So as I mentioned in my blog on Monday, the months following my separation from my ex-husband (late 2005 – early 2006) were dedicated to working on ME. I spent a lot of time thinking. I tried to make sure I was processing things in a healthy manner, since so much of the prior phase of my life had been unhealthy. It was during this time that I decided to run a half marathon.
Honestly, I think I was in a fog at that time because I don’t remember a lot of my training. I do remember being scared of everything. I remember using the exact same route for all of my runs. It was a 1.5 mile flat section of a paved path that I would run out and back, and out and back. I had zero – and I mean zero – confidence in what I could do, and never wanted to be far away from where I started. I was sure I was going to fail. I don’t remember what my eating was like during this time, but I didn’t fall into the too-much-running-not-enough-eating trap. I was successful there.
I chose a half marathon in northern New Jersey in April 2006. I went to stay with my friend (the same one from the wine festival outing the summer before). I crashed on her floor and then we drove to the race together. She came out to cheer me on, and I was so thankful. I had a great race. I was so pleased. And the best part was that she snapped a picture of me at some point along the course. I looked happy. Like, really, really happy. It was something I hadn’t remembered seeing in myself in a long time. And it came from running. WTF? (If you remember this post from ages ago, you’ll remember that I was most certainly not a runner for the bulk of my life.) The image is ingrained in my mind for a specific purpose: to never let me forget that I can be happy in my skin.
I felt overly tired after the race, and spent the night before it awake fitfully with a sore throat. I knew running distance made one tired, but I was falling asleep at the wheel on the drive back home. It got worse over the next few days until I finally went to the doctor. It turned out I had mono. Mono! Who gets mono at 26? Who runs a half marathon with mono? This girl.
I was already living with my parents while my new house was being built (since I had to sell the old one as part of the terms of my divorce). I was there for four months, and for that month, my mommy had to take care of me again. I took some time off work, but went back when I could. Aside from driving to and from the office, I did nothing. I was going to school part time too, but the class was online. I did nothing but lay/sit on the couch and eek out some homework. It was rough. What I accomplished, though, was awesome. I didn’t fall back into old habits. A month of inactivity would have previously driven me positively batty. I would have cut my calorie intake so low to balance out the lack of activity. But I didn’t. I focused on getting well. Looking back on this, I realize how huge it was. Huge, I say!
After I recovered from mono, I decided to run my first marathon. It was during this time I started dating S. We were slow to call ourselves a “couple”, but did all sorts of couple-y things together. And I was happy. I was in a relationship that was healthy, and it was nice. I learned that being happy kept that need to control my eating so meticulously at bay. I can’t say that I never thought about calories or I’d be lying. In fact, I always did. I’d look at stuff and calculate the caloric value. Hell, I still do that. But I wasn’t restricting like I had done in the past. I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I was sorta-kinda-maybe figuring things out.
By the time S and I got engaged I had put on just over 20 pounds from my lowest point. I knew that the number was healthy, but I still thought I looked puffy. I always carried that puffiness in my face and legs. If you were to look through photos of me from childhood until about 5 years ago, you’d see it in just about every photo. What amazed me was that even when I was at my lowest weight, my legs were still the same. Gosh, did I hate them. (We’ll revisit this later.)
With a pending wedding, I did what so many brides-to-be did: I dieted. I had a specific goal in mind and really wanted to hit it. I cut out the junk and ate a very healthy diet. I did not cheat. I managed not to go bonkers with calorie restriction like I had previously done, which was a small victory. I did exercise a lot, though. I hit the elliptical every single morning. I had one in our guest room at the time and would drag my tired butt over there and elliptical my heart out to the early morning news. I swear I wasn’t even awake half the time. I did crunches religiously. And it was at this point that I began to do some weight training. Following a pretty strict diet, running and weight training helped me reach my goal weight by my wedding day. Notice I said “goal weight”.
While I hit the number I wanted, I still didn’t have the look I wanted. I was doing a lot of weight training, but it wasn’t the kind that my body needed to really change. I think that I looked fine in my wedding dress because, let’s face it, they are big and they cover up a lot (ahem, my legs and tummy).
By the time we got to our honeymoon a couple of days later, the euphoria over hitting my goal weight had worn off. I donned a bikini for the third time in my life and hated it. S snapped a photo and when I saw it, I was really upset. Here I was, at my goal weight (a pointless number) and I still looked, well, chubby. I had a tummy and some unflattering stuff on my thighs. I begged him to delete the photo. I can’t say for certain if he did, and part of me hopes he didn’t, just because I think it’s something I’ll need to see soon.
We came home and began our life as a married couple. Since I didn’t conduct my daily life in a bikini, I tried not to dwell on that moment. But I did. I definitely had (and still have) body image issues. Totally. 100%. (More on that later, too.)
