Running Hostage to an Eating Disorder


This is another section of Love Fat that I took out of the book as I rewrote it in another chapter. It is following on from the last post that I published and the topic is my obsession with running. As I have explained before, I now have a healthy relationship with exercise, and if I run, it is usually for less than 20 minutes. However, that has taken a lot of work, and for five yearsin active recovery I could not allow myself to run in case doing so sparked a relapse.

When I tell people that I used to have an exercise problem they usually struggle to understand that such a thing can be life threatening. Exercise is good for you right?

In moderation: yes. When you run for a minimum of six hours a day on little to no food and never take a day off: no. My body was wreaked by exercise, it has taken years to recover, and there are still things that hurt ten years on as a result of the strain that it was put in every day when I was suffering from anorexia.

That said, although I thought at one time I had wreaked my body past the point of recovery, it has done really well. The human body is incredible in its ability to withstand stress and recover. A balanced diet, with plenty of good fats has lubricated my joints and strengthened my bones and muscles.

Love Fat Edit Out: New York marathon and the day that I almost stopped running.

I did not want to run but I didn’t want to stop either. Running was part of my identity, I had not had day where I had not run in the last six years, I prided myself on that record. Who else could run day after day without at day off? Stopping running for one day would end that. Just resting for one day would mean that I had broken the pattern that defined me. Anorexia  has a nasty way of making the sufferer think that the self-inflicted torture is a badge of honor.

Well, actually there had been one day where I had not run. That was back in 2002, after the New York Marathon. The travel to New York from Heathrow had been overnight on the outbound journey but though the day inbound. For this reason, on the day that we flew home I had been forced to take a rest day. Literally, forced because I was on an airplane. No running for 11 hours during the day. In fact, not only that, but sitting still. I had been terrified at the prospect, fractious during the flight and miserable when I understood that I had secretly relished the day off.

The flight home had been scheduled two days after the marathon day. The day after running 26.4 miles around New York I had got out of bed and run again for a couple of hours. I had then toiled the streets of The Big Apple on foot using sightseeing as an excuse to walk all day before taking another run again that evening. On the morning of my flight home, I got up in the early hours and ran for an hour in the freezing cold before rushing back to my hotel room for a shower. Then we were on a bus going back to the airport. new-york-city-marathon-verrazano-narrows-bridge

So, I did run in the morning, but somehow my brain told me that didn’t count. Firstly, I had only run for an hour—way shorter than usual. Secondly, I was on the plane for 11 hours and then home to bed, so that was in total something like an 18 hour break. Oh whatever! Honestly, when I think about it now I don’t give a shit, but in my eating disorder-riddled brain I felt like a failure.

The day after the flight, I almost didn’t do for a run. It was as if that 18 hour break had nudged open a door—I had gone 18 hours without running, could I go more? I remember sitting in this fug of confusion and self doubt. One part of my brain was begging me to throw the running shoes in the trash. You just ran a marathon, people rest after doing that you know! It’s okay to take a couple of days off, your body needs that!

Then, there was anorexia: Put on your trainers and run. You have to. Unless you do, you will lose all your strength. You haven’t come this far just to throw it all away have you?

The trouble is, anorexia is far more convincing than rational thought. So of course I pulled on my trainers and ran. I did my usual route, and then made myself run a couple of miles further to punish myself for even considering taking a day off. Every time I wanted to stop I picked up my stride and my legs bore the brunt of my frustration.

But, as my feet trod the pavement there was a whisper of disappointment in my stride and sadness in my breath. 

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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