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One foot in front of the other. Landing on the pavement in a steady rhythm. Pace and form may vary but moving forward, gathering distance. Seemingly simple movements, but loaded with so much added meaning in our society. Running is an activity that for some can bring immense joy and release and for others can be deeply rooted in compensation and disordered behaviors. 

I have found myself on both ends of this broad spectrum. And I’d also like to begin by acknowledging the privilege I have to be able to move my body in this way that others may not. In both the early days and eventual depths of my eating disorder I used running as a means to “burn calories,” “make up for” certain foods, and alter my body type. I ran through the pain, convincing myself it was discipline and this is what was required to have the body so broadly accepted by society. Outwardly, I claimed running as my passion and hobby, but inwardly I was miserable. If you’re in this place, I see you. 

Part of my eating disorder treatment involved taking a break from all formal movement. This is a common treatment tactic that forces you to sit with the discomfort this brings up and re-evaluate the meaning and reasoning behind different types of movement in your life. I didn’t run for a year of my life. And in that time I unpacked the guilt, shame and punishment I had attached to the act, making me seriously consider whether I would ever be able to detach “running” from the role it played in my eating disorder. I also observed others in my life still fond of running and couldn’t help but wonder if they secretly had the same feelings wrapped up in it, but did a better job of hiding it? 

Truthfully, the first time I felt solid enough in my recovery and decided to go for a run, I was nervous. Nervous that running would allow those ED thoughts to creep back in. Now, I can confidently say that I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, where running brings me joy and appreciation. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten here without that year-long break from all movement and the following practices I used when starting to run again for the first time: 

  • Ditching the fitness watch or any app that would track my distance, time or caloric burn. Truly running gadget free, for the sake of running.
  • Listening to my body – walking and stopping when needed. Knee hurts? Stop running. Stitch in your stomach? Take a break. There’s no one breathing down your neck, telling you to keep going other than yourself. 
  • Reflecting after each run – what felt good, what didn’t?
  • REST! Allowing myself significant amounts of rest in between runs enabled my body to heal and I found myself actually looking forward to and excited for the next run 

Now, I see running as a way to honor my body for what it can do and explore the city I feel grateful to live in! As I run my mind no longer focuses on the changes happening in my body but rather it wanders through the daffodils blooming in the park, the reflection of the canal on the trail, the sun shining down on my face. And if in your own recovery journey you find that running still no longer serves you, that is completely valid. I share my story to offer up one picture of what this experience of “coming to terms with running” can look like, but it’s certainly not the only one. And to reiterate, running is widely recognized as a tool to support mental health, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in the box – when it turns into a lifeline rather than a pastime, there is cause for concern. 

As I mentioned, in my break from running I journaled a lot on the associations I attach to movement and if you’re interested in exploring that for yourself, these prompts may help! 

  1. Does the thought of taking a 1-2 week break from this movement make me uncomfortable? Why? 
  2. What meaning do I attach to [insert X movement]? Do I use it to compensate for anything? 
  3. What are some alternatives to this type of movement? (e.g. dancing, stretching, walking ,etc). 

I’ve run, I’ve walked, I’ve rested and I’ve run again, home to myself. 

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image