Relaxation is better than tension

What story do I want to tell today? I want to tell about yesterday, when I learned a lesson on my run and then forgot this lesson as soon as I stopped my watch, walked inside, and began the real part of my day.

My run started out okay, not great. I was a little sluggish and uncomfortable as it seemed that everyone in my neighborhood decided to cut their grass at the same time, leading to massive amounts of grass particles in the air. My skin itched, my eyes burned, breathing was an exercise in itself. On days like this, when the air is filled with grass and allergens, all I want to do is hide in bed. It feels like the flu but more annoying because I am not actually tired or sick, but my immune system is working extra hard, leaving little energy left for other activities.

But, I made it out the door and was running along, feeling like crap, when I noticed my mile times were actually pretty acceptable. Not record-breaking, but on-par for my current fitness and certainly faster than I had expected, given how awful I felt. This realization, unfortunately, morphed immediately into self-competition (because being what fun would there have been in contentment with my accomplishment ). My attention locked on my pace.

I had not been preoccupied with my mile splits until I looked at my watch; my time was not part of a conscious effort, it was organic, an expression of my current level of fitness. The moment I became conscious of my speed, however, I was worried I might slow if I were not vigilant. And this possibility, that I might lose a few seconds per mile because I was admiring the design of a house, or staring at the clouds, or becoming preoccupied with my non-running thoughts, strangled my stride with fear. I did not trust myself to maintain my pace.

My shoulders tensed as I focused on each step, my legs became heavy, and what had been an uncomfortable but manageable run became, in the course of a few minutes, unbearable.I began to fantasize about stopping, coaxing myself to make it just a few more feet. As my shoulders crept closer to my ears, my arms swinging more tightly across my body, my hips straining to move my legs forward, my body heading toward total shutdown, a tiny but annoyed voice in my head shouted “NO! STOP! RELAX!” Relax? Relax.

I thought back to the countless races I have blown, in which I allowed fear and tension to cripple my performance. And I remembered the countless successful workouts I have run (I was always better at training than performing), in which I relaxed my body and was rewarded with faster times. I remembered the lightness and power that come when I have fun with running. And I remembered that even if the trick of relaxation did not work in this moment, and I slowed by a few seconds because I let down my guard, there was zero consequence. This was an easy run, I have no race on my calendar, I am running for no one but myself. I have the choice, in each run, to find joy or struggle. Yesterday, in that moment, I chose joy.

And that next mile, in which I relaxed and moved my focus from my pace to the stunning blue of the sky and the almost-fall coolness of the air, was four seconds faster. I went on to run two miles longer than I had anticipated. I finished feeling strong and happy, my allergies a footnote to the successful run.

And then, I walked inside and the magic and wisdom of the run evaporated. I remembered my to-do list. I remembered to feel shitty about myself for being unproductive, for sleeping in fifteen minutes and being behind schedule. I remembered to be snappy with my boyfriend for not being enthusiastic about our day of chores and family obligations. As I had been on my run, I focused only on the immediate result and made each task harder than it needed to be. My shoulders tensed again. I tried relaxing, but dismissed the endeavor as indulgent and slow. I had a mostly shitty day. (Of my own making, I should note.)

Thank goodness I have a boyfriend who hates feeling stressed and who openly acknowledges he needs to take breaks to recharge. Thank goodness I have been doing some hard work on myself so I understand (although I do not always accept) I need breaks as well. Thank goodness I was convinced (after a bit of a fight late in the afternoon and some sputtering on my part) to meditate.

As I slowed my breath, and focused my thoughts, my morning run came to mind. The ease, the increased stamina and speed that had come from throwing away expectation. I relaxed and, therefore, I performed.

The experiences I have while running often provide a framework for understanding the rest of my life. I don’t want to sound preachy, nor do I want to generalize or simplify, but I do hope that maybe I will be able to keep this lesson close and relax when I am inclined to tense.

 

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Mitigating risk from my comfort zone

As I wrote last week, untangling my body image from fitness goals has been a difficult and triggering process. During my injury and for several weeks following my return to running, I felt good about my body. I ate what I wanted, without much second-guessing. I was running a bit, but also practicing yoga and resting as needed. I enjoyed feeling myself grow stronger without feeling tired. My main goal during this early recovery was to re-acclimate myself to running. I did not even measure my pace or count my miles. I ran for time and for ease. This was a lovely period.

