Hello! Welcome to my first ever blog post. With that being said, I have no idea how to start a blog post, so I’ll just jump right in. In light of it being National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to share a story about how I hid my eating disorder relapse behind fad dieting, and how running saved me from it.
My name is Maggie, and I have an eating disorder. I say have and not had because anorexia is one of those diseases that you carry with you for your whole life once you’ve been introduced to it. No matter where I am in life, or how much I weigh, the simple fact will remain that I am anorexic. It’s one of those irrefutable facts about me. I have green eyes, I’m right-handed, I love dogs, and I’m anorexic.
An Eating Disorder is a Mental Illness
I am a little tentative to talk about eating disorders and my first post on a mental health blog for the simple fact that a lot of people don’t realize that eating disorders are a mental illness. My body doesn’t want to starve myself down to nothing, my mind does. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is a mental illness, and a dangerous one at that, so it’s odd that I feel silly talking about eating disorders in a place where most people expect other things.
Anyway, back to me. A little background information: I am 25 years old, and I have struggled with anorexia since I was 15. I spent the better parts of my junior and senior years of high school, along with my first year of college, in outpatient treatment for purging anorexia. The wild thing about recovery is that you get to a point where the professionals aren’t necessarily needed anymore, yet you’re still working through gaining weight as you recover.
In between 18 and 19 years old, I gained 60 pounds and was therefore considered well enough to not need to continue therapy two times a week (because hello, I was gaining weight so I was cured, right?). Because I was “cured”, I had to figure out how to deal with the emotions that came along with weight gain all on my own.
The weird part was, the gain didn’t stop when I got back up to my pre-sickness weight. I had learned how to not starve my body to deal with my emotions but I hadn’t learned anything about how to properly fuel myself. I learned a lot about my mind but I had spent so long NOT eating and making up for myself in my head what was healthy and what wasn’t, that I had no concept of what was actually healthy. To make matters worse, I had used intense exercise as a means of purging calories for so long that I saw exercise as a punishment.
I was completely sedentary, eating whatever I wanted. I yo-yo dieted the same 30 pounds on and off for years with the same cycle: eat, starve myself to lose weight, repeat. By the time I was 23, I weighed 204 pounds. When I stepped on the scale for the first time in months and saw that number, I instantly burst into tears. Then, I researched the fastest way to lose weight on a diet. The one that immediately stuck out to me was the Keto diet. From what I learned online, you could eat a lot of foods I loved and still lose weight. What could possibly be bad about this diet?
Settling Into a Pattern
In between January and February of that year, I lost 20 pounds by eating low carb. I finally felt like I had found a lifestyle I could really stick to, until the switch flipped in my brain once again. Gradually over the next few months, I fell into a familiar pattern of eating less than the day before. My life became an obsessive pattern of counting calories and tracking my weight.
I joined a gym and started going every day for hours at a time. By my birthday in April, I was eating 800 calories a day, and falling apart every time I gained half a pound. By May, I was once again purging any little bit of food I did allow myself to have. I was miserable.
The thing that fueled my weight loss was people telling me how good I looked. That’s the thing that isn’t really talked about with eating disorders – you don’t have to weigh 90 pounds and be skin and bones to have an eating disorder. Because I was losing weight and didn’t LOOK sick, I was praised everywhere I went for how good I looked.
By June the mere idea of eating a full meal was enough to send me into a full blown panic. However, because the Keto diet is notorious for quick weight loss, nobody batted an eye this time. My husband didn’t even notice that I wasn’t eating. I was suffering alone, but this time it was worse because I was supposed to be an adult. There was no one to take care of me and get me the help I needed. I was alone, and I felt like I was too old and not thin enough to be legitimately struggling with an eating disorder again.
How Running Helped Me Turn a Corner
This continued until July, when a girl I work with asked me if I wanted to run a half marathon with her. I was not a runner, but I had a gym membership and my competitive nature thought it would be a good challenge so I agreed. How hard could it really be, right? The first day of training, I had to run for 30 minutes straight. I remember trying, and leaving the gym after 10 minutes because my body felt so starved and tired. I physically could not run long because of the lack of nutrition I was giving myself.
Soon I learned that the better I fueled myself, the better my runs felt. While I didn’t pull myself out immediately, over the next few months of training I gradually got stronger and realized that while I was running and eating whole, balanced meals, I wasn’t gaining weight like I used to.
It has now been 17 months since that first half marathon. I have run 10 more, plus numerous other 5Ks, 10Ks, and other various distances. I have learned that I feel best when I stick to a diet of mostly whole foods, and I have stopped yo-yo gaining and losing the same 30 pounds.
Who I Am Today
As stated earlier, I will struggle with anorexia for my entire life. Dieting will always be dangerous for me, because for my entire adult life the most effective way to lose weight has been to starve myself. However, now that I have found running, I don’t feel quite as hopeless as before. Running not only taught me that exercise isn’t a punishment, but also how to effectively fuel myself for the results I want. Nowadays, I work with a coach who doubles as a nutrition and running coach. She puts together a comprehensive meal plan for her athletes every week and is teaching me slowly that eating more good foods is much better for your body than less “bad” foods.
I may never know what it feels like to be “normal” and not be constantly thinking about my weight, food I’m eating, and my body, but through running and fueling properly I have found a new appreciation and love for my strong body. Who wants to be normal anyway?