I joined track in 7th grade because I was absolutely obsessed with a boy who ran track and I wanted to be close to him. Yes, I am the original creeper. And... I hated it. I enjoyed being closer to him (even though he wanted nothing to do with me) but I hated track. My favorite part of every practice was the after-party trip some of us would take to the upscale convenient store near my school for chocolate croissants and raspberry seltzers. Still, I ran. Every day. I didn’t run well and I didn’t run with joy but I ran.
This is an important point because when I try to think of when I “started” running, I usually think of my first major weight loss (the first time I weight cycled) while I was an undergraduate student at The University of Michigan. I loved running through the streets of Ann Arbor. I loved biking through the streets of Ann Arbor. I noticed that you can get to know a place so much more intimately when you are walking and running and biking through its streets rather than driving. I liked that part of running but I’ll admit that running was part of the obsessive regimen that was always my eating disorder. It was just one more aspect of the extreme calorie restriction and the punishing exercise I used to force my body into compliance with “acceptable” size standards.
The first time I stopped running was when I was in Poland with the Peace Corps. At the time, it was considered strange in Poland to run through the streets for pleasure or exercise. At least, that’s what I was told and what I observed. I looked like a crazy or foolish American and I didn’t want to. I wanted to fit in. So, I found a gym... where people ran on treadmills and smoked at the same time. I hated running on the shitty treadmills at this gym so I cut way back on that and did other things instead.
I began running again while I was getting my masters degree and a divorce. I lived in Southern new Mexico at the time and nearly killed myself one afternoon trying to run in the high heat of September. I mostly ran during this time to stay half-way sane and not sink into my depression. I learned to run in the early morning. I also started running at my University’s track. But I was a grad school partier. I smoked and drank heavily so my running was erratic at best. I never really stopped that time. I just kept being erratic.
I didn’t get into a habit of running again until after my Master’s degree when I was living in Boston. By the time I met the love of my life, the man I’d have two children with and later marry, I was running regularly and living fairly cleanly — LESS smoking and LESS drinking. My active lifestyle was actually part of what he said made me so attractive as a partner. This is an important point because...
if you’re keeping up with this story, you’ll notice that I had always been active. I didn’t particularly LOVE being active when I was in middle school but still, I was active. What’s important about this is that I have actually had to spend decades being active, become a recreational triathlete, a fitness instructor, a personal trainer, a yoga teacher, a degreed health fitness specialist, a health coach, and the owner of my own studio before I was able to — without reservation or embarrassment — OWN the fact that I am — and have always been — a very physically active person.
Why did it take me this long? Fatphobia.
I am a curvy girl. I don’t mind that. I have straight-sized privilege and I have curvy privilege. My curves have made me sexy af my whole life and being considered sexy by my partners and feeling sexy in my skin has rarely been a problem for me. I have larger than average breasts (they were bigger when I was younger, before I breastfed two humans) and as Mindy Kaling says, “an ass that won’t quit.” But one thing I have heard time and time again throughout my life, mainly because of those curves and especially from my own father as a child, is that I don’t have “an athletic body.” Because that's what we do. We decide, sometimes as early as a child's infancy, what their body is and is not capable of. "Oh, he's going to be a big, football player." "Aw, she's going to be a little ballerina." We put the shape and sizes of children's bodies into these boxes that we can easily understand and control. This allows us to "help" children understand where they do and don't belong. And it is utter bullshit.
Let me tell you one thing I know with absolute certainty at this point in my life and with all the training I have now had as a health professional: There is no such fucking thing as an athletic body. This is a lie that fatphobia tells to keep people in line, to keep some people feeling inadequate while others get to feel superior. This is a lie that capitalist culture tells to keep everyone in their boxes so the machine keeps moving. This is a lie that diet culture tells to sell product.
Any body that does athletic things is an athletic body and keeping people from owning their athleticism because they don’t look like the product fatphobic, capitalist diet culture wants to sell is not just bullshit weight bias, it is actually a detriment to our health.