Unfortunately, my competitive drive started creeping back after a while. For the past few weeks I have struggled to know how much I can (or should) push my body to increase my speed and endurance. Always in the back of my mind is the caution against returning to a life or restriction and overexercise. I want to stretch the boundaries of my current fitness, but I also want to stay in this happy mental space I have constructed, in which running is a fun addition to life and not the driving force behind my existence.

As I explore the possibility of running more, I am flooded with anxiety about what might happen if I use even a slight increase in mileage as an excuse to increase more and more and more. I am afraid of losing control. I am afraid of losing my progress.

At the same time, I am not content with my mileage or my pace. Running slow for short distances is relaxing, but only when contrasted with harder efforts. Easy runs become monotonous when they are the norm.

The few times in my life when I have been content not to vary pace or distance have coincided with vitamin deficiencies, illness, or impending injury. My desire to stretch out of my comfort zone, therefore, is a good sign of health. I am happy that I have a drive to improve, but I don’t know how to approach a change in training, just as I don’t know how to approach a change in diet, without inviting a relapse into maladaptive behaviors. I do not fully trust myself to make the right decisions.

My thoughts are tending to loop these days: I am happy that I have returned from my injury without incident; I am happy that I am growing stronger and enjoying running; but I want more out of the experience; I don’t know how to achieve more without the risk of losing the moderate behaviors I have learned; if I don’t expand my running regime, I will be bored and increasingly frustrated by an activity that usually gives me joy; but if I do expand my running, I might lose the joy and replace it with the anxiety of restriction and overexercise and, probably, reinjury.

I know I cannot remove the risk from this equation. It will remain. The habit of resorting to extremes is too ingrained in my life to be eliminated just yet. For now, I can try to accept that the risk of relapse will always remain. It was present before, during, and after my recovery from this year’s stress fracture. Risk has formed my recent running. So far I have done a good job creating a training plan that minimizes this risk, and keeps me healthy. I have found comfort in running again. Before my injury, running felt like a chore. My mileage was low, but I was still overexercising in that I was extending myself further than felt natural. Most runs required a pep-talk in order to leave my apartment. (As I mentioned above, this should have been a red flag that injury was looming in my future.) I do not want to return to that fraught relationship with running.

If I make small, safe changes (an extra mile here or there throughout the week) I can push the boundaries of risk from afar. Touching on the edges of my comfort, knowing I can retreat if I become uneasy. I am at the beginning of what I predict will be a long, possibly forever, process of being comfortable with moderation.

 

Weight and running

I am conflicted about running. I want to run faster than my current ten-minute pace, and I blame my body (and the weight I gained while injured) for my current slowness.

Focusing on weight loss, however, invites the possibility of relapse into food restriction. Through mindful eating and a lot of therapy, I have learned over the past year to eat when I am hungry without regard to how much I have exercised on any given day. I no longer run to the restroom to complete emergency sets of squats and jumping jacks to combat the effects of oily foods, or to punish myself for indulging in dessert. I do not enforce long runs on the days after a large meal, nor do I only eat without hesitation when I have completed a certain number of miles.

This comfort with food, however, combined with the lowered activity levels of an injury, has left me fifteen pounds heavier than I was before my first sacral stress fracture two years ago. I do not mind the size so much as I mind not fitting into my clothes and not running as fast as I used to.

Running slower does have benefits: patience, for example, because even a short distance takes much longer to complete; gratitude that I can run at all after my injuries; enjoyment because I am no longer running out of habit, but because I make a conscious decision each morning to run (or not).

But still, running at this reduced pace is frustrating. I have not been this slow since middle school, when I was first learning how to run. And even then, my gains came quickly and I did not stay slow for long.

I feel disconnected from my former running self. I am not content to run slowly, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that this pace is okay. I happy after each run, but also a bit sad at the thought that I may never qualify for the Boston Marathon again, or run a twenty-minute 5K.

I want to regain the level of fitness I had before this two-year cycle of injury. My easy pace then was eight minutes per mile, sometimes faster; this was the pace I fell into by instinct, without effort. Today I ran an eight minute mile as part of a speed workout, and was glad when I had reached my mark and could slow again. The pace felt familiar, but it was not effortless anymore.

I do not know if it is possible to become faster without losing some weight. And I don’t know how to lose weight without opening the door to disordered eating. I worry that if I reach the benchmarks of an eight minute mile or a Boston qualifying time, I will not be satisfied but will set new, difficult-to-attain standards for myself, constantly grasping at a perfection that is always just out of reach.

