This morning I went for a run. Doesn’t seem like that abnormal or anything, right? But for me running became a piece of my eating disorder and did become abnormal. For almost a year I felt like I had to run. It started off as something I just wanted to do to feel more confident and for stress relief. But soon it turned into an obsession. I had to keep track of my running to make sure I was following my rules. I had to run 5-6 days a week. I had to run over a certain distance. I had to use my running app to time myself. Even when I was exhausted I still had to get up at 5am before school to run. It was the only time I felt okay in my body. I relied on a good run to run my day and allow it to go smoothly. I literally was running on running. If I had not gone for a run, typically I would feel much worse that day. I would feel guilty for not running. I also would feel guilty for eating. There were so many times when I would feel full that I would tell myself It will be okay, I will run tomorrow morning. Running was justification for eating.
Excessive exercise is often linked with anorexia. While I did not have time to spend hours at the gym like some anorexics, exercising did become one of the most important things to me. I would plan out my whole week to make sure I could get enough running in. This is not a healthy relationship to have with exercise. Whether or not you exercise should not define whether you are a good enough person. It also does not define whether you are healthy. I thought for a while that I am healthy because I am running, there is nothing wrong with that. And don’t get me wrong, running is not inherently bad. What was wrong was that I was not giving my body the nourishment it needed to fuel my running. By not eating enough and running I lost a lot of weight and put my health at risk.
When I entered into treatment for anorexia I had to completely stop running. I often forget how hard this was for me at first. I wanted to be able to run. It felt wrong not to run, but I had to learn to feel okay without running. I also had to gain weight back and exercising would be counterproductive to this goal. I became jealous that other people could run and I couldn’t. I would see people running alongside the street as I was driving and wanted to run so badly. It would make me feel really sad and sometimes I felt like crying. But I would drive past them and try to keep going with my day. Running was just one of many challenges that I faced in recovery. Food was the bigger issue, but running was a piece of my disorder because I used it to justify the food I did eat.
After a few months in recovery I was used to not running. It was somewhat freeing to not always have to run and to have to get up even earlier just to make time for running before school. I still wanted to know that I was allowed to run again, though. So around 4 months into recovery, in February, I had gained enough weight back that I could try running a little bit again. If I lost too much weight I would have to stop though. I was actually really busy and did not run all that much. I didn’t wake up at 5am to run at all because I didn’t want to. If I had time in the afternoon sometimes I would run, but it was always because I just felt like it. If it was a nice day out or something, not because I had eaten too much or felt obligated to. This set me up for a much healthier approach to exercise. I no longer had a rigid schedule about when I needed to exercise.
I finished out the school year running every once in a while, and doing some yoga here or there. Then with the arrival of summer I had more time on my hands. I had the memory of my routine the previous summer where I would get up and run every day. It felt weird to not be running. But I knew I could not run like I had been before. I did start running once a week or so. I knew I needed to be careful and eat enough because otherwise I could lose some of the weight I had worked so hard to gain.
I struggled with knowing whether I wanted to run for pleasure versus wanting to run because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I would see things in the media that would trigger me to have feelings like I should be working out. I am much more aware of it now then when I was deep in my eating disorder, but it can still affect me. I have had to work out (see what I did there) how to know whether or not to run. The key for me is to trust myself and know my motives. If I don’t feel like running, then I won’t, even if it was on a day I had planned on running. You must listen to your body’s needs. If you are tired, then running is not what is best for you on that particular day. I am now running a few times a week because it makes me feel happy and I like getting outside. But if I have a busy week it’s normal not to run. Last week I only ran once, and that’s okay. I will not gain weight if I do not run. And I should not be losing weight if I do run. I must eat enough so that I have energy to run and maintain the healthy body I have worked hard for. I literally ran myself ragged by running before. Now I want running to be something I do to add to my life, not to make my body subtract.