I’m going to write about the foulest of the four-letter words.
This holiday-hopping time of year centers around rich treats and large dinners. It’s culture, it’s tradition, it’s flaky and frosted. And, if you have complicated attitudes about food, or about yourself, then you appreciate this unmentionable stress of the season.
It was after one thanksgiving meal that I was first found out to have disordered eating. A few thanksgivings later, I had to excuse myself early because anxiety was wringing my neck (about butter on beans, of all things). I don’t want to write about eating disorders; that word feels filthy in my mouth. I’m not an expert, and even though it would be truthful to say that I struggled with one intermittently for a decade, all I really learned from it was something about myself.
I think there’s a circular relationship between pain and contempt. Like a gash susceptible to infection, I believe soul-rattling pain opens itself, unconsciously, to contempt. The blame turns either inward or outward. When it turns inward, it festers and attacks self.
When it turns inward, the thing ‘beneath consideration,’ the worthless thing, becomes yourself. Disordered eating is just one narrow manifestation of this. It’s a symptom of a greater infection, which not only prevents the wound from healing, but it spreads the pain. When it turns outward, I think it fails to account for oneself, and haughtily appears to fail to take others into account.
When people ask me how I got into running, I suggest that it was boredom living alone on a ranch after moving from a big city to a rural Minnesotan town. I usually leave out that I started running away from food.
But, there’s a deceiving part of running away (no matter what you’re running from). I wanted to run away from extra pounds, from ugliness, and from loneliness. I thought that by torching calories I was fighting the problem inside my skull. I believed that I was making it easier to have a healthy relationship with food. But, I was wrong.
There is an underlying deceit to running away. You are convinced that you are in control. You feel like you are escaping the thing chaining your ankles. The nasty bit is a simple truth: you are still reacting to the soul-ratting. Shrapnel escapes a bomb, sure, but it is only in motion because of the explosion. It is still reacting. It is not choosing anything for itself and is manipulated by external forces.
I don’t know how many hundreds of miles it took me to realize this. When I did, I crammed it in the back of my mind for a long time until I was ready to take it out and start digesting it, slowly.
It was actually on a run, chatting about thanksgiving plans, that raked all this through my brain again. I caught myself talking excitedly about family and turkey and pie. I was surprised to find myself excited to have a big dinner or two with family. Not to overeat or because I had ‘earned it,’ but to enjoy the get-together and the special occasion.
Slowly, over many months and even a couple of years, my complicated relationship with food, and with self, has shifted. Instead of running away, I’ve begun running toward. A young me would’ve wanted to be skinny and fled fat. Currently, I want thighs that can crush coconuts because I’d like to tackle my first 100-miler in June.
From a distance, two runners might look identical; however, there is a severe intrinsic disparity between reacting to something vs. orienting toward something. I’m certainly not at the finish line yet. Last week, someone told me about a supposedly-bulimic friend who “couldn’t possibly be bulimic because she’s still overweight.” I could have, and should have, brought another perspective to the table. Instead, my cheeks felt hot and I looked at my shoes.
The course may not be marked, but I’m certainly committed to the race I’m running. Hell, I might not have even registered for this bad boy, but then again, who did?