I know that I am strong and that my self-worth is not defined by the size of my skirt or my shirt or my dress; nor by the time in which I can run a mile or a marathon.

But knowing and embodying are two different things.

I am not ready to accept that I will have to constantly struggle to balance fitness and self-compassion.

 

 

Finding space in the process

I ran a 10k this past Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day. It wasn’t supposed to be hard. It wasn’t even supposed to be a race. It was supposed to be a nice run with a few hundred other people in a pretty setting (the Morton Arboretum: lots of trees and nature). I was supposed to be one of those runners who emphasizes the fun in “fun run.” I was supposed to go easy until the last few miles, when I would present myself with the option of going harder or continuing at a leisurely pace. 
Well, I failed at these “supposed to’s” in grand fashion, racing to the best of my current ability and ignoring the complaints of my increasingly weak and angry legs. I felt good at the start, of course. I had only run one very slow mile to warm up. My legs were fresh and the surrounding crowd of runners and spectators filled me with excitement. The scene felt familiar, although it had been more than a year since I last toed a starting line, and almost a decade since my last 10k. It was like a homecoming and I found myself unable to resist the habit of a strong race start, just as when I visit my parents I am reduced to my childhood self, deferring responsibility to the adults. 

Within seconds of hearing the horn denoting the race’s beginning, I abondoned my plan of moderation. Or, rather, I convinced myself that I was being moderate because I was not instantly tired by my increased pace. That I was not collapsing within the first few hundred feet was proof enough that this sudden change in plan was reasonable. 

And I was passing people! And then passing more people! If you have never run a race, the elation of passing might not make sense. It is a race, the point is to run faster than as many others as possible. But each person I passed was proof that I am not the slowest person in the world (a thought that had crossed my irrational mind on many an agonizingly slow run during my recovery from the winter’s stress fracture). It was also proof that I can still hold my own in a race. That although I am not a Runner (or at least don’t want to be) I can still run, and well. It was proof that I have not gone soft, although my expectations for myself have changed. That even though my journal is filled with lists and charts I have made to chronicle the removal of running as the ultimate cure-all in my life, I am still competitive, I am still me. I have not lost my drive, and the bond I have formed with running is still strong. 

Shortly past mile two in the race, my confidence flagged. The course went up a hill (nothing like those that cover the Boston Marathon course, but much more steep than my flat Chicagoland training had prepared me for) and my legs began to seize. What followed was a torturous four point two miles during which I found it very hard to take in the scenery I had been so excited to enjoy. I noted trees and flowers and greenery on occasion, but the majority of my focus was on my legs and their intense disagreement with my pace. They fantasized about collapsing (just for a few minutes!) on the side of the road, where they could be calm and still. They shook and trembled in their quest to make me stop long before crossing the finish line. They made a pretty good point: I had not trained to go faster than a ten minute mile since returning from injury, nor had I run more than four miles since early January. I had every excuse to stop; this race was an experiment, after all, to see how I would hold up at a longer distance. If the experiment failed and I had to walk to the finish line, no one would think less of me and I could burrow under the guise of pain. 

For a brief moment, somewhere in the middle of this internal discussion about stopping, I did feel a phantom pain in my sacrum. “Aha!” I remember thinking, “here is my ticket out of this mess! I can’t be expected to finish now!” This was quickly followed, however, by the realization that I did not want to give up, I did did not want to stop. 

I concentrated on feeling strong in the places that weren’t my legs, which can were spent beyond control. I kept my back straight, my center of gravity pushed forward, my pelvis tilted up, my arms swinging across my body. If nothing else, my form did not deteriorate. 

For amusement, I read the signs posted along the course, which were rife with nature puns: “we are ROOTING for you”; “we know this race is a BEECH [tree] but you are looking great”; “we see that SPRING in your step”; “use those LIMBS”; “be-LEAF in yourself” (my personal favorite). 

I remembered all the emotional workouts I did during the two months I was injured to transform running from an activity of habit to one of spontaneity and joy. I remembered, too, the physical workouts I have completed in the two months since I have returned to running, growing strong and flexible to ward off new injury. I remembered to be grateful for the process, for the simple act of running, for the unexpected gift of my competitive fire. I knew if I stopped, no matter how good rest might feel in the moment, I would undo this effort. 

