Running: my downfall and my saving grace

Eating disorder awareness week 2018

Although I’ve spoken a bit about my eating disorder experience on Instagram, I’ve never dedicated a blog post to it. Since today marks the end of this year’s EDAW, I thought it was about time to open up about it. Whilst I do find it hard to speak about sometimes, it’s getting easier. I truly feel that the more people who are able to share their experience, the more people will be able to avoid a similar fate. So in this post I want to talk about what specifically (from my point of view) both pushed me over the edge and rescued me from hitting rock bottom – running.

running

From the title of this post, it’s probably quite obvious to you that I deem running to be one of the main causes and solutions to my ED. Whilst disordered eating patterns can be the first step to contracting an ED, sometimes they are not. For me, over-exercising definitely came first. A few things are hazy from that period in my life, but I’m certain about this. Let me take you back to May 2013 (seems so long ago now!), when it all started.

I don’t really have any photos from back then, so here’s one of me running more recently (at a healthy weight & mentality)

exams

I was in year 8, and at this point had just finished my entrance exams for my new school. Suddenly, I found myself with a lack of purpose and lot’s of time on my hands. I also became pretty isolated after being abandoned by the majority of those I considered to be “friends” (who I do not blame for my ED at all!). Year 8 friendship struggles – I’m sure you’ll remember them. Unfortunately, this did make me vulnerable. Running simultaneously became my purpose and my escape from my unhappiness. The feel-good endorphins did just that, and momentarily made me forget my low mental state. Nevertheless, my passion quickly became an addiction. Soon, the restrictive eating patterns must have settled in. I say “must” because the truth is, I don’t remember it happening. That’s the scary thing about EDs – they happen so gradually, until all of a sudden they take complete control of your life.

holidays

Then we broke up for the summer holidays. I now had a lot of free time, absolutely no commitments, and soon we headed off to our countryside house in France. This was probably where my ED truly established itself and took over my life. We spent 4 weeks there, as we did most summers, but this year something in me had changed. Exercise was no longer a hobby, a way of keeping fit, something to do with my family. It was a necessity. Every day, I would swim hundreds of lengths, run my heart out, cycle around the countryside, spend hours horse-riding, play tennis… All in the 37 degree heat. You name it, I probably did it. I also (coincidentally) discovered my love for baking and cooking. However, instead of simply picking out a recipe and giving it a go, I would spend all the time I wasn’t exercising or sleeping looking through cookbooks. Food was constantly on my mind, but never as something to be eaten. I would make it and give it away. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t deserve it. That’s what the ED told me, at least.

fast forward

When we got back to the UK, I remember the feeling of panic I got when I realised I wouldn’t be able to do all the exercise I’d done in France. We had no pool/ bikes/ trails etc. This was when I was taken to the GP for the second time (pre-holidays, although I’d lost 10% of my body weight, I was “no cause for concern”). This was when I was considered “sick enough” for help. It was also when I started my new school. Having an ED is never easy, but having one in such a significant transition period – at least from my experience – was especially difficult. First impressions are important, and all I can remember thinking was that I was making a bad one. In and out of school, half days all the time, meals monitored (alone) in the health centre, no sport, few friends… it was definitely tough. Without running, I felt completely and utterly lost.

so what changed?

Originally, my weight started improving but my mental health did not. Although I was eating a bit more, no one could actually “get through” to me, so to speak. I felt numb to the world all the time. I pretended to laugh, smile, be happy – be “normal”. But that wasn’t me. It was all fake. At some point – and again, I can’t pinpoint it – something clicked. I don’t know what, but I stopped hating myself so much. Recovery became an option for me, because I realised that in order to run, I had to be strong enough. And in order to be strong enough, I had to put on weight. “Calories” were no longer the enemy, they were nourishment.

I know I posted this last week, but running does make me happy 🙂

the target

When my therapists saw this change in my mentality, they set me a target weight to reach. After this, I could run once a week until I reached my next target. Then it would go up, and again, until I was dispatched. There were definitely ups and downs, and I was still very much suffering from my ED, but it became easier to handle. That first run was priceless. I may have lost a lot of strength and fitness, but just being able to do what I loved again – that was worth fighting for. This time, I knew that fuelling was essential to improve. After going through the worst of my ED, I knew that it wasn’t something I ever wanted to experience again. I knew that a relapse would simply delay my progression as an athlete, and that was something I wasn’t going to compromise again.

now

Even though I’ve been dispatched for a few years now, I still have days where I struggle. The difference between now and then is that I know how to deal with my issues in a healthy way. I know that food isn’t a way of controlling things, and over-training won’t make me a better athlete. And, more recently, I’ve realised that pretending my ED didn’t happen won’t help me or anyone else. This is why I’ve started talking about it on Instagram, my blog, and at school. All the feedback I get from people (in person or online) has been extremely positive and encouraging so far, and by sharing my journey I hope to empower others to share their’s too. And if you haven’t suffered from one, then hopefully you’ll be empowered to help someone else who is suffering from one.

and so does food. overcoming my fears of food have opened up so many doors for me and the prospect of this nicecream tomorrow morning (which is now today for you I guess) is seriously exciting me


Sorry for how long this post is, but I could probably write a whole book about this. I definitely haven’t mentioned everything, but it’s a start. I hope you’ve found it useful and interesting, and I’m always here for a chat (best way is through Instagram DM).

Emma ♥♥