**Just a warning that this is a very personal and emotional post with graphic and disturbing content, so please read at your own discretion.
Four years ago when I first started this little blog, I really wanted to write about how I got to this place where I am today. How running has shaped who I am and how it has changed my life. Except, every time I would start the post, I would end up erasing everything I had just written. Case in point, this post has actually been sitting in my unpublished folder for some time now. I’ve spent a long time blocking out a certain part of my past that I couldn’t quite get it out in words. Just thinking about it and writing it out brought back a lot of painful memories that I wasn’t quite ready to share with everyone. It saddens me that I can never take back that time, but yet it plays such a significant role in who I am today and the decisions I choose to make. Why now?
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions/comments about why I run.
“It’s bad for your knees”
“It’s not healthy to run so much”
“This is just a phase, when will you grow out of it?”
“Why do you run such crazy distances?”
and the best one… “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
There is no simple way for me to explain why I run and I don’t think I should really have to. Running is my own private sanctuary. It keeps me sane, gives me motivation, but most of all, I enjoy it. I will never forget that running saved my life 4 years ago when I was going through one of the darkest moments in my life. To this day, every mile I am able to run, I am extremely thankful that it has turned my life around in such a positive way, yet it will always be a constant struggle and battle to recovery.
So now I got you on your edge of your seat wondering what the heck happened before I started running.
Six years ago, I had a very severe case of anorexia nervosa which simply put, is starving yourself behind what is reasonable and healthy. My weight dropped drastically and at one point, I was under 90 pounds which is a good 30+ pounds less than what I weigh now. I don’t have many pictures of myself back then because I removed myself from the outside world and spent most of the time by myself. I battled depression, mood swings and isolation and lost a lot of friendships and relationships because of it. I really can’t explain how I got to this place, but to this day, the memories of being so alone is still very clear in my head and I will never forget the lowest moments where I thought I would probably die if I continued. I suffered all the symptoms of this disease, rapid weight loss, low self-esteem, depression, memory loss, hair loss, skin color disorientation and even though I was finally so thin, I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I was just a bag of skin and bones.
The anorexia led to a compulsive exercising disorder. It still amazes me how I was able to work out 8 hours a day on basically nothing. I would reward myself after a long day at the gym, doing a mixture of running on the treadmill, ellipticalling, biking and swimming, with a small frozen yogurt and that was basically my main source of calories for the day. I weighed myself religiously and if the scale went up a pound, I would punish myself by not eating the next day. Food became a system of reward and punishment. I knew the calorie, fat, carb count to every single food. Since I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so hungry, I stayed up watching the Food Channel wishing I could eat some of the food they showed on T.V while doing exercises simultaneously. It was a very destructive cycle that had no end in sight.
At first, friends and family would comment on how great I looked. But after a while, it became clear to them that this wasn’t the result of a healthy weight loss diet. In turn, I alienated myself from everyone and grew angry at the ones that would comment on how I needed to eat. Why was it so easy for them to tell me just to eat something? Like it was so easy for me to just start eating normally again after starving myself for so long. This just angered me more and made me even more restrictive. I exercised harder, made excuses to friends why I couldn’t go out to eat and let myself self destruct.
I needed help, but I wasn’t willing to be helped.
Anorexia eventually led to bulimia which is usually the pattern in eating disorders. I bought substances that aren’t exactly legal just so I was able to purge everything I ate. In short, I was okay with poisoning myself just so I could stay skinny. I really hate that word, ‘skinny’, it has so many different meanings. I was okay with putting chemicals into my body, probably destroying all my organs, just so I could achieve this ideal image. But even when I was at my lowest weight and I could barely find any pants that fit me anymore, I still wasn’t happy. What happened? I thought skinny equals happiness.
I could write about my memoirs all day and someday I will, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it short.
