When Eating Healthy Goes Too Far (Guest Post by Nora McUmber)
Nora McUmber (@therecoveryrunner), reached out to me a couple years back to start a discussion about disordered eating in college runners for a podcast she was starting. I was excited to see a college athlete contributing to this discussion, and ever since then I’ve been curious to read about her experience and share it on the blog!
Nora is a senior Education for Instruction major with a concentration in TESOL (Teaching English as a second language) and a minor in photography. She has been running since her freshmen year of high school and it has become a huge part of her life. When Nora is not running, she loves to do anything outdoors–hiking, biking, kayaking just to name a few. She is also very passionate about breaking the stigma of mental health in the athletic world. She hopes that by sharing her experiences, she can help others who may be in a similar situation.
I remember a time when food was fun. I never cared to ask if it was healthy or unhealthy.
I remember a time when bread was not the enemy, and I NEVER felt guilty for eating certain foods.
As I graduate from college this year, I’ve been reflecting on my four years of college and running. I have to admit I am a changed person, as I should be. I am terrified to re-enter a world where running and food aren’t the center of my personal universe. I find myself gradually separating my identity from the sport, and I find that I have picked up some un-healthy practices. The bubble has at last been popped and I see my distorted eating for what it is.
WWCT… What Would Coach Think? It’s my freshmen year of college and I’m in the cafeteria with my roommate. I look over the oil soaked veggies and fried chicken being served and *sigh*, looks like it’s going to be another salad night for me. My heart sinks. I love fried chicken. I always have–who doesn’t?
I check my surroundings and locate two of my teammates seated in various spots of the cafeteria. I get out of line and head to the salad bar. I find my roommate at our regular spot, and see she has not one but two pieces of fried chicken. She drones on about how she’s planning to start a diet soon, but I’m not listening. I wish I could tell her that I am not judging her dinner choice, I envy her. I lean in close and whispered to her, then looked around again. She looks confused but gets up and comes back with another piece of chicken. I grab a stack of napkins and quickly wrap the chicken up and stuff it in my backpack. Later that night I unwrap it and devour my prize. Here it comes: the avalanche of guilt. It knocks me flat and I vow to eat healthier the rest of the week.
A Prevalent Issue
It’s hard for me to admit all of this because I often find myself thinking very technically. I like to think that every problem has a solution. The hard truth is, in the running community we often associate smaller with faster. I’ve heard it from my coach, I’ve felt the pressures from certain teammates, and it’s all I see when I look at the professional runners I idolize.
Of course I realize now that most things people put out is just a highlight reel. Nobody is perfect all the time. But I wanted to eat, sleep, and breathe it. So when my teammates cut carbs I thought, Well if you want be the best I guess I should, too. I began associating bread with “bad.” I felt guilty for treating myself to some of the foods I used to love.
BREAKING NEWS (and I put this in all caps because I am speaking directly to my freshmen/ sophomore year self and anyone else who needs to hear this): that cookie is not the enemy. It is 100% okay to eat the whole bagel. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay!
For me, the school cafeteria became a major anxiety trigger so I began taking my food to go and eat alone almost every day. I felt so much anxiety about eating something I deemed “unhealthy.” I’d like to write that I had some big realization or certain moment that happened that made me realize that what I was doing was unhealthy, but there wasn’t.
I got so sick of limiting myself that I started thinking for myself. What works for ME? What works for MY body? What makes ME feel good?
The second I took control of my health, I stopped comparing. I found comfort in the fact that nobody was judging me. I found balance in not only my diet, but also in my life. Life is all about balance, and I’m happy to report that right now I’m living the best of both worlds. My coach still pushes for us to eat healthier, as he should since I think eating healthy is a key part to exceeding as an athlete. What he doesn’t realize is the environment sometimes can make athletes feel guilty for eating certain foods. My healthy may look different than my teammates healthy and that is 100% okay. Not everything works for everyone. The whole team isn’t going to fit into a box, it may work for some people but I believe every body is different.
Over the years I’ve gained weight, my body looks different and moves differently than it did back in my freshmen year. I love my body. I used to think that maybe if I lost weight or when my skin cleared up then, THEN I would be confident and be able to accept and love myself.
I’m a work in progress. I’m under construction. I’m not perfect but I refuse to wait for a better version of myself. Every day it gets easier, and with the support from loving teammates and family I feel more comfortable to be myself.
I no longer let food control me.