musings on running, life, and everything in between

Runners, body image, and food


I had my annual physical exam the other day. I debated rescheduling it for later. Not because I was busy, which I was, but because I was going to get weighed. Yup. Because I was going to get weighed. Totally nuts, I know.

But here’s the thing. I don’t own a scale, because it makes me crazy and obsessive…well, more crazy and obsessive than I am. And so I judge my weight but how I look/feel and how my clothes fit. Aaaaand, they’ve been tighter recently. Not unwearable, but I’ve been doing a lot of stress sugar eating. And my training isn’t as high as it usually is. So I’ve gained weight. Seriously, probably like 4 pounds, but I can tell. And I know I want to drop that 4 pounds before Boston because extra weight means running takes more effort. There’s a delicate balance of weight, muscle, power, and effort.

So I seriously considered rescheduling my physical until I had lost that 4’ish pounds. Because I didn’t want concrete confirmation of how my blob was taking over the world (I jest). Because ever since elementary school when we got weighed and measured, I’ve hated knowing my weight. Because that number is one that was used as some bizarre measure of comparison and individual worth. And to some extent, it still is. Right? Thinner is better? Wrong.

I’ve read run bloggers who have talked openly about their struggles with disordered eating and disordered body image. It seems that this is a huge issue for women athletes. Even for the elites. And we live in a society that is constantly assessing women’s bodies and determining their value on that scrutiny.

I read an article awhile back about Emelie Forsberg, a super-amazing mountain runner, who is gorgeous and strong. She talks about how people criticize HER as looking too fat to be a runner. Now, to be fair, elite trail and ultra runners look very different–i.e., muscular and dynamic, particularly in the quads–from elite marathoners, who look like they will blow away in the next gust of wind, so you have to remember that. But she is seriously so far from fat. And, in my highly unbiased opinion, cute as a button. (On a side note, I am definitely more drawn to trail/ultra running because my body looks more like those and less like the elite marathoners!)

And because I know our society tears women down in these ways, I arm myself against these barbs by doing things like removing the weight scale from my house. Laughing that my calves are too big for “regular people” knee-high boots and knowing they can carry me for miles and miles instead of Googling surgeries to make them smaller (um, it exists. In Korea). Treating my body as a source of strength and ability and not one to be diminished. Acknowledging that I am allowed to take up space in this world and to OWN that space.

I stop looking at women’s magazines and sometimes even women’s health magazines, because they perpetuate images of women that are not realistic or healthy. I can not look like someone whose job is to look good, who’s valued primarily for their looks, and can invest thousands of dollars and hours in maintaining that look. And I’m not sure I’d want to.

Instead, I think about the compliments I give to my different-shaped body friends and how I tell them they’re beautiful and strong, and make sure I think those same things for myself. We would never treat our friends (or even strangers) the way we (mis)treat ourselves. I think about how my body has brought two boisterous, energetic kids into this world. How it’s gotten me through 11 marathons, and is carrying me towards Boston. All with relatively little complaint.

And the funny thing is that I weigh the same as I weighed in high school. I have not changed the weight on my driver’s license since I was 16. But my conception of how I look, and the muscle and strength I carry within that weight is wildly different than what it was 20+ years ago.

This might also be why I cringe when people talk about eating “clean.” First of all, my food isn’t “dirty” just because you don’t think it’s pure enough…unless it’s been on the floor for more than 8 seconds. Then, it’s dirty. But you gotta wait for the full 8 seconds at least!

Just as I dislike characterizing my body as fat or skinny, I don’t want to characterize my food as good or bad. It is what it is. I have found that when I view food as not allowed, as things forever banned from passing my lips–and they are foods that are DELICIOUS–I end up bingeing or having a really unhealthy relationship with those foods. And, ironically, I recall seeing a post not that long ago about a famous vegan blogger who realized that all of her food restrictions were more about disordered eating than healthy eating. All of her claims about “health” were actually covering up the fact that she was struggling with trying to not eat at all.

This is NOT to say that if you are vegan you have disordered eating. Rather, we have to find what makes us feel good in healthy ways and be balanced in our approach. If we see our eating as a source of nutrition and fuel, as a way of nourishing ourselves (which may sometimes include treats), that is much better than shouting from the mountain tops how you’re gluten-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, and feeling amazing when you secretly would smother a litter puppies just for a bacon-covered doughnut.

Which brings me back to my annual exam. I’ve been struggling with headaches and nausea a lot lately. I’m not sure what that’s about. My primary care doctor thought it might be allergy-/sinus-related. We’re going to try a steroid nasal spray for a few weeks to see if that helps. If not, we’ll try testing for food sensitivities, etc. In the meanwhile, I’ve started a food journal as well to try and figure out if there are things I am doing aggravating the issue. I’ve gone gluten free for up to 8 weeks before with little difference so I’m not sure that is a concern, but it never hurts to better understand the relationship of nutrition and overall health.

Anyhow, friends, let me know how you try to balance being healthy, nourishing yourself, and being balanced. Any tips/tricks?

Author: runNerdier

Marathoner. Academic. Mom of 2 ankle-biters.

2 thoughts on “Runners, body image, and food

  1. I love the reference you make to the term ‘dirty eating’. I feel the same about that phrase, and it’s extremely dangerous to label our food habits in terms of correctness, especially for women. I have a very difficulty history with food, but what got me out of it was treating food as sustenance when necessary and consuming the nutrients my body required (per my doctor – literally as in what vitamins and nutrients do I need each day), and then incorporating on a limited basis the savory and enjoyable part. I also had to change, actually, because I had high blood pressure and was on meds for that, but my doctor told me I was too young for meds, so she took me off and told me to eat better to control my BP, which I did. I never, ever deny myself, but for me I have to be careful because one bite can lead to a bagful of whatever, then remorse and shame, and that’s a road to nowhere. I shifted to 100% mindful eating, so that means I don’t beat myself up for an overage, or a few extra pounds. I don’t measure, or weigh food, but stop when I’m satisfied with the flavor. I used to shame myself on ingredients that I perceived to be more fattening, like oil and fat. I don’t pay any attention to that anymore. If I want it and the food contains something my body needs (protein, etc.) then I eat a reasonable portion. On the opposite, I have been known to deny myself purposefully, so I make myself eat when I’m hungry, or listen to my body. For some of us, we have to put so much thought into this, and that sucks, but I don’t like the alternative of disordered eating – been there. Not an option any more. I trust it will all even out someday. I don’t know if that falls under tips/tricks, more like listen to your body and your doc. That’s my trick. Haha you asked for should really put a word limit on these!!

    Liked by 1 person

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