I want to take a moment and acknowledge that I have never been marginalized or oppressed for the size of my body. I have always veered towards the higher end of the straight-sized world and lower end of the plus-sized world. This is an important acknowledgment to make because within fatphobic diet culture, the larger one's body size, the worse the pressure and hatred and hardship become. My body image and even my basic understanding of my own identity was shaped, harmed and truly damaged by diet culture but I was never marginalized or oppressed as folks who live in larger bodies are. So, this is just to say that however difficult it has been for me to own my athleticism and see my body as deserving of and capable of physical activity, including running, it is typically so much harder for those folks who -- in addition to this -- are being marginalized and oppressed for the size of their bodies.
The last time I sunk deeply into my eating disorder, I was part of a triathlon training group who towed the diet culture line of thinness being equal to health. I had already completed many sprint-distance triathlons prior to joining this group. I had already worked up to some fairly serious mileage in my biking, my running, my swimming. I did this without concern for my weight because I knew I was healthy. I was me. I had actually taken up triathlon as a method to embracing my body exactly as it was. I was never going to be triathlon Barbie and I wasn’t interested in doing a full Ironman or anything. I was a very healthy recreational triathlete. No more smoking. Okay, some drinking still. And now my efforts were very consistent and backed up with quality nutrition. But none of that mattered in the triathlon group. It was still about who lost how many pounds and running to “keep the weight off.” So, I complied. I developed atypical Anorexia and orthorexia. I lost a lot of weight -- again. Good girl, they all said. What a good dog.
The comparison trap within diet culture is sticky and nearly impossible to extricate ourselves from. It's as if we must know who is winning the game -- and, of course, within diet culture, the thinnest among us are the winners. No matter what it took or didn't take for them to get there, they win. It's as if me owning my athleticism in a bigger body somehow takes something away from those runners in smaller bodies. Let me tell ya, friends, no matter how far, how fast or how long you run, we are all going to grow old (if we are lucky) and we are all going to die (for certain) so this isn't a game any of us are going to win. My ownership of myself as a runner in a larger body doesn't do anything to take away your ownership of yourself as a runner in. a smaller body. Nobody is winning or losing. We are all just doing what feels good and feels right to us in this lifetime. It took me WAY too long to understand this and to reject all that comparison shit.
I had to stop running for what has felt like a very long time when I entered into recovery because running was tied up with the disorder in my mind. But this year, I discovered Louise Green’s running training program. Louise Green was one of the first (truly) Body Positive fitness professionals I had ever heard of. She wrote a wonderful book called Big Fit Girl. She has been an important role model and inspiration to me as I pursued my own credentials to become a fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. Her app is called Big Fit Girl and it is filled with Body Positive fitness — and yoga and dance — offerings. Even with all of the knowledge and experience I have as a coach myself, I have learned so much from her program. But what I have learned most of all is that I have an athletic body. I have always had an athletic body. Because, I have always been active in this body. Whether I was in the disorder or just trying to stay sane. Whether I was embracing my body or scared to take up space. Whether I was chasing after a boy or feeling my own power. I have always been active and I have always been an athlete.
My goal is to not stop running now. Ever. Not until I'm dead. Louise Green’s program has provided me with the tools and knowledge I need to progress with grace and self-compassion in my running journey. And, she has given me the permission I needed to own my athleticism. Running has nothing to do with weight loss or weight maintenance for me anymore. It feels completely divorced from the eating disorder. I no longer lace up and go out with a frantic feeling that I have to force my body into compliance with diet culture norms. I lace up and go out -- as I did when I first discovered triathlon -- because it feels fucking awesome and -- as I discovered in college -- I can explore places in an intimate way when I am running. Also, like most runners, I love the contemplative time it gives me to work through things in my own head and my own heart. I actually do a lot of writing while I'm running.
So, when I look back, I have actually been a runner for the majority of my life and the entirety of my adulthood. I’ve started and stopped more times than I can count but I’ve always been a runner. And this time, I’m not letting fatphobia or diet culture take that away from me.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.