When I finally broke free from my disordered eating, I gained the life that I didn’t realize I’d been missing.
As recently as a few years ago, my life was consumed by negative thoughts about myself and my body. I was constantly on a mission to lose. I thought if I lost weight, I’d be happier. I thought being smaller would make me run faster, look prettier, be more well-liked, and be more successful.
I’d allowed my environment to convince me that thinness was the key to happiness and that if I just lost a little more, I’d gain the life I longed for.
At the time, over exercising and food restriction were my only true pastimes. My list of unhealthy and off-limits foods grew longer and longer each day. Gluten was bad, sugar was bad, carbs were bad, fat was bad. I wouldn’t allow myself to touch a plain french fry, something I considered really bad, with a 10-foot pole, let alone one smothered in bacon and cheese. Just the idea of doing so would have left me feeling anxious and fearful. I would allow myself “treats” like ice cream on occasion, but only if I’d exercised “enough” or been “good enough” with the rest of my eating throughout the day. But even then, afterwards, I’d find myself lying awake all night overcome with guilt and grief for giving in and eating a food that might make me gain weight.
But I’m not afraid of what I might gain anymore.
Recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating is hard. It takes a long time and it often feels like one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes it may feel like it isn’t worth it, but it is, I promise. When you stop trying to lose, you will be amazed by how much you can gain.
What I’ve Gained
On Saturday after my long run I ate an entire box of macaroni and cheese, because I was hungry and that’s what sounded good at the time (spoiler alert: that’s what sounds good to me every time I run a long run). Later that evening, we met up with friends for dinner and drinks. I drank a beer and ate cheese curds and chicken wings.
Last night, I sat on my couch with my significant other eating a bacon cheeseburger and bacon cheese fries from Shake Shack. A little while later, we met up with a couple of friends for a glass of wine, and finally when we got home, we ate ice cream bars I’d purchased earlier in the day on a whim.
This morning I woke up and ate pancakes for breakfast and guess what? I didn’t even run.
All of these things would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. I would have spent today analyzing how little I should eat over the next few days in order to “get back on track”. But now I know that my body balances itself and I serve it best when I honor it and provide myself with the foods that I want and need without judgment.
In the past, spending times with friends and family felt like a burden if there was food involved. I wanted to enjoy a night out with my college roommates or holidays with my family, but it felt impossible to let go of the overwhelming thoughts I had around food but when I was out with friends this weekend, I was able to be really present with them. I wasn’t thinking about the number of calories in my drink or whether or not I’d run far enough to justify my meal. I was able to enjoy our time together and really engage with them, rather than having my thoughts preoccupied by concerns over my body and the food I was eating.
Joy in Running
For a long time, running became a means to an end. I ran to achieve thinness and as a result, running lost its joy. I no longer looked forward to a long run on a cool spring morning, or challenging myself with a speed workout. There was no joy in the process. All my joy was tied up in the hope that I’d see a smaller number on the scale after my run than I did before.
Now I can run without judgement. Training for marathons has become a way to thank my body and appreciate all that it does for me instead of a way to punish it. Long runs are time to myself and workouts after a long day at work are a way to relieve stress. Running is no longer a test to see if I can quickly lose a couple of pounds, running is now a way to gain confidence and belief in myself.
My Entire Life
I have truly gained my life back since recovering from disordered eating. The amount of energy and mental space that I have now that I’m no longer consumed by thoughts of calories and weight is more than I could have imagined. I can go through full days without thinking about how my body looks, and when I do think about it, I know how to address those thoughts and continue on with my day. Since recovering I have become more creative and I have put my time and energy into other pursuits like writing, coaching, and developing Lane 9 with my co-founders. I can spend time with friends, family, my students, and my dog without preoccupation. I can read a book or watch a movie without distraction.
I’ve gained the hindsight to realize that when I was in the midst of disordered eating, I was never living at all.
What have you gained?
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Our February Prompt is, “What I’ve Gained”