Friday, February 27, 2015

Running & NEDA Week

On my work trip to Miami this week, a colleague told me (after watching me polish off a gluten free pizza and pizookie) that she was relieved to see me eat so much because I usually "eat like a bird" at lunch time. (To clarify, if I eat too heavily at lunch, I have trouble functioning during my afternoon classes.)

Anyway, this reminded me that this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. 
This issue strikes close to home for many reasons. As a teacher of adolescents, I am particularly attuned to the kind of pervasive body-shame language in our culture, especially among young people. As a woman, I'm all too aware of the negative way we talk about food, diets, fat, and body shapes. As a runner who frequents running forums, blogs, and websites, the discussion of orthorexia and over-exercising comes up at least weekly. 

And that's to say nothing of the many men and women I care about who have struggled with eating disorders themselves.

Kristina wrote a really wonderful post this week that breaks down some of the common misconceptions about eating disorders. I'm not planning to get into all that; her post is pretty perfect and I urge you to read it for more information. (Or go to the NEDA website here.)

What I do want to touch on is that, like many mental illnesses, we tend to try to sweep eating disorders under the rug or gloss over them, as if they're not a serious illness. We as a culture have a bad habit of commenting on and congratulating weight-loss when we should be focusing on positive changes in healthy lifestyle habits. We glorify weight-loss and see it as the ultimate signifier of health.

I don't want to get preachy or offer unsolicited advice or help that I'm not qualified to offer, but I am going to repost my own story...It's a good reminder to myself about how far I've come and how much better my life is now, and maybe it will help to shed some light for others as well.

When I Had A Thigh Gap

Today, I overheard a group of my female students discussing diets and lamenting over the fact that they don't have a thigh gap. I thought this trend was on the way out, but apparently I'm just not frequenting the seedy parts of the internet these days.

I told them their discussion depressed me; they're too smart to care about something so trivial, especially because their bodies will be changing drastically in the next few years, and because at least one of these girls is a runner. I assured them that thigh gaps have more to do with bone structure anyway.

But this all got me thinking about those days when I was too-too thin and my thighs didn't touch.

When I had a thigh gap, I had...

Really low self-esteem. No number was low enough. I hated myself everyday.

Hair loss due to malnutrition.

Brittle nails because...well, see above.

Mood swings and a short temper. I was constantly hungry, which meant I was constantly angry and upset.

Memory and focus problems. Days went by in a fog most of the time.

Terrible skin. Drastic dieting led to dry, thin skin.

Trouble socializing. I was too focused on how I looked and whether I would have to eat in front of people to even bother making an effort.

A relapse into clinical depression. I think this one doesn't need much explaining.

My thighs touch these days. They are strong, muscular, and powerful. They push me through long runs, up hills, across finish lines...They make me feel confident. They make me feel like a woman. They make me feel proud of my body.
These thighs helped me PR my last half marathon [at the time of the original post], and I'm damn proud of them.
The thigh gap seems to be, to this generation, what the magical number on the scale was to me back then. But of course, when I hit that number, I never felt satisfied. If anything, the less I weighed, the more I hated myself, because I still didn't look how I wanted to look. (Body dysmorphia will do that to you.) Obtaining a thigh gap might seem like it will be the moment of victory to these girls, but I know - as do so many others who have been there - that it's just the lid off the first can of worms.

I will never have a thigh gap again, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Can you relate?
Share: why is life better when you're not obsessing over your body?
What would you say to young girls struggling with their bodies?



  1. As I was doing research for a client this week in the cellulite cream market I found a cream that claims it can help you reduce fat on your thighs so that you can achieve the sexy thigh gap.

    Like... what? Is that claim even legal to make? The information out there is scary!

    1. Oh my gosh, it's crazy that products can advertise that kind of BS!

  2. Sadly, I can relate. I used to think about food 24/7 I never thought I'd get to the point where I am now. The only thing I could think of to tell young girls who struggle with their bodies it to maybe focus on the strength of your body and what it can DO, rather than what it looks like.

    1. I'm glad that there are grown women who can look back and realize they've overcome disordered gives me hope for all my students. It may be normal to struggle with it, but hopefully it's also normal to overcome it!

  3. The struggle is real and too many people are undereducated so they don't understand it. They teach and preach about teen pregnancies and they don't talk about things like this that can be just as bad to a young persons life. As adults we have a duty to help people grow and learn and I think you ladies are doing a great job sharing your stories for us to read!!

    1. I think the same mental issues are at work that lead to both teen pregnancies and eating disorders. We really need more education on mental illness, anxiety, depression, etc. in schools.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I've overheard my undergraduate students obsess over thigh gaps as well, and it saddens me. I'm glad to hear that you've been able to work through some of this in a healthy way for yourself. Hopefully you can serve as a good role model for your students.

    1. Running and the confidence and understanding of my body it has given me are really what I credit for overcoming my own issues. I do try to lead by example in that way and help my students see their bodies as amazing machines to be cared for, not hated.

  5. Yep. I've been there. When I was my lowest weight ever, I was the most unhappy I've ever been. Now that I have been able to push through hard runs, lift heavy weights, and see my body as a machine that keeps me going, I am much happier. The scale has stayed the same for the past three years, but I have changed immensely. I see food as fuel to keep my body running (literally) and not as an enemy. I still go through rough patches where I beat myself up about eating certain things, but those are few and far between. I love, love, love my legs and the only reason I've ever wished I had the bone structure for a thigh gap is when I wore shorts while running and my thighs chafed. ;-)

    1. Ooh, I agree about the thigh chafing haha. That's the only downfall of big, strong thighs! But for the renewed confidence and body-love, a little chafing is worth it!