My breaking point came one day when I was ending my 8 hour shift at the Marriott. I felt so faint and weak that one of the bellboys had to carry me out to my car. I blamed it on lack of sleep even though he knew better. He had basically watched me go from a normal happy and healthy girl to a skeleton. I liked him though, because he seemed to understand what I was going through and didn’t pressure or scold me for what I was doing to myself. He knew I wouldn’t listen anyways. He dropped me off at my car and asked if I would be okay to drive home. I lied and said I was fine now that I was sitting in my car. In fact, sitting in my car was painful for me because my tailbone protruded out so much. I was so tired, driving the 20 minute ride home sounded like a whole day’s journey. I called my parents to see if they could pick me up, but they didn’t answer so I knew I was left with no choice but to drive home. The 20 minute ride seemed to last forever, it took so much energy just to put my foot on the pedal to gas or break. I was definitely a moving hazard as I drove home fading in and out of consciousness. When I finally did get home, I just slept and slept for what seemed like days. My supervisor was also very worried about me, she had also seen me deteriorate right in front of her eyes. During my lunch breaks, she would always ask the kitchen to make me a special meal just so I could have something to eat besides the cafeteria food. She would bring me out soups and healthy stuff, but once she was out of sight, I would toss all the food into the trash. Finally I was forced to see a doctor because I was getting really sick. He prescribed me some medication that made me even sicker. I was forced to eat which I didn’t love, but food tasted so good after not having it for so long.
My Road to Recovery
A co-worker of mine from my previous job asked if I wanted to sign up for the Nike Human Race 10K. Even though I have never officially run a 10K before, I’ve done the distance on a treadmill during my compulsive exercising days. I actually liked running and seeing how far I could go, but was nervous and scared to sign up for an official race. Race
day night came and crossing that finish line was the most liberating feeling I had felt in a very long time. I had friends who cheered me in and even though I was wearing all the wrong clothing and tennis shoes, I was happy. I haven’t been happy in such a long time, it was almost a weird feeling. Could this be it? Was it really that easy? I was never happy when I was under 90 pounds, but this was definitely a genuine feeling.
So after that race, I started running on the treadmill at work during my lunch breaks. I would try to get in 6-7 miles everyday during my one hour and eat at my desk after. I felt with all this running, I might as well sign up for another 10K and maybe if I’m feeling adventurous and brave, a half marathon. And the rest is history…
It took a long time for my body to re-adjust to living a healthy lifestyle. My metabolism and hormones were so out of whack, my organs so deprived it wasn’t such a simple instant fix like I had hoped. I had to pay for how badly I treated my body for the past 2 years and it would take time before my body realized it wasn’t in starvation mode all the time. I found solace in reading healthy blogs and couldn’t believe all these amazing girls could eat all this (healthy) food, live such a balanced lifestyle and still look so good! They weren’t a bag of bones, instead they looked fit and strong. I knew if I wanted to keep running, I would have to change my perception on food. Instead of having “bad” and “good” food, I focused on eating nutrient dense meals that would help fuel my workout. I could immediately see how the types of food affected my running performance.
Since I wanted to take this new hobby to the next level, I had to train like a runner which meant I had to make sure to eat like one too. It wasn’t always easy at first. Some days I would find myself relapsing back into my old habits, telling myself I was too heavy to run, wanting to go back to the days where I just wouldn’t eat. All of the sudden, being able to eat without restrictions seemed like too much to handle. It was almost easier just being able to eat certain types of food. Living a balanced lifestyle was something I envied in others, yet desperately tried to have for so long.
Today, I am happy how far I have come and grateful that I got out of the destructive relationship. There would be no way I would have been able to do some of the things I have done if I were still living that way. I have gone to so many places, seen the most remote beautiful areas, and met some amazing people. When I do find myself having negative thoughts, I think back to all the things I have accomplished and done. The road to recovery is long, but all I can hope for is to keep moving forward and learn from my mistakes. It breaks my heart to know that my story is not uncommon at all.
Some very scary facts I found:
- It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
- One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
- Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
- Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
- An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
- A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
- The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
- 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems
I hope this blog can serve as an example of hope and inspiration. Even if it makes one person feel better about themselves, than publishing this post was worth writing. I started this blog not only to document my running escapades, but to also motivate myself to cook healthy meals for B and I. Food was no longer a source of deprivation for me anymore, it became something I was passionate about and wanted to share with others.
You only have one body in this lifetime, treat it well, nourish it and accept it for what it is because depriving yourself will never be worth it.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn