Before I sit here and write what could be a fairly preachy article about healthy nutrition, positive body image and physical exertion, I feel I should begin by telling you about my weekend. I’m currently living in Scotland, a place where people put potato scones in sandwiches and macaroni cheese inside a pie (‘double carbing’ is a popular phenomenon). I have been hungover for the entire time I haven’t been drunk this weekend and have sampled both of those delectable items. This kind of thing used to fill me with dread in the ‘dieting years’, but now I see my body entirely differently and it’s OK.
Body image and the dreaded teenage years
I have been a ‘fat girl’ for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I suffered from juvenile arthritis and used it as an excuse not only for unnecessarily abstaining from any exercise, but also the comfort eating that exacerbated my condition. At fifteen I was overweight, prone to chest infections that left me bed-bound, in constant discomfort from arthritis and perhaps most significantly, on anti-depressant medication.
When I was about to turn sixteen, my physical and mental health problems were threatening my ability to get through my final exams, and I decided to do something about my health.
Getting started with running
I remember starting to run very clearly. I decided to do a 5K for a cancer charity having recently lost my beloved Nanny, the matriarch of our family. The first time I went out, suited and booted in an attractive matching tracksuit, wearing wrist splints and carrying my inhaler, I managed about ten minutes. But I felt absolutely exhilarated. This rubbish body that felt so much older than its years had achieved something! Exercise endorphins were flooding my brain for the first time. And so I set about getting ten to fifteen and fifteen to twenty. It wasn’t easy, I returned in tears on more than one occasion because my asthma or arthritis had stopped my run. But as time went on, this became more and more infrequent.
Running and diet
With my running slowly improving, I came to a realisation about my diet. Without a decent, nutritious lunch I couldn’t sustain running after school. After achieving in a run, I wanted to put something good in to my body. I lost a lot of weight and started to look more like a normal teenage girl. I got proper help with cognitive behavioural therapy and came off my antidepressant medication, helped in no small part by exercise endorphins. By the time I hit my twenties, the label of juvenile arthritis no longer applied.
Running to University
This isn’t to say the journey was over – far from it. Over the university years my weight fluctuated and I felt like the ‘fat girl’ from time to time. I was the ‘fat girl’ from time to time! My self-esteem was never particularly high and I frequently went on diets. However, the running was always there and it always helped, and year after year, things got better and better.
I felt smug at the gym – that kind of ‘yeah, you’re skinny but I bet I can run faster than you!’ Running has never been about weight loss for me, it’s that sense of freedom and power and strength and knowing my body can do something so challenging. It takes me back to that chubby fifteen-year-old with splints on her wrists who got out of the house and started moving.
The dreaded first half marathon!
Which brings us to the present day! So in 2012, I had my Masters degree, my dream job, a steady relationship, wonderful friends, a good, healthy now-vegetarian-diet and a size 10 (US size 4) body. Unfortunately however, the relationship turned out to be not so steady. I got dumped completely out of the blue, somewhat ironically in the midst of an argument about running!
And that’s when I decided to do a half marathon. Getting from an average three-mile run to thirteen in ten weeks was no easy task! But through the most difficult few weeks of my life, running kept me going. I think it was a combination of the endorphins and knowing that in the midst of so much emotional pain, I could achieve something physically. I absolutely know how ridiculous this must have looked but I cried crossing the finish line that day!
Running and positive body image
The more I run, and do yoga as well, the less I think about my body image. I don’t need to diet anymore because I need to eat healthily to have the energy to run. Weighing myself is futile because I’ve got lots of muscle! I have stopped wearing ridiculously uncomfortable spanx on every night out. I will wear things even if they make me look bigger, because I love the colour. And I don’t beat myself up about the odd weekend of utter indulgence and macaroni pies.
It’s OK that my belly sticks out a little bit and I don’t have much in the hip department because my body is strong and it’s powerful, and I have done something that most people won’t do in their lifetime. In fact I’ve done it twice – I completed my second half marathon this month!