marathoning. I truly believe that running at the marathon level took some of that compulsive behavior (restrictive eating) and funneled it into a socially acceptable pathway (marathons). Marathon running, I think, will always be a little bit about my perfectionism. It is not just fun for me; it is not just a means of fitness. It channels my drive to push myself. Everyone would say that severe food restriction is bad. Many, many runners see nothing wrong with running high mileage, closely watching what we eat, constant weighing, etc. So the challenge for me becomes drawing my own lines in the sand in the right places for me.
Space Academy for Educators in the Summer of 2001 was a turning point in my life. These two pictures show a Katie that was beginning to look healthy and to feel happy again.
Fast forward again to 2006, when my husband and I were expecting our first child. One of the amazing things about anorexia is that any temporary "kinks" you throw in your reproductive system while you are starving can fix themselves when you gain weight back. I wanted a healthy baby more than I wanted anything else in life--more than being thin. A step in my recovery was to stop weighing myself. The number on the scale usually started me on the dieting and over-exercising path each time I didn't like what I saw. Yet I had successfully gone from a size 0 to a size 2-4 and felt okay with that. I kept those clothes in my closet and, as long as they fit, I knew I was doing fine. But I worried about what "getting fat" during pregnancy would do to my mind. After much thought, I decided that I wanted to see what the scale said through the nine months of pregnancy, for my own health and for memory's sake. As it turns out, I loved my first pregnancy and took a healthy break from running and gained 31 pounds. I happily ended that pregnancy at 154 pounds. Here I am the day I went into labor with my son:
After having my son, body image issues did come back as I struggled to fit into old clothes and to run somewhat competitively again. I didn't restrict my eating, but I didn't like how I looked. Here is a picture from the Big Spring Jam 5K almost four months after I gave birth.
My journey back to health would not have been possible without God by my side. Through His awesome grace, He blessed us with a second pregnancy only five and a half months after our son was born. And this time, we had a little girl. I happily gained 37 pounds through this pregnancy and weighed 162 pounds, my highest weight ever.
After my daughter's birth, I had a very hard time taking the weight off and finding "the old me." I am almost three and a half years into this part of my journey. In 2010, I was blessed again with an awesome diverse group of girls with which to run. They have encouraged and inspired me to get into better shape. And they see me as the runner I am today. They help me to quiet the voices that still whisper, "You are fat." I know that I have a support system of people who love me--these friends, my husband, and my family. So I work to find the balance between running and eating that works for me. This has included adding meat back to my diet (I missed you, Chick-Fil-A nuggets!), throwing out the scale (and, I think, on a related note, not logging miles), allowing myself to eat any food guilt-free, and gaining a new acceptance of this well-spent body.
Body image and runners will always be a tricky mix. Sometimes runs with my friends end up feeling like confessionals where we divulge all of our eating "sins" from the previous days. Runners size each other up before races, making judgments of times based on physiques. We gloat about refusing a dessert like it is a medal-deserving decision. We run a 20-miler and then enjoy a day of "guilt-free eating" as a result. We learn to tune out with mantras as we inflict pain on ourselves during runs. And we love watching our numbers as they change in our favor--our race times, our mileage, our weight. Anorexics just don't have the ability to say, "That's enough. You can stop begin so hard on yourself now." But since many anorexic behaviors are seen as strengths by runners, the line between healthy and not is often blurred. Battles wage every day in the minds of the anorexic to find the balance.
I have to make a conscientious effort each day to not let a negative body image engulf me. I am no longer that rail-thin gaunt looking teenager. I am a muscular marathon runner and a mother of two. It helps that I have a husband who loves me for who I am, strong runner's legs and all, and to know that the extra pooch on my tummy is the result of carrying two babies and not something to abhor, starve, or run off. I have learned to enjoy my body as it has taken me, happily spent, across the finish lines of almost 30 marathons and ultramarathons and dozens and dozens of other races too. May it hold up for many more! I have learned to love the fuel that is food, of every kind and quantity, and to eat it with pleasure. I no longer hate who I see in the mirror, for I know that this vessel, this shell is only one very small piece of who I am.
As I look back at my life, I can say that I am thankful that I went through the past nearly fifteen years of ups and downs in my weight. With the wisdom that has come from overcoming anorexia, I hope I can help others avoid the mistakes that I've made, to climb their own way out from the abyss. I wholeheartedly believe the expression that I find myself chanting during the later miles of the marathon, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." My life experiences have shaped me, and I would not trade the bad in for good. This is who I am. And anorexia will always be a part of that picture.