How running helped me overcome eating disorders
Just like falling in love I succumbed to eating disorders. It started very slowly and without a warning. I was a happy teenager, pretty careless and slowly discovering the interests women had. It was only natural that my body was starting to look like like a woman’s as well. It was a whole new world that I was discovering — I liked the idea of going towards independence and was enjoying the changes. Except for one. I had always been effortlessly skinny and when I realized that this was changing too, I started being more careful.
Boys, sex and parties weren’t on top of my interests. Learning more about what the cookies I liked were made of was way more appealing. I wanted to know about every single ingredient I was ingesting per day and its expected effect on my body. I started counting the calories, making sure I’d always stay under the average portion I was supposed to eat, so that I’d never put on weight. At some point, there was no more cookies, nor any kind of fat. Or very little, when I had no choice — Having parents who cared about eating dinner with me and my sister probably is what allowed me not to look like a skeleton in motion. I remained skinny, very skinny, but never got to the point where I’d lose so much weight that people would actually call me anorexic. To the others I seemed just fine. Yet, my new obsession made me miss out on many experiences I should have lived as a 16+ year-old. Suffering from eating disorders simply ruled my life.
At the age of 19 I got into a university far from my hometown. I moved to a new city and to a new life. Independence! Finally! For many reasons I needed it, but I must admit that it didn’t help my eating problems— No more parents who’d make sure that I’d feed myself conveniently. Or feed myself at all. Luckily I wasn’t the kind of person who’d skip a meal. I couldn’t live a normal day without a minimum of food in my stomach. But I’d starve myself and eat very little portions only three times a day, making sure it contained no added sugar and no fats. I won’t lie, I loved the way I looked. I was pretty and my body was skinny. I was in control of the situation and it made me so much more confident. I lived the experiences I was supposed to live as a young woman and that was all I cared about. When I look back to that period I don’t regret anything. But I remember that it came with big unnecessary sacrifices and frustrations. I had also started smoking. A cigarette after a meal made it so much easier not to eat dessert.
Just like one realizes that he/she has fallen in love it struck me that I had drowned deep down and that going back up would be much harder than I thought. I was measuring all the way that I had gone and wasn’t strong enough to get myself out of this situation. Also, I wanted my body to stay the way that it was. Healing meant putting on weight and that idea made me feel deeply anxious. So I remained in that situation for months, years, always avoiding dinner parties because I was tired, Sunday brunches because I was busy. It was all lies, you’ve understood it by now.
One day I considered going back to working out. It could only make me look better, it was the right thing to do. Also, I used to do a lot of sports when I was a kid and I was missing it. I had started running when I was 16 and living in the U.S. but stopped when I moved to Paris — the city just didn’t feel appropriate. When I moved to Denmark and back to large sidewalks and big parks, I felt like running again. Also, “it’s a cheap sport and can be practiced anywhere as long as you have sneakers” they say. So I went back to running. I started on a cold day in February and ran 4 km. 2 km from Copenhagen to the small town of Hellerup, then 2 km back. It was snowing and the experience made me feel more alive than I had felt in years. So I kept on running, slowly growing the distance. A few months later I registered in my first 10K — The Copenhagen Women’s 10K run. I didn’t run it. I was feeling tired on that day, it was cold, I just didn’t have the energy nor the motivation. It took me over a year to register to that kind of race again and to actually run it. Needless to say that my eating disorders situation hadn’t improved during this period of time.
Running my first 10K in a race was a big thing. I was a slow runner by then — I probably still am but I have improved. The goal I wanted to achieve was to run 10K under 1 hour. And I succeeded. It boosted my motivation and made me crave for more similar experiences. So I started training for my first half marathon which I ran 4 months later. I finished in 2h04. Crossing that finish line made me proud. It made me want to start again right away and to run the same distance under 2h. It’s not that you should run just to get faster and faster. Although I do consider myself as an athlete, I’ll never qualify for the Olympics and I’m not making a living out of running. Yet, setting new objectives is great for self-confidence and satisfation. I’m happy to say that three years after my first race I have run four halves, one full marathon and have managed to score personal bests everytime. I’m currently training for my sixth half marathon and hope to run it in 1h45.
Just like being in love and taking a relationship seriously, I cared about training and being good at what I was doing. I disciplined myself and managed to find balance between running, work and life. Just like I got into eating disorders, I found my way out of it, naturally, taking it steps by steps. I also stopped smoking at some point — I do indulge myself to a cigarette sometimes if I’m at a party and feel like it. But I don’t smoke on a daily basis anymore. Running has become an important part of my life, so has reaching my goals. And I have understood that it requires eating healthy food in appropriate portions. I have understood that a piece of cake will not ruin my training nor my life.
Running isn’t a new obsession which replaced the former one. Although I do spend a lot of time and money in this discipline, I also spend a lot of time being social, alive and happy, which I didn’t do as a 16 year-old.
Finding the right balance took me years and I would be lying if I said that I’m as careless as when I was a kid. Eating disorders leave big indelible marks. But I’ve improved and I’ve stopped feeling anxious everytime I see myself in a mirror. More importantly I did it all by myself. So far, that’s probably my biggest achievement.