I’ve never quite been brave enough to share this story before now, but finding the courage to do so makes me realise how far I’ve come, and how much running has made a difference to my life. It’s scary to admit you had a problem, a problem where you were addicted to self destructive behaviour that led you down a dark path. It’s scary, and a little bit embarrassing. Despite being a problem that affects many people, particularly in the world of sport, it’s a topic that people just don’t talk about enough. I’ve read many peoples stories that have helped me in the past, so if my story can help someone else then it’s worth sharing. Please be aware this post discusses eating disorders.
I wasn’t always as fit and strong as I appear to be now. I say appear to be because, most of the time, I really don’t feel it. But, despite this, I’m aware of my achievements and I’m aware that I couldn’t have achieved them without being fit and healthy and having a sensible approach to nutrition. It’s something I have learned over many years. Running has become so much more than a hobby to me, it literally keeps me sane and it’s showed me how strong I can really be. When I can’t run, it’s fair to say I’m pretty unbearable to be around.
What most people don’t know about me is that I was bulimic. Whilst I believe it’s a battle I’ve well and truly won, it will always be a part of me and I’m not sure I will ever have a ‘normal’ relationship with food. My illness was characterised by a combination of restrictive eating, long periods without food, binging and purging, pretty text book you could say.
Eating Disorder charity, Beat, estimate more than 725k people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, but the true number is likely to be much higher. And it’s not just women, around 25% of those are men. Eating disorders can be difficult to understand, they’re complex and built on distorted versions of reality and cycles of behaviour that are difficult to break. They also carry a certain stigma that people need to ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s a lifestyle choice’ that means it has become a taboo subject, it really needs to change. No one with an eating disorder would ever choose to have one, it’s lonely & isolating and physically & mentally exhausting.
In a country where we now face an obesity crisis that is becoming a national health issue, and we’re bombarded with reams of airbrushed and photo shopped images throughout the media, as well as on social platforms, being more open and honest about eating disorders and food issues is more important now than it ever has been. I worry about young people growing up in a world surrounded by social pressure and unrealistic expectations that dangerously blur the lines between fact and fiction. There’s not enough transparency around the fact that a lot of what you see simply isn’t real.
Like a lot of people, I started running to lose weight, it’s the easiest way to drop the pounds, but I didn’t enjoy it. Exercise was simply a way to burn calories, that’s all. But as time went on I did start to enjoy it and it became something I wanted to get better at, setting my sights on longer distances and faster times. Around about this time my relationship with food changed from being destructive to much more positive and shaped by smart choices. You just can’t run on empty, or at least not very far, and I started to see food as a source of fuel.
On Sunday I ran a 20 mile race with my club, I don’t need to tell you that 20 miles is a long way, but in all honesty, I often forget to respect the long distance runs and the demands it places on the body. Recently I’ve been feeling completely exhausted and I was determined last week to stick to all my sessions, knock out some big miles, take my iron supplements, eat well and sleep well. I came away with a new 5k PB and a solid 20 mile training run. On Saturday, I ate healthily and ate enough to fuel my run, I’m not saying that was the only factor, but I have never felt as strong over 20 miles as I did on Sunday. I was delighted with my pace and the way I felt. Eating like a marathon runner sometimes scares me, but I know it’s necessary and I know it makes a difference.
Not being able to run stresses me out more than I can put into words, I have been known to go into a frenzy worrying that I’m going to wake up 2 stone heavier. Similarly, I can feel horrendously guilty if I don’t run as many miles as I planned because I don’t have the time, or don’t want to, or drank too much wine the night before. It takes a lot of mental strength to cope with that. I’m getting a lot better at it.
Bulimia no longer has any power over me, I don’t have room for that in my life anymore. Running really changed my life, especially the commitment and dedication involved in marathon running, and, despite my ups and downs, it makes me happy. Achievements make me happy.
I’m not sure if you ever fully recover from an eating disorder, it will always be a part of you, but it’s certainly not something that defines you and it’s definitely something you can shut the door on.
I will always be very conscious of what I eat and I will probably always struggle with body image, I accept that, but when I look back and see how far I’ve come, I realise that it’s no longer something that controls me. I’m stronger now than I ever have been.