February 12 2018
Fancy Chemutai of Kenya placed first in 1:04:52, just one second off the world half marathon record.
When people ask why I started running, there’s a story I tell. I explain how I wanted to compete in a sport in high school, but with no useful skills I decided to do the only no-cut option: cross country. I talk about how I started by running one block, then two blocks and finally one mile. I reminisce about the confidence I experienced reaching new distances, the camaraderie I felt from my team—but there’s a part of this story I always leave out.
What I don’t say is that when practice started, I lost five pounds in three weeks. A growing child, for the first time in my life, the numbers on the scale had gone down instead of up. And I liked that. A lot. I continued to run and as mileage went up, how much I ate went down—I became obsessed with driving the needle lower. By my sophomore year, my weight dropped to 82 pounds, far below what my 5-foot-4 frame could tolerate.
When I look back on this time, the feeling I remember most clearly is that of entrapment. Every minute of every day, there was a buzzing in the back of my brain that couldn’t be silenced, a steady tally of the calories I’d eaten, when I’d eat next, what that would cost me. A part of me desperately wanted to stop this flood of thoughts—but the force of the stream and the allure of the beautiful body I thought it could give me were too powerful.
After I lied to my parents that I’d eaten dinner in my bedroom, only for my dog to find it in my trash can, they told me I would have to see a therapist. This was one of the most painful nights in my adolescence, but it was also my luckiest. Over the next few years, with the help of a psychologist and a few nutritionists, I was able to quiet the voice and get healthy.
If you are caught up by an unhealthy fixation on what you eat—or if you know someone who might be—please know that you can feel better. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
As an adult, my relationship with food isn’t perfect, but it’s improved substantially. And while running may have at one time triggered something dark inside of me to surface, it’s also saved me. The sport has given me confidence, ambition and strength. Today, I’m more than 30 pounds heavier—a figure that would
have been a nightmare for my 14-year-old self. But I’m exponentially happier, I can run faster than ever and I’ve never felt more beautiful.
Recommended Reading: Running on Empty- How Running Can Impact Eating Disorders