Reader Submission: Running, Binge Eating, and Letting Go
“Why did you get emotional talking about running right now?” My counselor asked, followed by a long pause.
Nine months ago it began as an innocent diet. I wanted to be healthier, be more active, and have something to be proud of myself for. It was all harmless.
To reach my diet goals, I put myself on a strict regimen and it worked. I ran four days a week, filled the other three days with some exercise classes, and I ate clean, healthy, minimally processed foods. The more weight I lost, the prouder I was of myself, and the more addicted I became to my regimen. Even though I was restricting myself, it didn’t feel like it. It felt easy, normal, and I felt invincible.
But then came the quirks.
I had to run on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The runs had to last at least half an hour, non-stop, and on a consistent high speed. It had to be on certain treadmills because they lined up with the windows better. I had a certain playlist I listened to, and if any of those songs came on the radio, I had to change the channel because those were my running songs and listening to them when I’m not running would no longer make them effective motivators. I could only run in the mornings because I only ever ran in the mornings, and changing my schedule might make me too tired or too full to run. Running became stressful. The thought that I had to run the next day would pop up every so often in my day. There was a euphoria after each run, but there was also a dip as I realized that tomorrow I had to do it all over again.
Running became attached to my self-worth and to my identity. I posted on social media about running and the accompanied weight loss which contributed to the idea that fitness and my physique was now part of my identity. For a while, it was okay, but slowly I became more restrictive and food and exercise became more anxiety provoking.
At the height of my obsession, I would restrict myself calorically, and from any carbs - both of which my body desperately needed to fuel my exercise routine. At this point it wasn’t about being in a healthy mid-range BMI. I wanted to be at the lowest end possible of what was considered healthy, and if I dipped into the unhealthy zone I would probably have been okay with that too.
Eventually my body fought back. It started off with an occasional binge. We’ve all been there where we indulge a little too much - nothing to be concerned about I told myself. I remember specifically making myself a large healthy salad so that I would not want to eat the assortment of delicious dishes we had ordered for my mom’s birthday dinner. Except, I ended up eating my salad, the take-out meal, and then more cake than anyone at the celebration. And when everyone left, I took out the left-overs and demolished them.
There are many turning points in my battle with BED. By turning points, I don’t mean cures, but rather moments in which I came to a pivotal realization. When it came to running, it was a discussion about triggers with my counselor. I began noticing that Wednesday mornings and weekends in particular were a trigger for me, and I just couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t run on Wednesdays and the weekends, and I felt like they were my favorite days of the week because of that. For some reason, I also began to binge specifically on those days. I’d make myself breakfast on Wednesdays for example, and despite being full, I wouldn’t be satisfied. My counsellor made a comment that perhaps it is because I’m in this relaxed state that the associations with happiness and food are firing and being linked as a trigger. I began thinking, if I am especially happy on these days to a point where it is influencing my behavior, what is it about the other days that make me so unhappy?
After some reflection, I realized that my relationship with running was not healthy and that the thought of running was a trigger. At some points during my diet, I loved running. I loved the feeling, it cleared my mind and made me feel determined and focused. Somewhere along the way my relationship with running changed. I ran because it was my identity, because I needed to burn calories, and eventually because it was my punishment for binging. “Run for another week because you binged, and then after you can run less,” I told myself constantly. Except the binges didn’t stop, and so I did not have my permission to stop running.
Exercise should never take such a huge toll on you mentally. I’m sure given the choice, many of us would in fact prefer to stay in bed especially on cold mornings. But my relationship with running was so intense that it was impacting how I saw myself. It was an obsession that fueled my disorder.
I can’t say that stopping running fixed everything and cured my BED. What I can say is that it was a turning point in my self-awareness. I began to form an understanding of my emotions and what it is that my body is telling me. In a perfect ending, I would tell you that I still run sometimes but have a stress-free view on exercising, but that would be a lie. Truth is, I can’t run because I don’t believe that I can anymore. Individuals living with disordered eating often have all or nothing thinking. We think in terms of black and white. If we have a bite of cake we believe that we’ve blown it and spiral into a binge. Similarly, I am still of the mindset that I am either a runner or I’m not - I shouldn’t bother with the in-between. I’ve tried to schedule runs, but the thought of it triggers severe anxiety.
There is a quote I often see on social media “let go of things that no longer serve you.” Running used to be fun, made me feel powerful and strong. Unfortunately, the relationship changed as I became more restrictive and running eventually had the power over me. I try not to use the phrase “give up” because I’m not giving up. I am letting go of running so that I can work on myself. I am gaining self-awareness and self-love. I am recognizing that I was meant more than to be a slave to the treadmill. Someday, I hope to return to it stronger and healed so that it can be something that makes me happy.