Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back From the Abyss

My story of recovery surprisingly (even to me) does not involve any kind of treatment center or counseling; in fact, I was never officially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I graduated from Auburn with honors and moved back to my hometown for my first job. I got busy with life and all the stress that my first job brought. And my parents continued to urge me to eat. I believe that anorexia is a disease that can be best nurtured by those that have alot of time to focus on themselves. Fortunately for me, I became busy and simply wasn't able to do some of the things (multiple work out sessions, serious food restriction, etc.) that I did back in college. As the weight gradually came back on in my 22nd year, my face bloated. This was a very hard thing for me to accept, as I felt it made me look "fat." Here I am below with that puffy face.

Summer 2001
Around age 23, I really began to feel back to "normal." I no longer worried so much about what I was eating. Though I was still a vegetarian then, my other food restrictions were lessening. It was around this period that I also began 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:

June 30, 2006 Laboring at home
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.
September 2006--Barely fit into the racing outfit
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.
August 2007
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.


  1. And, another great, moving story! This is a very powerful story, my friend, and I believe it could be used to help so many who are currently facing those same struggles you've mentioned. And once again, VERY well written!!! I had a lump in my throat toward the end. ;)

  2. I'm proud of you for these two write-ups. It takes guts to be so honest and open. I already knew you were full of courage, but you proved it once again. And I agree with Jane, very well written!

  3. Thank you Jane and Rick for your nice comments. It did take courage to write it, but as Jane said perhaps I can help others facing anorexia. I'm hoping to get better and braver about sharing, and this blog entry is a start. It unburied years of diary entries and photo albums! I am so thankful to be on the other side of it.

  4. Katie, you've always inspired me, but after reading this you amaze SO much more. To deal with this and recover, then come back so much stronger is awesome to me. I also have issues that I have a hard time talking about. Running has become a way for me to deal with those issues which are generalized anxiety disorder and depression, and I'd love to share my story with you someday.

  5. Katie...thanks for sharing this. I've been dealing with a lot of "food issues" lately. This is a really good reminder. :D

  6. Tracey, And you are an amazing mom and an example to me. Sharing my story has been liberating. I would love to hear yours someday soon too. Sounds like you are doing a good job overcoming as well. Let me know if I can help in any way.
    Dana, it is impossible to get faster and stronger without fuel. You just have to determine what you really want and go for it. I wanted to be a runner!

  7. I admire you for writing this!