Body Image

In a previous blog, I mentioned an unhealthy relationship with food that I had early in my running career. I did not go into too much detail because it was not the focus of the blog or my intention to fully disclose my past. However, as I read more pieces written by athletes about disordered eating I felt compelled to share. Yes, my disordered eating patterns may have took my family and friends by surprise, but they were brewing like a strong cup of coffee for many years beforehand. I hate to say this, but it just took a long time for me to find the willpower to break up with my love of food. Fucked up to admit, but true.

I try hard to take full responsibility for my actions and when it comes to my eating issues they were mine. However, I know that there were comments made throughout my life that had an impact on how I viewed my body. There is a possibility that I misinterpreted these comments and was overly sensitive, but the fact of the matter is that I used them as motivation to become thin. I have been 5 “10′ since I was a freshman in high school, which served me well as a soccer goalie and basketball player. I felt a bit awkward in social settings, insecure with my larger frame and how I towered over alot of boys my age. However, I could always retreat to the field or the court to lose myself in the game; appreciating the functional body that excelled in sports. A couple of times my senior year of high school I heard people say negative things about my appearance, which really destroyed my self esteem but managed to not change any behavior.

Throughout college my weight fluctuated depending on how much I drank, which was often way too much. During soccer season the weight dropped off due to conditioning (how I miss 120’s) and having less time to party. By the second semester of my senior year, I was over the party scene, scared of my relationship with alcohol and more committed to my health than ever before. I made the goal to run a marathon even though I was too embarrassed to share it publicly. Following graduation from college I moved back home and had no clear direction in life, yet became fixated on the notion of running a marathon. I remember watching the Boston marathon and envisioning myself with the leaders but not in the physical form that I was currently sporting. Instead I saw myself much thinner and enviable to my peers and all those who had called me the “big girl”. I was relentless with my quest to prove that I could alter my body in a way to resemble the elite marathoners that I watched on the television. As you can imagine, my ignorant approach landed me in the orthopedics office with severe patellar tendonitis in addition to other injuries. The day I went in to see the doctor, which happened to be my birthday, he greeted me with, “aren’t you carrying too much weight to be a runner?” I can still remember the sensations that went through my body as I choked back both rage and tears. My BMI was 20, but this asshole was telling me that I did not fit the runner profile. I was fragile and had already felt like an imposter in the running world, so his words became the catalyst for the change that nearly sunk me.

Doctor Fuckhead was not alone in his opinion of my size. I was shamed by others in the running community both in person and on message boards. I felt the pressure to conform when I stood on the start line and looked around as I outweighed most of the men. I quickly lost a significant amount of weight and created stomach issues in my head to justify my food choices. The more unhealthy I became the more alone I felt. I hated my body. I hated myself. Fortunately, I was saved from the perils of an eating disorder by a wonderful support system who loved me regardless of how fast I ran. They confronted me about what they were seeing, enforced boundaries and helped me develop a healthier relationship with food. I was heading in the right direction, but struggled with my demons, which were mostly in the form of self doubt, for about 10 years.

Then something magical happened.

I was pregnant!

I suffered from amenorrhea for about three years when I restricted my diet the most. I also had ovarian cysts that landed me in the hospital on a couple of occasions. I was told that I may not get pregnant easily or at all and now in the midst of a heavy training block my pee produced two lines. I felt a wave of relief knowing that I could let go of my restrictive ways and allow my body to grow a baby. It sounded so easy, yet in reality I struggled. I had a challenging pregnancy that put me on bed rest around 31 weeks. I gained roughly 50lbs, but because I asked to be weighed backwards due to shame I could not tell you for sure. I was so uncomfortable in my body and kept praying that my baby would arrive early so that I could resume training. I realize that my thinking was selfish, but I do not find it beneficial to hide the truth. I was bombarded with women telling me how wonderful pregnancy was and I simply could not relate to them. At 38 weeks, I went into labor and it was ugly, like really really ugly. My labor started on a Saturday night and my daughter was born on Tuesday right before noon. It was by far the hardest physical endeavor to date and truly incredible. As I brought my baby girl to my chest, I announced that I would stay pregnant for 10 years to experience that moment of love all over again. Yes, I was high on the natural endorphins that can flood your brain post delivery, but I finally was able to truly appreciate my body not only for what it was but how it allowed me to bring this little being into the world.

There have been moments of self loathing over the last nine plus years and every time I start to go to that negative place in my  head I think about the three amazing creatures that my body made. There is nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do for them and I feel an immense sense of gratitude to be a mother. I also have the responsibility to raise my children to love their bodies and how they function. I want them to grow up looking in the mirror only to remind themselves how much value they bring to this world. I never want anything anyone says to them about the way that they look affect them so much that they neglect a basic need such as food. I want them to continue exploring physical activities that empower them, instead of placing them in a box created by other people’s ideals.  I will be honest with them if they ask about my past but I will never ever say anything negative about my body in front of them because if it wasn’t for my body they would not be here.

I am sharing this blog for other athletes who may be using running as a weight loss tool when they do not need to lose weight. I did not start running with the goal to get skinny, but a combination of low self esteem and a desire to fit in caused me to make choices that I am not proud of because of the pain they caused me and others around me. I realize that I have left out pieces of my story, some of them I am not ready to share and there are other parts that I have let go. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or a diagnosed eating disorder please reach out and get the help that you need. Our bodies are amazing vehicles that are capable of so much when treated with love and admiration.

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