The Gift of Running

The day I put on my first pair of running shoes, my life changed. I’m forever grateful that I took a chance with myself. Despite the awkward tan lines, black toenails and chaffing, the amazing gifts running has given me make the not-so-pretty moments worth it.

BEAT AN EATING DISORDER:

Around the age of 10, I started putting on a lot of weight year after year until I weighed 230 lbs as a teenager. Food was my only comfort in life, but was realistically a slow form of suicide. In January 2009, I decided to begin watching The Biggest Loser. By the end of the season, something clicked. I was just 20 years old and not living life as fully as I had yearned for. I needed more out of life, so I made the decision to begin my weight loss journey in early April of that same year. After naturally losing a significant amount of weight in a year’s time, I started heading into the opposite direction due to the fear of gaining and not knowing how to maintain my new body. I ultimately ended up with a full blown eating disorder and chained myself to the scale. At just 106 lbs., I was eating around 800 calories per day, punished myself with exercise for eating something “bad“, got into arguments over food and nearly blacked out on several occasions. Food was no longer comforting; I was afraid of food. I was in complete denial until a family member expressed her concern. Then, I met a runner in late 2010 and everything changed. It took some time to spark my curiosity, but once I started, I never looked back. It wasn’t long before I had to relearn what real food was and why I needed it, especially for distance running. Eventually, my chains shattered, and gone were the days I obsessed about food and my weight. Long story short…running saved my life.

COPE WITH DEPRESSION:

Depression and other mental illnesses run highly in my family, so it came to no surprise that I ended up with depression myself. My teenage years were the worst; I was a walking billboard for the hopeless. Depression robs you of your happiness until you’re just an empty shell. It’s an “I’m lonely even when surrounded by people” feeling. It’s an “I’m in a deep hole with no ladder” feeling. It’s an “I feel nothing at all” feeling. I think a lot of us are afraid to discuss our mental health because of the unfortunate stigma placed against it. Maintaining a good mental health is just as important as your physical health. I wish it were as easy as smiling more or changing my thoughts, but I can’t reconfigure my brain chemistry. I can, however, cope differently. That’s where running comes into play for me. I use running as a tool, a form of therapy if you will. It honestly wasn’t until I contracted Lyme disease and had to take a hiatus for an unforeseen amount of time that I realized how much running helped. It’s easy to get carried away in our everyday lives, and running allows me to take a step back and connect with myself. When I first started running, it felt like I was finally arriving to my own life, and my sense of purpose had been born. Some may think I’m running away from my problems, but I feel like I’m always running towards something better.

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Before and After Photos

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Here’s the backstory to the picture on the left if you’re wondering why I look like a fish out of water on the “beach.” So…in high school, I took a graphic design class for all 4 years. On the first day of my junior year, we were assigned a project. The project was to show what fun things we did over summer break. The first step was to take a full body shot, and that alone was a horrific experience for me. I hated having my picture taken, especially full body shots. Once that was done, we were to cut ourselves out and superimpose our pictures into a fun location we adventures to over break. Well…I. HAD. NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. My summer break was spent in my bedroom, hiding from the world.  No vacations. No fun day trips. Nothing more than the occasional shopping trip with my mom or random hangouts with the handful of friends that I had at the time.

I stared at my computer screen and drew a blank. I didn’t know what to do. I glanced at a few computer screens around me. And the dread set in even further. I saw pictures of elaborate locations that were hundreds of miles away. Me? I was lucky to have traveled more than 10 miles away from home. So. I started picking my brain and came up with a temporary solution to get me through what felt like a never ending moment. I Googled pictures of beaches. And without much thought, I chose an image that looked good to the eye. I pretended that I went on a family vacation to the beach to avoid telling others that I didn’t do anything fun. I don’t know why I cared so much. As an adult, I now know that not everyone has the opportunity to go on vacation every year. And there is nothing wrong with that. But at that moment, I felt dread for the mere reason that I cared far too much about what others thought about me.

But…

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Learning to Love Yourself

Do you love yourself?” If you were to approach me in early 2009 and ask me that question, it would’ve been blatantly obvious that I didn’t. And not necessarily obvious with words, but with the way that I carried myself.

There I was, 20 years old, living a highly sedentary lifestyle in a 230+ pound shell. I didn’t communicate with many people, much less myself. I allowed myself to be bullied into silence by my peer’s comments, which left me feeling completely ashamed and worthless to all walks of life. Some days, I didn’t even want to get out of bed, nor did I feel like I had a reason for doing so. I self-medicated with food, and my unhealthy eating habits spiraled out of control for a majority of my young life. I was alive, but I wasn’t living.

To rid me of this empty void within my heart and soul, I brainwashed myself into thinking that food was my only comfort in life. Food made me feel alive, even just for a short moment…it gave me a high. But once it was gone, the feeling went away.

My hatred towards myself became so strong that I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was slowly killing myself with food…something whose purpose, ironically, is to aid in our survival.

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