I spent the good part of nine years running from bulimia; trying desperately to get better but failing miserably every time. I though I knew how to cope. I thought I could manage my addiction to bingeing and purging and I thought I could make myself well. I thought if I just cultivated more self-control. If I just planned out healthier meals. If I just didn’t buy foods I liked to binge on. If I just avoided situations that triggered a binge. If I just ran marathons I’d be healthy.
Looking back I can see I was running away from an addiction that controlled me. No amount of self control or well planned meals or avoidance or miles could solve the bigger problem that was going on inside my head and heart. My eating disorder was a complex mix of a distorted view of myself, a desire to be “better than,” and a lack of self-worth. And all of that made my relationship with running equally distorted and complex. What started out as fun challenge had suddenly become a tool in my twisted purging methods. I ran to burn off calories. I ran because I was afraid of becoming “fat.” I ran because I thought I could outrun addiction, that somehow if I was a “runner” that at least made one aspect of my life healthy; that it would somehow balance out all the other destructive behavior that left my body a broken mess.
It didn’t. It was part of the destructive mess. And looking back, by the grace of God I’m still alive today. When I think about some of the combinations of destructive behavior that went on during those nine years, I shake my head in disbelief. Frequently I would binge, purge, use laxatives one night and then because I was training for a half marathon or marathon go out for a long run the next morning. The toll that it took on my body was evident— despite being capable of more I constantly performed well beneath my abilities.
I ran three marathons and three half marathons during my nine year struggle (along with shorter races as well). And none of them went very well. I recall feeling drained and miserable and disappointed. Running wasn’t fun, it was just another part of my distorted addiction.
Feeling drained and depleted after the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2007.
One of the primary reasons I was able to get well was through the Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous program. I went through the 12 step program and with the help of a counselor who specialized in eating disorders, I was able to slowly heal and let go of a lot of the destructive behavior and distorted thinking that had kept me trapped for nine years.
I’ve been “sober” for six years now and the difference in mental and physical health is immense. I no longer obsess about my appearance, my confidence in my abilities has increased and my relationship with food has shifted from a distorted one to a healthy one. Food is no longer the enemy, it is fuel. I don’t fight the calories, instead I’m able to see food as a source of energy for a body that is capable of doing amazing things. And my relationship with running has also changed. Running is no longer a means to purge extra calories from my body, its a way to prove to myself that I can overcome mental and physical challenges and perform at a level I never thought possible.
On the left: San Diego Marathon in 2007 4:11. On the right: Sugarloaf Marathon in 2014 3:25.
I’ve gone from slogging through a 4:11 marathon feeling drained and depleted to running a 3:25 Boston Marathon qualifying time feeling energized and triumphant. It is a transformation in my heart and mind that has left me feeling nothing less than FREE.
Running along the Savannah waterfront at sunrise, feeling free and alive. (2014)
Sarah lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children (with a third on the way!). On her blog RunFarGirl.com she shares stories of running, motherhood and her journey to health after bulimia. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @runfargirl.
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