Confession of a Recovered Runner
I finally feel like I’m at a place where I can fully share my experience. I write this in the hopes of helping those who have shared/are sharing this struggle and to help others not to fall into the same trap. So here it is…
As a senior in high school, I realized that I was capable of running for a D1 school. I did everything possible to turn that into a reality. I got enough sleep, did yoga every morning, worked hard in practice, did extra strength training, and ate healthy. I wasn’t going overboard; I was simply dedicated.
In hindsight, though, that’s when I started to get sucked into the deep, dark hole that is an ED. I ate very regimented meals and started to completely refuse desserts. I always loved reading novels. I started to love reading nutrition labels. Working at a grocery store didn’t help. While stocking shelves, I would sneak a peek at the calorie content in the products. 120 calories in a slice of whole grain bread?! Maybe I’d just cut out bread from my diet… It was a slippery slope, and I started sliding fast.
I graduated high school feeling on top of the world. I was SCA President, Valedictorian, and had a scholarship to run at a D1 school in the SEC! (And I hadn’t eaten a piece of bread or a single dessert in 6 months… go me! … Right?) Summer training began and, with the increase of mileage came a decrease in fuel. Run more, eat less became my mantra. I was going to go to college as skinny and fast as possible. Little did I know that skinny did not equate to speed.
Freshman year came and, boy! was it tough. I was 12 hours from home and had the pressure of a rigorous course load PLUS running. My response? Eat. Even. Less. My thinking was that the less I ate, the skinnier I’d be and the skinnier I was, the faster I’d be. If I ran fast, I’d be happier. WRONG.
I had a great freshman cross country season, but by the time indoor training rolled around, I was weak. I got injured over Christmas break and that sent me spiraling. I cross trained excessively, lost more weight, and my injury didn’t heal (shocker). When I got back to campus, my trainer noticed how thin I was. So, she sent me to a nutritionist and, eventually, a psychologist. I fought against this, because I was in such a state of denial. I didn’t have an ED! I was just dedicated to the sport!
One day, though, I completely broke down. I confessed it all to the psychologist, but, more importantly, I confessed it to myself. There was absolutely nothing healthy about what I was doing. And I wasn’t happy at all. In fact, I had hit the lowest point in my life. All joy had left my being. Life had simply become survival until the next run and the next sleep. My brain was consumed with thoughts of food (and how I could eat less of it, despite how much I craved it). I put on a happy face for those around me, but inside I was broken. And my body was breaking.
I made a list of all the bad habits I had formed– everything from avoiding even the crust of a piece of bread to spitting out food into a napkin when people weren’t looking. I would go out to dinner with friends, but lie about having eaten beforehand. I would look at recipes for cookies and cakes, but could never fathom baking them. Pizza? Oh, man, I just wanted pizza. No way would I touch that, though. No. Way.
I slipped into a deep depression and was ready to give it all up and crawl home. I was no longer Molly. I didn’t know who I was.
Finally, with the help of my family, my two best friends, and lots and lots of prayer, I started to regain my former happiness. Despite still being injured, the sweet spring air and the promise of summer enlivened me. I stayed out later, became a bit more spontaneous, and, under the watchful eye of the nutritionist, started to put on some weight.
That was a battle, though. I would call my Dad every morning while drinking the specially made protein shakes (with a scarily unknown amount of calories), so he could talk me through it. He wouldn’t hang up until I had promised him that I had finished the entire shake. I remember shaking in the grocery store as I forced myself to buy the whole grain waffles that I promised my nutritionist and psychologist I would buy. I had to call my parents while eating them slowly, one morsel at a time. Then, I cried because the guilt of those carbs was too much to bear.
My Mom visited for my birthday and, by then, I had started to improve a bit more. We had a wonderful day bouncing around downtown, shopping, going to the art museum, and talking and laughing uncontrollably as we always used to do together. When she suggested grabbing a sandwich for lunch, I hesitated slightly, but obliged. I didn’t want to ruin our perfect day. And that was a turning point for me. I sat with my mom in the March sun and ate an absolutely delicious sandwich. And I didn’t wilt away. The sky didn’t fall. The world did not stop spinning. I ate a sandwich, and it was tasty, and I was happily full, and my Mom and I were having a lovely day. I was alive again.
That summer, at home, I learned how to eat Sunday morning pancakes with my family again. I learned how to get froyo at 11 PM with my best friend again. I learned how to not plan out every second of every day. I learned how to fuel the happy life I so desperately wanted to live.
Sophomore year wasn’t a walk in the park. I still struggled to accept the body God had given me. Especially in the world of college running, there are always girls walking around that are taller, more slender, and more toned. But I reminded myself every day that I was blessed with two legs that could carry me over many, many beautiful miles and I had to respect my body by fueling it to do so. My controlling tendencies still crept up every now and then. I still checked calories and refused desserts most of the time. But, little by little, I was healing.
This year has been even more of a shift for me. I transferred schools and met a guy who has showed me that running is not everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent weekend mornings cooking huge brunches with him (even on rest days!) or how many times I’ve baked cookies with him (and eaten several myself!). I eat peanut butter out of the jar, enjoy midnight snacks, and go out for pizza. I’ve never been happier, I’ve never been healthier, and guess what else… I’ve never been faster!
This past season was my best one yet. I PR’d in the mile, the 3K, the 5K, and the 10K and qualified for Regionals! Apparently, the deal is not that skinnier equals faster. STRONGER equals faster. HEALTHIER equals faster. HAPPIER equals faster. I don’t know my weight, I don’t know how many calories I’ve eaten in a day, and I don’t care. All I know is that I fuel myself, I’m loving the miles, and way more importantly, I’m loving life.
God has blessed each and every one of us with not only a beautiful soul, but also a beautiful body. It is our duty to ensure that our bodies stay healthy so that our souls can be joyful. An ED is a thief. It steals that health and, therefore, that happiness by telling us that we have to go against nature and hurt our physical bodies in order to achieve our dreams. An ED is a liar. Don’t listen to it. You are called to live a life of strength, of freedom, of joy. Fuel that life. Love that life. Live that life.