I slowed my pace as a concession to my legs, but I did not give up. I ran hard (for me, at this moment in time), I found the energy to sprint down the final stretch, and I finished almost ten minutes ahead of my original goal. My average pace was slower than that of my pre-injury slow runs. But rather than feeling bad for myself for my slowness, I was proud of how fast I have been in the past. My pre-injury body was amazing, almost without effort. I have appreciation now for my past accomplishments, most of which I had taken for granted. I was unable to appreciate my talent when it was normal. 

I am sore still. My legs really did not like those hills, but I am glad I raced and did not just run. I pushed myself. I stayed in the moment. I found new goals (to run an 8:30 mile again with ease) and I remembered that I can do hard work, even when my body and mind beg me to stop. 

Writing about running 

Until I began this blog, I did not write about running. Not even, as I mentioned last week, in my journals. The few attempts I did make to capture my feelings about running, were stilted and hyperbolic. And while I know I have been entranced by running for eighteen years, I also know my superlative-laced sentences do not accurately reflect the totality of my experiences with running. Sure, there have been many moments of elation, but there have also been many (if not more) moments of agony, of frustration, of sadness. That time my senior year of college, for example, when I didn’t make the team for the end-of-season championship races, is all sadness in my memory (and yet the experience is absent from my journals). 

Because there is no written record of my reactions, observations, or emotions surrounding running, I worry that the narrative I am creating now (running as an activity shrouded in joy and pride and fear and relief) is not accurate. I want to know the arc of this relationship. I want to remember how I felt after certain races, practices, and solo runs. I want to be sure the conclusions I am reaching about running and me are accurate. But my memories are selective and not specific. The emotional resonance of past runs has been distilled by time, and feels apocryphal.
Running has been an integral part of my identity since I was twelve; it was so integral, it escaped scrunity. Running was always there and was so close to my concept of self, I had no reason to dissect its role in my life. And, too, because running was my identity, failure at running meant failure at being myself, a possibility too painful to analyze. 

Further, and perhaps more accurate, any stress I had regarding running during high school and college was subsumed by concern about making friends. Running was a constant, my social life was not. Although running was often hard and often disappointing, it was always there. Friends, on the other hand, have always been hard for me to to find and keep. And part of learning how to make and keep friends was learning who I was in my own head. I constantly compared myself to others, and critiqued my actions in all situations. 
Writing helped me figure out where I fit into the world. And running allowed me to escape these all-consuming thoughts. 

Writing about running would have tainted it.
And so, the most important part of my life escaped analysis. 

Now, though, I feel it is time to connect running and writing as I purposefully rebuild my running practice to emphasize mindfulness. I do not want to run out of duty or habit. I want to run for the joy of movement. Joyful running is not my default, however, and so I will turn to writing to help me close the gaps between reality and aspiration. 
Running is a way to escape, writing is a way to understand why I want to escape. Running has been a sanctuary, too precious for words. But I don’t want it to be precious any longer. I want it to be vibrant, dynamic, vital. In this process of rebuilding, it is time to remove running from its pedestal and install it into my written explorations.

Hello, running, my old friend. Let’s sit down and figure out this life together.  

On eating and running and loving my body, part two 

Let’s just preface this by saying that again, definitively, I do not want to write. On the other hand, I have been looking forward to this since I stopped writing last week. So, I have a conflicted relationship with writing. It is my favorite outlet for my thoughts, even more so than running, which I usually use to escape the chattering mind. Still, it is so hard to confront these thoughts, the stupid imaginings, worries, memories, that I often push writing to the very last possible minute. I do not want to open that box, even though I know it will help, as it has all those times before, during the twenty-odd years I have been writing my feelings into solutions. In any event, I am here today to continue my story about eating.

By the time I reached high school, restriction was the norm. I was becoming familiar with and comfortable in hunger. I did not necessarily like being hungry, but it was the norm and accepted as such. That summer after middle school I looked forward to the heavy-legged exhaustion I felt post-run; this total lack of energy meant I was working hard, building strength, and readying myself for the rigors of varsity racing. Adding food into the mix gave me energy and eliminated this reminder of my exertion; food, therefore, was avoided as much as possible. I wasn’t interested in totally starving (part of my mind knew I couldn’t run and starve at the same time) and so I ate what I deemed minimal for survival, and minimal for parental acceptance.

