Why am I writing this? As what is supposed to be my first full marathon approaches, I’ve suddenly developed an injury that is quite likely to sideline me and keep me from running it at all. This is something I’ve been training for and heavily focused on all summer long. Because of this, I’ve been quite depressed. However, this has also led me to do a lot of internal reflection.
One thing you may notice if you read through this, is that something is missing. Throughout, I make no mention of God. I’m not sure when, but at some point this had become all about me and I had placed God on the sideline. As I wallowed in self-pity while my wife and I were talking, we both seemed to ask the same question at about the same time. “What if this injury, at this most inopportune time, is supposed to be a wake up call from God?”
So, with that, I am hoping to take it and use it as such.
"Actually No, I'm not good"
How many times do we pass by each other, look each other in the eyes and say something along the lines of "Hey, how's it going?" usually followed by a response of "I'm good, you?". This type of exchange has become so common that any answer other than "good" would seem to violate the "social norm." Which begs the question, how many people are struggling, searching for the right opportunity to give a REAL answer other than the "good" that everyone expects to get in return? This is where I'm at, and it's time for me to open up and be honest to anyone that cares to read this.
So let's put it out there right off the bat and get this thing rolling. Over the last year and a half or so I seem to have developed an eating disorder, which has led to an exercise addiction and then followed up with bouts of depression.
Bare with me while I give a little background...
It started out innocently enough. The company I work for was having a “biggest loser” competition to promote a healthy lifestyle. Some co-workers needed another person for their team so I figured “why not?.” I really had no expectation of losing a ton of weight or doing anything crazy, but being 5’ 11” and 193lbs at the time, I knew it wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds so I set a goal weight of 173lbs.
To begin with, I cut out unhealthy foods and stopped snacking throughout the day. We already had an elliptical at home, so I started out doing 30 minutes every night on that. I eventually started tracking my meals using an app on my phone. This helped me to learn the calorie content of various types of foods and really get an understanding of food that I didn’t previously have. I don’t remember the numbers from each weigh-in for the competition, but it was working! I was consistently losing weight at every weigh-in and quickly hit my goal. I was feeling great and the elliptical workouts were getting easier and longer.
At some point, a friend who was looking to get back into running learned about me getting into better shape and suggested we both start training to run a 5k. It seemed intimidating to me at the time, but also sounded like good motivation to keep up the healthy lifestyle. I followed a training plan, continued to watch my diet and track my food, and it wasn’t long before the 5k race took place. What I learned through this process… apparently I’m good at running, and fast. It wasn’t long before I ran a 10k, some more 5k’s and a couple of half marathons. Each time turning in fast times, usually at least placing in my age group, sometimes placing (or winning) overall. This eventually led me to sign up for my first full marathon.
On the outside, everything seemed great. I was still losing weight, running a lot and by all appearances I had simply adopted a new, very healthy, very active lifestyle.
In reality, things were not “good”...
I’ve never really been “great” at anything… In school, the most athletic thing I had done was bowling. Sure, I’m good at my job (at least I think so…), but it’s hard to explain what it is that I do and it’s not like I get recognized outside of “professional circles” for it.
I can’t be sure, but I think this is what played into the addiction that slowly developed as I ran more miles, more races, and continued to get faster and faster. I was being recognized for my ability… knowing that people were truly impressed with what I had been able to accomplish gave me a rush and a great feeling of pride. It drove me to continue to push harder, run further, run faster.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I also gained a fear. This fear seemingly took over and took control of too many aspects of my life. A fear that if I stopped tracking what I ate or stopped running, everything I worked so hard for would come undone.
In my mind, I had created a direct link between running and eating. If I didn’t run enough, I couldn’t “allow” myself to eat much, for fear that I might gain a pound or two back. Especially if it were an unhealthy treat or indulgence (ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, etc).
I use a common app that synchronizes with my garmin watch to calculate how many calories I’ve burned each day. Basically, it takes the calories that it determines I need to eat just to maintain my weight, adds calories burned from additional exercise, and that’s the total number of calories that you should eat for the day. Then, as you enter the food you’ve eaten into the app, it subtracts that from your allowance. The intention is that if you are looking to maintain weight, you want the number to be close to 0 at the end of the day… Simple enough, right? Calories in = Calories out.
