Why I Run

Published: August 20, 2014

We are all familiar with the saying “what goes up must come down,” but is the inverse also valid? A few years ago, my life was misery. Every time I failed I would punish myself by denying food; I wasn’t starving myself, but merely perfecting my emptiness. Since I rejected food, calories were forced down a feeding tube. All I could do was cringe, scream, and hate myself for not having authority over my own body because Anorexia had taken charge. Ironically enough, running literally saved my life.

In order to participate in track, I was obliged to reevaluate my body habits and alternate them to a healthy lifestyle. I focused on just gaining weight for my physical recovery and my sport’s requirements, but I yearned for a mental cleansing. I connected with nature with every stride and breath I took, and simultaneously my mind mused on what became my personal renaissance. I embarked on a new chapter of my life starting from rudimentary needs. I regained my appetite, my curved body, and a new self-esteem. I knew I had been blessed with survival.small_5329096956

Knowing that I had overcome a serious and fatal disorder, I developed an appreciation for life and an optimism for the future. A positive attitude helped me regain the natural balance of life in which both flaws and successes are part of the scales. Even though I still emphasized my studies, I was able to include running as an extracurricular activity to attain a healthy living and learning status. To me, it’s so much more than running on a bridge to nowhere, it’s running to a sacred place that only I can define. I understood and appreciated my body as I never thought I could. I wasn’t running from danger or running to safety. I was running to save my life.

I know I can’t erase the past, and I don’t think I would want to. From a mature perspective, the agonizing strife I conquered has only made me a better and stronger person. My eating disorder stripped away my naiveté; however, I also learned to be a human not defined by my imperfections, but rather enhanced by them. I was finally free from a demoralizing and controlled life governed by the self-destructive tendencies that are no longer part of me. Even though I lost some irreplaceable teenage years of my life, the experience of overcoming (and surviving) the brutal reality of anorexia through running is far more nurturing.

Watch the documentary on Mariana’s story here!

And a little something from Dr.Cynthia Bulik….

One of the amazing aspects of my job is how many people share their incredible recovery stories with me. This one came across by inbox last week and Mariana asked if we could help her spread her story. This documentary was created by Kylie McCoy at the UNC School of Journalism (Broadcasting) and portrays how running contributed to Mariana’s recovery and her transformed relationship with her body and with life. The story is a particularly timely one as many researchers and clinicians are working toward understanding the role that athletics can and should play in the lives of recovered individuals. We often hear stories about who various sports contribute to the development of eating disorders, but it is less common to hear how sports can contribute to  recovery. I thought about this during the 2014 Winter Olympics watching Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki show incredible joy on the ice.  She developed anorexia nervosa when she went away to university and missed an entire competitive season. She credits the joy of skating and the sound of the crowd being behind her to her recovery. Receiving Mariana’s story and documentary in my inbox reminded me of this experience and helped me to realize that this is a topic that we need to discuss more often and need more data on to help guide athletes who suffer from eating disorders determine whether they can incorporated their sport back into their life and to help them see the warning signs regarding when it might be contributing to ongoing symptoms or relapse. My gratitude to Kylie for making this documentary and to Mariana for allowing us to share her story.

photo credit: ashraful kadir via Creative Commons

photo credit: San Diego via Creative Commons