I too am a runner. I do not run competitively though – I run for myself. Her article “ Coach Ed ” inspired me to discuss my very different relationship with running.
For her, running was the villain. Running nourished her eating disorder. I, by contrast, believe that running has truly helped me to lock away my eating disorder.
I guess this underscores the fact that each eating disorder is different – something could be lethal for one person and restorative for another.
My mom forbade me from participating in any kind of exercise, especially high-intensity cardio like running, when I was my twelve-year-old anorexic self. I was young enough for her to still be able to manage my time, and she took full advantage of this to ensure that I was not spending it burning off calories. I remember how she refused to allow me to accompany her and my brother on a beautiful oceanside run in Australia. She said, “You’re not eating enough”, so I sat in the condo alone. That being said, there was a real disconnect between my anorexic self and any sort of athleticism. I think this was a good thing. The promise of sport – something which had been part of my lifestyle since my earliest childhood, with my involvement in tae kwon do, ballet, etc. was just another thing to incite me to get my life back on track and banish the voice of the stifling eating disorder from my psyche. It was really a reward to be able to exercise again once I had recovered. It was something that had come to symbolize my renewed health.
Anorexia: a fake friend
When I was anorexic, my life was characterized by extremes. As is normal for a “ tween ”, at 12-13 years old, I was at a stage in my life where I felt like I needed to establish an identity for myself. This is what I was thinking: I’m growing up, on the cusp of adulthood; let me take charge of constructing the individual I want to be. Tabula rasa – that’s how I viewed myself – capable of being whatever I chose. Who chooses mediocrity? No one. We strive after ideals – models of perfection. I adopted extreme habits in my futile pursuit of the illusion of perfection. I had zero balance in my life. I believed that the physical manifestation of perfection was thinness. Since appearance and weight loss were the most quantifiable components of my quest to build my ideal self, my success in this department overtook every other aspect of my life. I had ridiculously extreme eating habits – I would banish food groups all together and refused to savor “just a bite” of any high-calorie food thrust at me. All this to say that whilst anorexia stripped me of any semblance of a balanced life, running does the opposite! Running gives me balance. (It is one of the only things that manages to tear me away from my books during exam weeks – a necessary distraction!). Whether I’m floundering in academic, social or romantic stress, there’s nothing like a long run to restore my equanimity and remind me that health is the greatest virtue.
As an anorexic, I associated beauty with thinness. As a runner, I associate beauty with strength. That’s why I regard my runner’s lifestyle as the antithesis of my anorexic past.
Running over anorexia
As an anorexic I was absolutely fixated on bodily change. I don’t run to change my body. Never have I used running as a tool to lose weight. In fact, I likely gained weight when I started running – in muscle mass.
There are no goals and achievements involved in my running. I would never plan to run to lose a certain amount of weight. Running, to me, is about going with the flow based on my energy levels. If I’m feeling good, I’ll take a longer route. It is really about listening and being in tune with my body – as opposed to ignoring it as I did with my eating disorder.
Running really improved my relationship with food. When you’re exercising, you really begin to appreciate food for its veritable purpose – as a source of energy.
When I was anorexic I would have no qualms with skipping breakfast – but as a runner, I have never once skipped breakfast. When I’m running, I’m demanding my body to expend energy. If I do not feed it, I have no energy. It’s as simple and sensible as that.
My friends refuse to run outside because of their poor self-esteem, their fear of being scoffed at by the occasional critical passersby. I won’t let anyone hold me back. Maybe the local guy I have a crush on will see me all sweaty and gross, but I’m doing what I love – I look strong and happy. I’ll smile as feel-good dopamine is fired through my brain, as I attain that euphoric state which accompanies a good run. Most importantly, I’ll be certain to assure that running, which has become so emblematic of my convalescence, never evolves into an unhealthy addiction instead of a source of immense pleasure.
Whilst each moment spend in the clutch of anorexia was weakening my heart, with each run, I strengthen my heart.
Crédits photo: Istock/LockieCurrie