I stay away from talking about weight, diet, eating habits, and the like on the blog for a number of reasons. Mostly it’s because I’m not qualified to talk about those things and it drives me nuts when people that aren’t qualified (try to) give advice. I know most of these people are trying to be helpful, but what I don’t think they realize is that they can actually have the opposite effect. I see it rampant in the blogging world, because, as a society, we’re so obsessed with diet, exercise, and “looking and feeling our best” (which really means “looking what we think society sees as the best”). That being said, this post is about how I feel about my own body, and how it affects me not only as a runner, but as a human being.
I actually had this post on the back-burner for awhile because I wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted to say or how to say it. But when I saw that Lauren Fleshman posted about keeping it real over on the Runner’s World blog, I knew it was time for me to share.
Growing up I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. When I was very young (toddler and pre-school age) I would eat anything and everything, no questions asked. I then went through a phase where I was extremely picky; my mom referred to it as “eating like a bird.” Being naturally thin, I never thought about my weight during those dangerous pre-teen years when girls start to realize society puts a high price on “skinny.” I do remember whining about not fitting into size 0 shorts at some point in middle school—to which my mother quickly shot down with a “you are a woman. You will have hips!” I started swimming in middle school as well and, despite being in a bathing suit in front of people (sometimes hundreds), I was never self conscious. I also ate anything I wanted. Double quarter pounder with cheese, super-sized, from McDonald’s once in awhile? You bet. I always ate a balance of “good” and “bad,” and my parents did a good job of keeping overly processed foods out of our reach. My ability to devour food without any consequences carried throughout college. I did have a period after my freshman swim season ended where I put on a few pounds (I’d say maybe 5-10), but it quickly dropped once I was home for the summer and back to swimming regularly and not spending my weekends at keg parties.
Once I graduated college, though, I realized I didn’t have the type of physical activity in my life that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted. I spent periods throughout that first year worried about putting on weight, but not doing much about it. Eventually, I decided to start running just to give myself a safety net; for some reason, I worried that one day I would just wake up and realize I’d packed on post-college pounds. It never happened and I fell in love with running enough to keep doing it, regardless of what it did (or didn’t do) for my waistline.
About a year into running I discovered social media. Twitter! Blogs! Running and fitness groups! Instagram! For the first time in my life, I questioned my body. I’m the “thinnest” I’ve ever been by almost ten pounds, but, at any moment, I can log on to any social media site and read about how someone just crushed a workout or ate a super healthy meal (also known as “eating clean”). I can see pictures of their ripped and lean bodies and tiny meals. Or they just had a killer long run and are stuffing their faces with mounds of pancakes, but still seem to be extremely fit. I’m sure there are plenty of people who scroll right through those posts and think nothing of it, but not me. When I see these kinds of posts, I tend to have two very different reactions. Part of me wants to be able to be disciplined to “eat clean,” workout hard, and be the epitome of physical fitness, but then the other part of me wants to still workout hard and run fast, while eating whatever I want, whenever I want. I want to show people who are overly restrictive about food and intense about their workouts that you only live once. If I want a second serving, I’m going to go for it!
I find myself thinking about food all the time, but this isn’t new. You can guarantee that as I’m finishing a meal, I’m already thinking (and asking) about the next one; it drives my mom crazy. But I find myself thinking about it in different terms these days. I compare myself to the images people project of their “healthy living” lifestyles on the Internet, and I can’t escape thinking that I’m eating too much and not the right stuff. I find myself wondering if I’m weird for not craving things like salads and fruit and “healthy” things all the time. Or if I just don’t have enough willpower. I’m the kind of person that if given the option between a fruit salad or home fries with my brunch entree, I will always choose home fries. If I go with the assumed healthier option, I may feel better about myself in that moment, but I’m usually not satisfied. If I go with what I really want, I enjoy it, but usually feel guilty afterwards. As you can imagine, that type of internal struggle can get tiresome (and annoying).
When I find myself worrying about food, it isn’t because of its health value (or lack thereof), but rather what it may mean for the image of my body. And that’s a pretty messed up way to think about food, isn’t it? If I’m expecting my body to perform to the best of it’s ability, I should treat it right and fuel it the way it needs to be fueled. And, at the same time, if I want a little dessert after dinner I shouldn’t feel like I “don’t deserve it.”
Life is about so much more than the number on a scale or the number on the tag in your jeans, or how much skin sits over your pants when you’re sitting down. No, I don’t have a six pack and I have cellulite under my butt that, no matter how many squats I do, doesn’t seem to go away. And guess what? I’m still strong and athletic and am able to push my body to get it to perform to the best of its ability. I’ve always compared myself to others in every aspect of my life, but at the end of the day I’m living my life and no one else’s. What good does it do to compare myself to someone in a completely different situation? They say comparison is the theft of joy and I truly believe it. Everyone is different—that’s the beauty of being human—so how can you compare what you’re eating and how you’re working out to what someone else is doing? Sure, it’s easier said than done, but I think, as a society, we need to do a better job of encouraging one another to live our own lives and to support one another in that journey. If we’re all open and honest about our struggles and try to keep it real, at the end of the day I think we’ll all feel a little bit better. I know I will.