When I was in my early twenties and struggling with anorexia, the joy and discipline of running helped save my life.
Somewhere along the way, I accepted the lie that I wasn’t enough. A boyfriend I loved had abruptly broken up with me for someone else, plus I felt inadequate to the challenge of figuring out a purposeful direction for my life. These things weighed on me daily, and internally I told myself, “Maybe if I was smarter, I’d have this figured out. Maybe if I was prettier, he wouldn’t have broken up with me. Maybe I’d be prettier if I was thinner…”
Amidst all the things I couldn’t control, there before me was something I could: my weight. When I compared myself to women in magazines and movies, I wasn’t enough. I fantasized about a false ideal of beauty. I’d stand in front of mirrors while grabbing at my thighs and waist, imagining how great it’d be if there was less. How pretty I’d be, then. How maybe I’d finally be enough.
I’d skip meals and work out in the pursuit of some undefined goal weight; I’d simply know it when I saw it. I ran some, but only when I couldn’t make it to the gym or wanted an extra little burst of cardio. My body was something I could control but my mind was an evil twin, shaming me when I’d “give in” and eat a balanced meal. A few times, after eating a meal and dessert, my mind nearly convinced me to go the route of purging.
Healing first showed itself in the form of concerned friends. Listening to them, I had evened out some with the eating, though still had a tendency towards compulsive workouts. It was then that a friend asked if it’d run a 5k with her. She showed me a video advertising The Color Run, and it was one of the most joyful things I’d seen. People running, jumping, and smiling while powders in all different colors exploded around and onto them. Although I’d barely run one mile straight without stopping to walk, I agreed immediately to do it with her. It looked too wonderful to miss.
Depending on what side of training you’re on, a 5k, 3.1 miles, is either a long distance or nothing at all. At the start, it was an incredulous amount. After the race, which was muddy but just as celebratory as advertised, it was nothing. I’d conquered it, and suddenly, I wanted more. I signed up for another 5k, then a 10k. Within six months, I had become a runner, and somehow, by becoming a runner, I had stopped being someone who struggled with anorexia. It was a logical progression: I wanted to run longer and better and to do this, I had to treat my body right. I had to care about what I was eating, knowing that food is a needed fuel, rather than simply fearing the accumulation of calories.
Truthfully, running hasn’t magically solved my struggle with body image. While my mind is much gentler and encouraging, I still endure negative thoughts, as many people in our comparison-filled culture do. Yet, instead of looking in the mirror and just seeing the size of my thighs, I now see legs that are strong. I see a body that can run a half marathon and maybe more. Some runs are joy-producing, while others are downright grueling, nevertheless, each run holds the feeling of freedom. My lungs fill and release. My legs propel me forward. Each mile, each step forward, is enough.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Our Run For It 5k is an event where thousands run, walk, jog, or roll 3.1 miles as a way to declare just how much hope and healing matter to them. Join us on Saturday, May 29, 2021, from wherever you are for TWLOHA’s 9th Annual Run For It 5k. This year’s event will be fully virtual. In addition to moving together, we’re also working to raise $85,000 in support of our mission of presenting hope and connecting people to the help they deserve. You can move and fundraise for your own healing, to honor a loved one gone too soon, or in celebration of your recovery. What will you move for?
You are more than a number on a scale or a measuring tape. You are human. Messy and whole, capable of so many good things, regardless of your body’s shape. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.