That I was a runner made my skinny frame easier to rationalize.  Successful runners are thin by nature and by sport. Every time I was praised for my “runner’s legs” or “runner’s frame” my resolve to maintain this new physique solidified. (Until I began running long distances, no one had ever, to my memory, told me I looked like a runner, or athletic in any sense. I did not believe my parents and their friends when they told me my frame was natural, but was sure it was the result of hard work through exercise and restriction.)

In high school, adult supervision of my meals disappeared. I went to a boarding school in New England, thousands of miles from family and friends in Los Angeles. I want to emphasize that the boarding school did not create my disordered eating. It was already well engrained in my mind before I packed my bags and attempted this new, far-away life. To my knowledge, none of my close friends from this time developed eating disorders (although, of course, as in any high school they did exist).  I was also, again to my knowledge, the only member of the girl’s cross-country team during my four years to struggle with food. I was surrounded by supportive people (peers and adults); I simply was not ready to accept their help nor their theory that I needed to eat if I wanted to thrive.

The first day of cross-country pre-season, after my mom had unpacked my boxes and made my bed and kissed me goodbye and headed back to California, I realized there was a salad bar in the dining hall. I could eat vegetables upon vegetables and nothing else, if I so chose, and nobody would notice! The elation I felt at this epiphany remains vivid: control, my most sought-after state, was now possible at every meal. The presence of the salad bar meant, to me, that eating salads alone was socially sanctioned: they  (the intelligent and omnipotent powers of the school) would not have included a salad bar if they did not believe salads were valid meals, right?

It did not occur to me that my teammates might notice my veg-heavy meal. I was absolutely astounded when a new friend asked if that -pointing at my bowl of greens -was the entirety of my meal. (In fairness, the salad probably contained tofu and/or beans of some sort and so was not at nutritionally unbalanced as it might have been, but still I was fooling no one, especially not myself, with my claims to health.) I did not have a good reason to defend my meal, and in all likelihood stammered my way into embarrassment.

Even in my flustered state, however, I felt a sense of pride. I had more control than my friends. I could survive on less. I did not need food to run well. I am strong because I am not dependent on food. These were my beliefs and even as I felt myself falling into more destructive patterns of restriction (skipping meals, especially on weekends when I had more time alone), I clung to their words as my reinforcing mantra. What had started out as justifications changed to rules, unable to be broken. Restriction changed from a choice, a neat way to control a tiny space of my life, to a compulsion.

Friends pleaded with me to eat more than a salad, to eat more than half a sandwich, more than an orange. I wanted to listen but I couldn’t. The more I restricted the more I had to restrict to feel like myself.

The times when I gave in, when I had the cookie, the cake, the pizza, the cheese and crackers at the holiday dinner -I panicked. I would pay penance by eating nothing either before or after the binge (basically anything more than my safe foods of fruit, vegetables, maybe a bit of yogurt or cereal was considered a binge and even these could be labeled as such if I felt too full after eating). I never went whole days without food, but I was generally eating below my caloric and nutritional needs. My body was trying to sustain the massive growth of puberty along with a rigorous running schedule and I refused to give credence to either.

I don’t like to regret, but I often wonder how much I could have achieved if I had fed myself and loved myself during these years. I certainly would have been happier. But I was stubborn and refused to believe I was worthy, no matter what my friends, family members, or teachers said. I was not even swayed much by awards or leadership positions, although they did lessen my need for control for short periods of time.

And so I passed through high school without much confidence in my ability to do much more than study and run (and I even faltered in those pursuits more than once, especially when my need for control usurped my desire to perform).

Again, this post will be continued. I have never written this much about my relationship with food and it is just as difficult as I expected. Thank you, as always, for reading. 

On eating and running and loving my body, part one

*Trigger warning: this post will cover disordered eating, and my early experiences with restriction. 

I’m avoiding writing today because what I want to write about is scary. What I want to write about is personal. What I want to write about makes me feel vulnerable, naked, unnerved. What I want to write about is body size, weight, restriction, and recovery. This morning, after years of  heading toward recovery, I tried on a skirt that was once too big and is now barely the right size and I landed in a tailspin of shame. I try to tell myself that I love my body at any size, but I don’t know if that is totally true yet.  To process, I thought I’d share some of my story. My journey is still ongoing. 

When I was four, my dad declined to buy me the Cheeze-Its I requested, because they are unhealthy. In their place, he bought me pretzel thins, probably saltless, which tasted like cardboard. They sat in my mouth, refusing to be dissolved by saliva, or to be properly dismantled by my teeth. Flecks stuck to my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Health, I learned, was a burden, but was somehow preferably to cheesy, salty, delectable snacking. My first lesson. 

