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Why I Run – Running to Help Overcome My Eating Disorder

The alarm goes off at 5 AM. I get out of bed and make my way into the kitchen to start the coffee machine and decide what I am going to wear to train in today. I set a goal, whether it be for in the gym or for a run outside. How many miles should I be finishing today? Is pace something I need to be working on for my next race or is it endurance?

Not every day is the same and I definitely don’t train every day, but I treasure the days that I do because two to three years ago my mornings looked a whole lot different. I would sleep as late as possible, not because I needed more sleep but because I simply did not want to face the world and I knew I would have to when I woke up. I knew I would have to have interactions, face meal times and suffer through the simplest tasks such as putting on my winter coat. I never thought that in my life I would struggle with getting dressed in the morning. But when you have finally reached the goal weight your eating disorder is telling you to get to, everything becomes a task. The clothes simply felt too heavy to wear on my back. I remember getting dizzy walking to the train station in the middle of winter. I remember my eyes constantly half-closed no matter how many cups of coffee I would drink. There was such a heavy weight of constant disappointment on my heart that it began to feel as if I’m wearing a heavy backpack on me all the time. This is why I cherish the training days.

It’s Been a Long Journey

I began recovery for my eating disorder two years ago and while some of the urges to purge have gone away, it isn’t always easy. I still need to remind myself of how far I’ve come on the days where I feel as though I miss that woman I used to be. But I remind myself that when I was at my thinnest and my BMI was dropping rapidly, there was something that was missing. I wasn’t a runner. I couldn’t be a runner even if I wanted to. All of the mental strength I thought I had by constantly starving and disguising it as willpower means nothing compared to the mental strength it takes to get yourself out of bed and go for a run to shake off what’s going on inside your head. I wish people understood the importance of mental health. Although awareness is being spread on social media, mental illness is still a stigma and it’s still taboo. But to me that’s silly. We all have a mental and physical state of health. As I got thinner, it became less “she just wants to look good” and more “something is wrong”. I learned later that the irrational thoughts that swooped in and out of my head all day regarding my fear of food didn’t just come out of nowhere. My eating disorder didn’t just go into full spring all of a sudden. I was constantly feeding it every time I didn’t eat (oxymoron, huh?)

Fear of Food

When you are severely malnourished, this is what happens. It’s not just “skip dinner to be thinner” – a phrase I used to repeat years ago when I needed “motivation” (it’s interesting how our views on what classifies as motivation can change drastically huh?) – Your brain isn’t functioning the same way. You become afraid. I don’t mean to be afraid of people or certain places, I mean actually afraid of certain foods. Thankfully I worked with a therapist and a nutritionist to help pull me out of this deep-rooted fear. I couldn’t have taken the first step of recovery if it wasn’t for getting professional help. Sometimes you simply can’t do it alone and why should you have to? After a while, I was able to accept that there is something wrong in my brain that’s not letting me really see things at sea level. After many appointments in therapy, I began to explore the world of self-help books. I read book after book on the importance of sleep, movement, and nutrition. I tried to take in as much information as I can and still do to this day.

How Running Has Helped in my Journey

I discovered running shortly after beginning recovery. Sorry to sound corny, but running changed my life. I was the girl who couldn’t even walk a mile without getting exhausted. But now I am the woman who has already run two half marathons, and is working on getting accepted into a full marathon. Now I am the woman who exercises with a goal, not just to burn as many calories as possible. I run for my mental health! I run to fight off irrational thoughts! I run for the girl I was years ago, who couldn’t get through 15 minutes at the gym, who had a real deep-rooted fear of foods with any proteins, carbs, and fats. The mental high I get from running is so much more powerful than the high I used to get from purging, taking laxatives, and skipping meals. I listen to a lot of spoken word pieces to get me through runs that are harder. Recovery isn’t linear. To me, it’s about being able to push past the triggers. It’s about realizing that the more I learn about working out and proper nutrition, the better decisions I can make. It goes beyond my love of running.

Getting More In Tune with my Body Through Running

Running helps me relate to my body in a way I didn’t think possible. I’m focusing on pace. I’m focusing on speed. I’m focusing on miles. I’m focusing on races. I’m focusing on preparing my body and giving it what it needs to become a better runner. I still have moments when I’ll stare at myself in the mirror for hours, criticizing my legs, especially my calves. But I try as hard as I can to remind myself that those legs are getting me through my races. Those legs are what got me through my first 5K, my first 10K, my two half marathons (which were both amazing experiences). Those legs get me through my training. They run on the streets of New York, while the world may be sleeping, they’re going.


By Amira Okelly

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