As time went on, I was running more and more. I was also leaning more and more towards a vegetarian diet. Throughout my running career (do we call it that?) and my evolution towards a vegan diet, I’ve battled these ED tendencies over and over. In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my original exploration of vegetarianism wasn’t because I was looking for a way to cut things that I thought were “bad” from my diet.
Every year I go through the whole “I’m going to get super fit and wear this-and-that and be confident and happy” phase. Every. Damn. Year. I start off with the best of intentions and then derail completely. I guess if I’m being realistic about it, it’s probably a good thing that I “fail”! The fact that I don’t get completely sucked back into that calorie restriction/over-exercise vortex is good. But I get mad at myself for being a “failure” and not meeting my “ideals”. That anger festers throughout the year, and I struggle constantly with not hitting my goals.
This year has been a rather interesting one, though. You all know I run a lot. Last year I did a 100 mile race, for crying out loud. But this year, I tried something different. I ran a little bit less (still a lot by most normal people’s standards) and amped up the strength training. I stumbled upon a terrific program online and started it in March. I did it here and there, at 50-75% of the prescription, for the first two months. I liked it. In May I started doing it 5-6 days per week (as recommended) at 75-100% of the prescription. It was fantastic. Every day was different and the workouts were intense. Some days the workouts were 15 minutes and left me a hot sweaty mess, while other days they were 45 minutes and left me drained. I started to get stronger. I started to see muscle definition. And most of all, I started to get faster. Hubba-what?
As my weekly mileage increased and as our personal life began to spiral out of control (grandpa died and then mom’s diagnosis with cancer), I wasn’t able to keep up the workouts like I had hoped. This became a battle similar to my previous ones with food. But the weird thing was that I was still getting faster. This was something that I never expected. And the fact that my race results were showing such great improvement helped me to cope with the fact that my weight was still not the perfect number that I wanted it to be (which is, of course, a completely arbitrary number) and that I wasn’t hitting all of my workouts. I have PR’d in every distance I attempted this year, and in every case it was a significant improvement.
While these race results have been a huge wake-up call for me, it was the discovery of an old photo in my scrapbook and the comparison of it to a photo my friend posted on Facebook that really helped me calm down.
The first photo is this one.
It was taken during our last long run of the training cycle for our recent 100K. (I know it doesn’t look all that great here, and I’m not sure why. It looks a lot better on Facebook.) It is one of the few full-length photos I’ve had taken of me. When John posted it on Facebook, I was happy. My legs looked pretty good. But when I found the next photo in my scrapbook just a week or so later, I was shocked.
It was taken in either 2004 or 2005, I’m not sure. It was definitely when I was struggling with EDNOS. I don’t know if it was my lowest point or not, but I think it was just based on the fact that I was wearing these specific (unflattering) shorts in the photo. I would say I was probably 15-20 pounds lighter in this picture than in the one with Anne above. Remember when I said that my legs never changed? Here’s proof. While my top was shrinking, my legs were still on the thicker side.
Here’s another picture of me from the fall of that same year (as the cactus picture). You can see how thin my face was . . .
When I compared these photos, I saw a huge difference. You might not, but that’s because you aren’t looking through my warped, hyper-critical lens. What I saw was a person who weighed more now but who actually looked thinner and looked in better shape. It floored me. I sat there and stared for a while.
Now what do I do with that revelation, and how do I use it as positive motivation? I don’t know. I suppose I could Photoshop them side by side and make some sort of Fitspo out of it. I suppose I could return the photo to the scrapbook and forget about it. I suppose I could set new goals. But I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know that what I see still isn’t what I’d like to see. And I know that I am not unique when I say that. I know very few people who look in the mirror and say, “Shoot. I’m perfect and I don’t want to change a thing about me.” So I guess my answer is, I don’t know. I know that I want to be able to wear those cute capris to the gym. I know I want to wear adorable sweater dresses and tights. I want to wear a seriously great dress just once. I just don’t know how to do those things while feeling comfortable in them.
I’ve written these two posts because I want to talk about some health and fitness related topics in the future, but I feel that you need to understand the lens I am looking through so you understand my point of view. I think that my blog, up until this point, gave an all-too-chipper view of my life. Yes, I’ve posted about my mom’s illness, my grandfather’s death, our terrible adoption struggle, and some other hardships, but with respect to health and wellness, I think it was coming across like I was healthier, stronger, faster, and more confident than I am. It’s not that I want to air all of my dirty laundry here or anything. I definitely don’t. But I want you (especially those of you who don’t know me personally) to understand that I struggle just like a lot of people with these sorts of issues.
With all of that said, I bid you adieu. If you have a great tip you can share with everyone about how you’ve worked to overcome – or are dealing with – eating disorders or body image issues, please comment.