One upon a time I took a couple hours to weigh the pros and cons of becoming a professional runner. I was lucky, I had the opportunity to do a sport I loved full time, long term and with some promise. I was excited at the idea but as you very well know (if you know me) I'm sitting here writing in the gym I own, clearly not running professionally. Why did I decide to decline the offer to run for a living? Well, the answer largely came to two things.
First, I really enjoyed coaching other people to become better runners and preferred spending my energy there rather than on developing my own fitness. Secondly, and maybe most importantly, it was my gradual observation of how competitive running had on my mind and body. From 2006 - 2010 I trained a lot. Like a lot. I was in University at the time and trained at the Toronto Track and Field Centre every other day. It didn't help that my school went on strike for 3 months and I tried to fill my time with even more running. I ran well over 40+ half marathons, a handful of marathons and a whole ton of 5k - 15k road races. I was fast. I was strong. But I was also lean. Lean enough that my body started to change not only just from the outside but my insides started shifting. In essence, my body tricked itself into thinking I was pre-pubescent again. Was I happy? Sure! I was fast, school was great, I trained with friends, I loved to run and I got to do it a lot. But what I noticed in my heavy training and subsequent work with a coach who wanted to take me pro was that I had developed a weird and uncomfortable relationship with food. I ate a lot, but I was particular. And I don't mean particular as in "hold the ketchup, add extra pickles" particular. I mean I was particular when it came to macro and micro nutrients, calories, food timing and more. I've always loved food and loved to eat but I became a bit stressed about training and fuelling. I had goals to stay light, not add weight and eat as cleanly as possible. When I did indulge, I physically was fine but it felt like my brain had just been taken in a back alley and beat up by guilt and regret. I realized that feeling that way about food (something I really did love almost as much as running) was not the direction I wanted to continue on in my life. I didn't want to sign a contract that asked me to be diligent about my calories for the next 10 - 15 years. I was only 21! That kind of pressure on a young woman is exhausting in itself. I didn't want to continue compare my Brittish frame to my co-atheltes from Kenya who felt heavy at 100 pounds. I didn't want to step on the scale at read "105" and worry about how I was going to get that weight back to to 102 for the next training session. I was happy but it was really hard to stay happy. It wasn't worth it.
I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder but my doctor did raise an eyebrow and ask about my road racing and how menstrual cycle was. She sent me for several bone density scans and suggested that if I wanted to have a baby one day that I might have a hard time (joke's on her now). I knew what she was trying to say without saying it. And that wasn't worth it either.
So, I sit here, in the gym I own, having just shared a veggie loaded thin crust pizza with friends and planning my strength workout for later. I'm still fast(ish), I'm still lean but I no longer look at food and feel the weight of my relationship with food as a burden. It took me awhile to get to that point, and it wasn't easy. I'm not an expert, but if you are someone who is struggling with your relationship with food (no matter the reason or severity), the first step is to admit you are struggling. That was it for me. The next is to change the reason you are feeling that way. Easier said then done right? For me it was the pressure of running professionally and the influence of my coach. It might take awhile, but it'll be worth the while.
On February 11th, please join us for our 1st charity Karma fitness class of 2018 at Iron North Studio, with 100% of proceeds from registration going to Hopewell (http://www.hopewell.ca). Hopewell offers support and counselling for disordered eating across the Ottawa region. If only we can reach more people from across Canada to encourage a healthy dialogue about food, we can help a few men and women avoid an ounce of stress when it comes to feeding and fueling our bodies for both life and sport. Details can be found at http://www.ironnorthstudio.com/register.