I became obsessed with these numbers. I was terrified that I would eat beyond my allowance and gain weight. Everything I ate would be weighed on a small kitchen scale so I could be sure that I accurately entered all food, snacks, etc into the app. I would check the nutrition labels of EVERYTHING. If we were planning on eating out at a restaurant, I would try to find a place that had nutritional information available so I could accurately enter calorie counts for items I would order. If calorie counts were unavailable, I would make a “best guess” and enter the info, usually making sure I aimed high “just in case”.
My calorie deficit would continue to get further and further away from 0.
Eventually, if we were going to a party or just an informal get-together with friends or family, my anxiety levels would go through the roof just knowing that there would be “unhealthy food” available, and I would be terrified that I wouldn’t be able to control my eating and would over-indulge undoing everything I had worked for. Many times, I would try to avoid these situations altogether by simply not going. This is something I truly regret.
During those times that I would “slip up” and let myself splurge on a great meal, or an unhealthy treat, I would have an incredible feeling of guilt shortly after. Like I had just done something horribly wrong. This would be followed by depression, and then likely cutting out a large amount of food the rest of the day or the next morning to “make up for it.”
At the same time, I was running more and more miles training for the marathon. My schedule would ultimately look something like this:
Monday - 6 miles
Tuesday - 10 miles
Wednesday - 9 miles
Thursday - Rest (but usually would still walk 4+ miles)
Friday - 5 miles
Saturday - Long run day, anything from 13 to eventually 23 miles
Sunday - 7 miles
This schedule on its own is probably not unusual for someone training for a full marathon, but it was just another part of my addiction. I would let NOTHING interrupt my running schedule, and if something did, my anxiety level would once again be insanely high.
I knew in my mind that this was wrong. It was killing me knowing everything that I was missing out on by doing this to myself, but for some reason I still don’t understand, I couldn’t stop. Each time the scale would show me at a lower weight, it became my new line of what I needed to keep under. Again, I knew that this had reached a level of being very unhealthy and dangerous, but felt like it was completely out of my control and something I had to keep doing.
It’s so hard to explain what was going on, almost like being a prisoner in my own mind.
Apologies need to be made:
So far I’ve only talked about what was doing to me, but I know that it was also having a very unhealthy impact on my relationship with my family, our friends, my coworkers, as well as impacting my job performance.
I’m so thankful that I have a very loving wife who has been doing everything within her power to work with me through this, and doing her absolute best to understand what I’m going through. I know that I’ve neglected her and put unnecessary pressure and stress on her. Also with my son, who I know I’ve also neglected spending time with in favor of “having to get my run in”. The times throughout this summer that I insisted on running for multiple hours, instead of spending time with him, is time that I’ll never get back. Missed outings with friends and family because I was worried about over-indulging on something that “I shouldn’t” eat… The list could go on. To Sarah and Evan, I am truly sorry.
At work, I’m sure that my attitude, temperament, and focus have all suffered. Days without getting a run, or being tempted and eating an unexpected cookie or treat (might seem funny, but it has happened more than once) causing my anxiety to skyrocket. I know that there were times that this left me with an incredibly negative attitude, short/snappy responses, and getting angry at seemingly innocuous things. To my co-workers, I am sorry.
I know there are details that I’m missing in this that I’m sure I could go into, and if anyone would like to talk I am willing to share and answer any questions that people may have. My hope in writing this is two-fold:
- That it helps me to realize and better cope with what I’ve been doing and make corrections back to a more “normal” lifestyle.
- That if anyone else is struggling with something similar, you’re not alone. Feel free to reach out to me if you just need someone to talk to who can understand.
At this point, I don’t expect things to be corrected immediately, but I’m hoping that by putting this out there and making things public it’ll help me get moving back in the right direction.
No, I don’t plan to quit running. It is far too enjoyable and I want to continue living a healthier lifestyle. I’m just hoping that I can find the proper balance between keeping it enjoyable and not letting it get in the way of all other aspects of my life. I’m hoping to also achieve the same balance with my food. I LOVE food, I want to be able to enjoy food without feeling guilty. I’m sure with time and the awesome support of my family and friends, I’ll be able to get back to that point. These habits didn’t develop overnight, so I’m not expecting them to go away overnight either.