Running had always been something I found joy in. Unfortunately, developing an eating disorder negatively changed my relationship with running.
It wasn’t until I received professional help from a therapist and dietitian and asked myself why I ran in the first place, that I could reflect on my relationship with running, and what I wanted to do with it going forward. This is evident in the following excerpt from my book, Running in Silence:
Dashing out into the open grass from the baseball field, I turned sharply around the orange cones, sped between the trees, pumped my arms up the small grassy slopes, and let my legs fly on the way down.
I still felt large as I ran that evening. I still felt far from ideal in my body. But I ran that workout with serenity, the same way I was learning to approach food. I had no one to compare myself to, no times to judge against, and no wild expectations.
As much as I hated “the dark side” of running with the eating disorder, I also realized that it was how I approached running that made it “good” or “bad,” just like how I approached food. I had transformed running into something so defining that I depended on it for my identity.
But now, I myself could define a great race. I did not have to measure a race performance by time, but by effort and drive and determination. It sounded silly to think this way, so naive, I thought. But if I could win by effort, then the effort I had put into the races that past year by far beat the effort I put into the races I had run as an All-American freshman.
I finished the mile intervals that evening a few minutes before the rest of the ladies, so I jogged around the sunny park and eventually stood with [my coach, Woj] to cheer on the team.
“Can I run with them?” I asked suddenly, giving Woj a sly smile as the women dashed past. It felt so like me to want to go do that. Woj nodded (I thought I caught a slight eyeroll of amusement), and I tore off through the trees after my teammates.
I felt, despite the fatigue in my legs, that I could stretch them again. And in this new body, I was the same Rachael I had been before. Except this time, I was stronger, wiser, and yes, heavier. But I still felt the same joy and freedom in running that I had had ever since I first began, before competition, before weight and food had ever invaded my mind.
With so many messages from society about treating exercise as a way to burn calories or lose weight, it can be difficult to see exercise more as joyful movement. Thanks to the help of my eating disorder dietitian, I learned about how smart my body was—and that it did exactly what it needed to do, whether I exercised or not.
Movement happened to find its way back into my life to help clear my mind and feel strong.
When you step out the door to go for a run, jump into the pool to swim, or hit the basketball court to shoot some hoops, have you asked yourself what is getting you out there in the first place? Does it become dutiful exercise, or joyful movement?
It’s a question I had to ask as I ran my college workout that summer afternoon. When I remembered how exhilarating it felt to fly down the hills, and work together with my teammates to achieve our goals, running returned to what it was and should have been for me (and us) all along: joyful, purposeful movement.
It’s difficult for an eating disorder to survive there.
Remember to participate in EDCI's 2022 Eating Disorder Awareness "Not a" Walk. Click here to view our fundraiser. Feel free to join a team, create a team or simply donate!