“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a happier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
They may not readily admit it, but most runners run to lose weight or at least to manage their weight.
I know, I’m one of them. I love food, I do. But it’s never that simple. I also have a very long and complicated emotional relationship with food. Well, it’s not THAT complicated – I eat when I’m emotional. Hunger plays a dismal role.
Can you relate?
So when I discovered running, it was the answer to my prayers! I could run (sometimes quite far) and then eat whatever I felt like. Yup, I had found the ultimate ENABLER. This was my ticket to guilt-free binge eating..!
And the further I ran the more freedom I had to eat whatever I wanted. Calories in = calories out..! Isn’t that the rule?!
Until my first significant injury. I couldn’t run. At all. For three months! And that’s when I discovered the flaw in this plan. The proverbial Achilles Heel.
I was used to eating without much concern. Vast quantities of mostly the wrong types of food (never assume athletes are a healthy bunch). And being an emotional eater it was how I inadvertently “smothered” my emotions.
It was a vicious circle which steadily morphed into a downward spiral. Removing my enabler only created more emotional conflict. And my failsafe response to an emotional conflict was – yes – eating. A lot of eating.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. I felt wretched. And guilty. And fat.
Eating disorders are NEVER that simple. It’s taken many years of repeat performances and uncomfortable self-discovery to finally get to a place of balance.
Now I’d like to tell you that I saw the light, found my inner happy and lived a binge-free (and skinny) life. But sadly not. Eating disorders are NEVER that simple. It’s taken many years of repeat performances and uncomfortable self-discovery to finally get to a place of balance.
4 Simple Ways to Break a Vicious Cycle
Here, in short, is what I realized:
- I set myself up to fail.
Eating was a crutch to avoid dealing with my emotional issues. Running was the enabler that allowed me to indulge this crutch.
I’d built myself a flimsy house of cards which was held steady by external factors beyond my control. And as with anything flimsy, it eventually collapsed.
And so did I. Metaphorically speaking.
- I gave away my power.
When I could run I felt good. Even happy. And that’s because I could eat. Whatever I wanted. Which also made me feel happy. For a short time. Until I stopped eating.
There was no time to face emotional stuff – I would simply run and then eat. Boom. It was the perfect combination. Or so I thought.
But when I couldn’t run, the emotions remained. And got stronger. As did the desire to eat.
Who was really in control here?! Not me. Not really.
I had created internal agreements whereby my happiness depended entirely on eating. Which, in turn, depended entirely on my running.
One crutch supported another.
We simply cannot rely on something outside of ourselves to help us feel good. Or even just feel okay.
- Get happy FIRST and THEN eat, run or do whatever you enjoy.
- Remember, happiness is a state of BEING – we can’t find it or chase it. It’s our natural state underneath all our layers of “stuff”.
- It’s important to DEAL with your emotions, not to suppress them. Feel them, however intensely, let them flow through you and then let them go. It really IS that simple.
Maybe you need to seek therapy. Or punch a pillow. Just do whatever it takes to see past them or get them out of the way.
And THEN you can live life fully. And embrace your power.
Without the need for any crutches. What follows are a few of the really simple ways I learned to reach for a GOOD FEELING in the moment:
Find something (anything) in your immediate surroundings that you can FEEL APPRECIATION for right now.
The cup of coffee you’ve just had or the comfortable chair you’re sitting on.
An easy go-to for me is to individually appreciate each of my 5 senses. Right now.
Smell something, touch something, listen carefully, really taste your coffee and visually soak up your entire surroundings with curiosity.
Spend some time OUTDOORS – preferably in nature when possible.
Simply look up to the sky and appreciate the vastness above. Breathe in the fresh air and listen to the sounds of life happening outside of these 4 walls.
Try and stay PRESENT and really notice all the different elements around you.
Move around wherever you are. Take the stairs, walk around your building or stand at your desk for 5 minutes instead of sitting.
And whilst you’re moving remember to BREATHE. Deeply.
PET YOUR DOG. Or your cat. Or someone else’s. Just find an animal and share some love with it. This one is guaranteed to work.
2 weeks ago I injured my hip and I’ve been advised not to run for a few weeks (or so). Within these 2 weeks I’ve often reflected on those early years and realized just how far I’ve come.
Interestingly, I no longer measure myself by my eating habits or my weight.
I still feel happy. And calm. And I’m enjoying resting my body for a bit.
No anxiety. No stress.
These days I enjoy running simply because I enjoy running. Not for any other reason.
And I run when I want to, not because I have to.
I also eat when I’m hungry. Mostly.
Who knows. Maybe I’ll take another week off.