A Destructive Numbers Game

I thought it was just a numbers game. I thought it was just about having discipline and willpower. I thought it was running until you threw up, that you had to grit your teeth, and push through pain. When I valued these things in running, it wasn’t difficult to grit my teeth and push through hunger.

I thought I was smarter than my body, that to lose my period and happiness was a worthy sacrifice.

I had one season where I accomplished the dreams I had set for myself for years. One season where I felt the wave of praise, admiration, and accomplishment, while each night I lay in bed thinking about the next meal I’d allow myself to eat.

I thought it was just a numbers game–calories in, calories out. That emotional eating was “bad,” and “wrong,” that I didn’t “want it bad enough” if I gave in too quickly to my emotional and physical cries. I practice denying myself in running, so how would it not easily translate to how I lived outside of each run?

I thought I proved to my body and myself that I could overcome a basic human drive. I thought that thriving only happened through fast performances, running exact mileage, and robotically calculating counting calories.

I had one season because my body proved that I was worth saving.

What they don’t tell you is that your body will take over—that restricting often leads to binge eating. That sudden fast performance with weight loss can occur for only so long until your body screams for release because “wanting it bad enough” will only get you so far.

The body is smart, and will not be ignored.

Calories in, calories out was simple math until my body told me that math didn’t matter—that it wasn’t going to run on fumes, that food suddenly tasted so much more intense and that my mind couldn’t stop thinking about it in an effort to take back what it had lost.

What numbers and perfect calculations don’t tell you is that the body is intelligent. That perfect calculation may get you to the “perfect weight” or “perfect body fat” for your sport, but that your body knows what it needs to feel its best; that your body actually knows what’s best for you, and long-term success in a sport.

Your body knows what will keep you alive physically and mentally.

Trying to attain perfection in numbers in a sport that deals with so much emotion and mental strength led to a full-blown eating disorder. I had one season because restricting and following perfect numbers led to binge eating. The more I tried to lose weight again, the more I gained it. The more I tried to push through the pain and hunger, the more my body rebelled. The more I ignored the pain, the more my body demanded rest. The more peers suggested thinking less about food, or distracting myself, or thought that I was recovered at a larger weight, the more my body fought to be seen, heard, and listened to.

When my coach told me “your health is more important than running as fast as you did before,” I felt the weight of expectation lift. Even though my starving brain wanted to fight back at him and keep the eating disorder, a small piece of my mind shifted. I felt the nudge to pursue recovery, even if I wasn’t yet convinced that it would work.

Perfect math doesn’t do well with a body that is so much more complex and deserves the respect we so rarely give it. I gained more admiration for my body when I realized it was never against me in the first place.

When I took off from the start of one of my last college races, I remembered what it felt like to connect to my body, and my coach reminded me to run free.