Around the time I was nine, my step-mom’s sister pulled me aside to feel how hard her legs were, from biking so much and subsisting on Trident sugarfree gum (the wrappers of which she scattered around the house, messy reminders of her strength) and on the boiled cabbage that had been filling our house with the smell of sulphur since her arrival. “Hit them,” she said. “They don’t jiggle at all. See? Feel?” And then we went on a bike ride. That night, I hit my own legs. They jiggled. My second lesson. 

I don’t know how much I weighed by the time I was ten, but I remember feeling like I was bigger than the other girls in my class. Not fat, and years away from puberty, but larger. I was never a skinny child. Strong, my mom told me. Well-proportioned. The hit-test on my thighs (which I soon performed regularly on myself in the shower, or whenever I needed to reinforce my inadequacy) told a different story. My legs jiggled. I was not enough. My third lesson.

By the time I was in sixth grade, I learned I could substitute my normal breakfast of a bagel and yogurt with my younger sister’s toddler-portioned containers of yogurt. I learned I was okay with part of a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I learned to leave the cheese off turkey and cheese sandwiches and to only use one slice of deli turkey. At family meals, and when I was at my mom’s house, I ate normally and so my restrictive habits went unnoticed. 

I became obsessed with stories of anorexic and bulimic women. I knew it was unhealthy, I knew the articles in teen magazines and the books about recovered actresses were meant to be cautionary: do not repeat our mistakes. But I wanted their strength. I wanted their willpower. I wanted to be skinny and cool enough to have a story of my own. 

In sixth grade I also discovered running. A friend suggested I take out the frustration I was feeling toward a teacher during our weekly timed mile in gym. The relief was almost instantaneous. I was hooked. I was the fastest girl, and relished the praise of my teacher. I had shunned sports before, and was always picked last for teams in elementary school. Being good at running took some (but certainly not all) of my attention away from food. If I ran, I figured, I deserved treats: a cookie, a scoop of ice cream, a soda.

In seventh grade, my friends convinced me to join an after-school running club, designed to keep kids off the street by training them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. I never intended to continue long enough for the marathon (I hadn’t run much more than a mile at a time by this point), but it was more entertaining than sitting around for hours waiting for someone to pick me up from school. But then I became hooked on increasing my mileage, and my strength. My legs hardened. I could see new muscles. The adults in my life began to comment with approval. My parents had a reason to brag (a twelve-year-old marathon runner is a unique conversation topic). I felt their pride. And I enjoyed my changing body.

Becoming vegetarian, also in seventh grade, was one more way to exert control. To keep myself from becoming fat. My decision was accepted without much fuss, as long as I promised to continue eating fish on occasion. I felt smug in my choice, powerful. I could abstain from meat. I could subsist on vegetables and ranch dressing, on salads with the dressing on the side, on soy protein powder in orange juice (horrible, horrible combination. Do not try this at home).

Still, part of me was worried about my weight, or increasing lack thereof. The rational bit at the back of my mind knew I was too thin and wanted hello. In eighth grade, after I had run the marathon, had begun running track on a club team, and had increased my mileage, strength and commitment to the sport, I was weighed in gym class. I was 5’5″ and 83 pounds. I commented to my teacher on my low weight and she replied that I had been running a lot and was fine, and gestured for the next student to step on the scale. 

A picture from around this time, taken at my then-best friend’s birthday party, shows me in a bikini top, twisted to the side, my torso all rib cage. My friend told me I looked like an alien. I felt pride at having whittled away so much flesh and embarrassment and not being able to feed myself enough to look human.  

My mom was worried, too, but I resented her questioning and encouragement to eat, and my weight and eating patterns only became fuel for fighting. If I ate the right amount at the right times, and compensated when I was away, peace was easier to maintain. And so I hid my restriction as much as possible, trading cake now for carrots later. 

There were moments of unabandoned indulgence, when I forgot I wanted to be skinny and just enjoyed being happy, like the day I found out I had been accepted into a boarding school far away from my family and in celebration ate half a pan of brownies before track practice (also the day I discovered the visiousness of side cramps as I struggled through two-mile repeats). Or the Cinnabon I devoured at the airport the day after competing in the Junior Olympics in South Carolina.

But those moments were rare, often tinged with shame, and always connected with running. 

**This is all I can handle for today. I will share the rest of my story next week. Thank you for reading.