It is Eating Disorder Awareness Week! It is a week that holds a very special place in my heart. I will share my story a little later this week…but today I want to share a story from my dear friend Elizabeth! We ‘met’ when we were both in a rough place of life, and I know we have both come a long way since 2006! I am so proud of the work she has done, and I am thankful that she keeps working to be healthier!
I’ve been known to tell people that I ran my way out of anorexia. I struggled with an eating disorder for about three years before I started running. At first, running was merely a way to burn calories, but gradually I started to love it. As my daily and weekly mileage increased, I started eating more. I had to–I couldn’t starve myself and run the mileage I wanted to. That was the way things continued for several years; I ate “just enough” to sustain the running I loved, and if you had asked me then, I would have said I was recovered from an eating disorder.
No matter what I did, though, I couldn’t make myself eat more than a certain number of calories each day. Even while training for a marathon three separate times, I would not allow myself to eat more than a specific number of calories each day. I had a mental block about eating more than that number–a holdover from my years of being anorexic. People tried to gently encourage me to eat more, but I was terrified. To me, eating THAT many calories would signal a loss of control and guaranteed weight gain. Deep down I knew they were right and I needed to eat more, but I kept putting it off.
In January of last year, my dear friend Esther told me about the 24-hour burn test that she had taken. She suggested that I try it, “just to see. You may find out that you burn a lot more calories than you think.” I decided to give it a try, and I was shocked at the results. I burned a lot more calories in a day than I thought…and that was on a day when I wasn’t running! I was in the middle of training for a half-marathon at the time, with plans to run 3-4 more over the course of this year, and the burn test clearly showed that I was eating way too little for the amount of exercise I was doing. I realized that I had to start eating more, as much as it scared me.
That was eight weeks ago. On the advice of both Esther and my nutritionist, I stayed away from the scale for the first six weeks and increased my calories gradually. The first couple weeks were very hard for me emotionally, because eating that much quite honestly terrified me, but I started seeing a physical difference almost immediately. I had more energy and didn’t feel exhausted all the time. I’ve struggled with insomnia for years, and that started to get better as I ate more. Also, my running improved: I had the ability to run faster and longer after just a couple weeks of eating more.
When I weighed myself after six weeks, I was pleasantly surprised: I had only gained 3 pounds, which I knew was probably all muscle (based on the amount of training I was doing). More than anything, though, I knew that eating more was the best possible thing for me because I felt so much better. It’s been a difficult transition, and there have been times when the old eating-disordered thoughts try to resurrect themselves and torment me, but I know that I’m healthier and happier now, and much closer to making a full recovery than I was when I wasn’t eating more than a certain number of calories each day.
I’ve learned over the past eight weeks that listening to my body is the most important thing I can do; when I’m hungry, I should eat, regardless of what time of day it is or if I’m over my calorie “limit” or not. Taking those restrictions off myself has given me so much peace and a greater sense of freedom. I think I’m a better runner and overall a nicer person to be around now that I’m not hungry all the time!