aka Why do you walk when you run? I thought real runners don’t walk.
aka How will you feel about your body if and when you put on weight?
One thing I haven’t talked much about is how my relationship with my body has changed. I have gone from trying to turn it into a machine, running every day, freaking out and potentially binging if I didn’t, routinely lifting weights and doing situps and pushups, to a much more intuitive way of working with my body.
I hardly run at all anymore. If I do, I usually walk part way through.
Gasp! This is sacrilege!
Trust me I know. I have definitely had the thought, and admittedly said outloud, ‘real runners don’t walk.’
That was my MO when my identity was that of a ‘runner’. Call what I did a ‘jog’ and you got ‘the look’ from a pair of devil eyes.
Runners RUN. They do not jog. And they most certainly do not walk.
This was my mentality when my self-worth was tied to how far and how fast I ran. Stopping to catch my breath was a sign of weakness. Stopping to smell the roses, not an option.
As I started to slowly lighten up with food, I similarly did about running. By the time I moved to the UK I was less rigid about running. I was playing soccer, going to spin class, and yoga.
While I was mixing it up, running was still my go-to activity for weight management and I suppose, grounding me.
When I moved to London, I quickly learned that ‘running’ and ‘working out’ is a whole different thing compared to NY. The city itself has a different vibe. The energy is different. People aren’t so driven, Type-A, on a mission.
In NYC pretty much every Manhattanite I knew had a gym membership. Its what you did, no question. Like paying City taxes.
In London, if pub memberships were an option, every Londoner would have one.
In NYC, as a runner, you had to be tight and toned; low percentage of body fat, cut muscles, as well as having the latest gear. Running around Central Park was like performing on a catwalk.
In London, people wobble and jiggle when they run. This was literally a foreign concept to me.
The only time I had known anything different was when I met this one woman in NY who carried probably 20lbs more than the average runner. Her legs were stocky and muscular, vs sleek and toned. Her arms had very little definition and her belly had fat rolls.
Yet she kicked my ass in every race we ever entered, including the marathon.
This challenged my whole paradigm. You could be fat AND a runner?
Not that I embraced the idea. Guilty as charged, I was extremely judgemental of other women’s bodies. Finding faults in others helped me feel better about my own body. Not something I’m proud of but true.
I remember walking to work one morning with my boyfriend at the time and asking him if my ass jiggled like HERS did.
Jiggles, wiggles, and wobbly bits did not fit into my idea of ‘acceptable’ for a runner, and for me. I was on a mission to eradicate any evidence of cottage cheese remnants on my body.
I jiggle all the time now. As my hardened attitude towards my body has softened, so has my body.
As my patterns with food changed, I ended up gaining weight. At first due to binging without purging. And I kept some of the weight on as I learned how to eat ‘normally’ again ie have an inclusive diet where everything was permissible. Be able to eat donuts, cheese on pizza, and burgers and fries without fear of gaining weight.
While you might not want to hear that weight gain was a part of the story, the reality is that by the time it happened, I was OK with it.
Letting go of the fear of fat, and letting myself put on weight was an integral part of my recovery and healing. I believe I had to experience the weight gain so I could fully believe the True You Truth of ‘I am not defined by what my body looks like.’
Saying that, for many years I still had this idea that I had to be running or working out consistently. It became less about my weight, and more of a habit, part of my identity that this is ‘what I did’. I would wake up each morning with the thought, ‘I have to go for a run today’, even if I had no intention of actually fitting it into my schedule.
But, like an addiction, the thought was still there, and I still saw myself as a runner. Even when I barely ran 15 miles a week.
8 years ago when I was living in London, and was one of the few Londoners I knew with a gym membership, I was running home from the gym and I had to stop and walk because I was in so much physical pain. My right knee couldn’t take the pounding without sending a lightning bolt charge through my body.
Turns out I had/have loose cartilage in between my knee and femur. The doctor said if I strengthened my quad muscles enough I’d be able to run again, but the immediate prescription was stop running, stop cycling, and do static strengthening exercises, like lie on my back and hold my leg in the air (yawn).
I was devastated at first, what? No more running?
Funnily enough though, my desire to get to the point where I could run again wasn’t strong enough to keep up with those boring exercises. I gave it a go at first, but quickly put them to the side.
I found satisfaction in what my body could do instead. Walking. It was my first foray into ‘slowing down’. Noticing the detail of the world around me that I used to whiz by.
I would cycle to work occasionally, but for 3.5 years, my physically activity pretty much came to a halt.
And I didn’t care.
I wasn’t worried about what I was eating, or how much, or trying to make up for the lack of exercise. I stopped having the false expectation that I would run today.
Another aspect of the healing that came after the bulimia was gone.
And crazily enough, I lost weight.
It was as if my body knew what was best for me, literally bringing me to my knees, to get me to give up trying to control it. And once it took over, it knew exactly what was best for me then too. It found it’s natural set point, with me literally doing nothing.
Leading up to our wedding, I did a 6 week yoga course.
The classes were very slow paced, the focus on settling into one pose at a time vs moving through a series of poses. The whole point was to slow down and be still, an idea I still hadn’t fully embraced, especially if I was paying to go to a class.
I wanted to be paying for exertion, sweat, and a raised heart rate.
But it was exactly what I needed. It set the foundation for me to reconnect to movement with my body. To listen in to what it wants, needs, and craves.
I now choose activities that my whole being is craving.
Sometimes, although rarely, it is a run. Or should I say jog. Because these days it is most definitely a jog 🙂
Sometimes it’s a bike ride, challenging my cardiovascular system and my thighs over the undulating hills where I live.
Often it is a walk outside, filling my lungs with fresh air and my mind with fresh ideas.
And each week, if not day, it will involve some degree of yoga.
What I love about yoga is that I end up connecting to parts of my body that I never knew existed before. I never knew I have little tiny muscles in between my ribs!
I love doing a simple forward bend, and feeling the ripple effect from my hamstrings, to my lower back, to upper back, shoulders, and my neck.
When I first started doing yoga, I didn’t have an experience of this level of connection. I would do a ‘hamstring stretch’ before or after a run and I wouldn’t notice anything else going on in my body.
My understanding of my body was one of isolation. Everything working separately.
The connections I feel while doing yoga help me to connect to the shell I had been living in for almost 30 years. And whenever I am feeling tight in my body or my soul, you will find me doing one pose or another to feel again.
I’ve also found dance as a liberating form of movement. But for me, dance is less about connecting in and more about expression, and a form of play.
If you asked my 25 year old self to describe my 35 year old body, I would probably tell you that it is ‘out of shape’ right now.
Such a funny expression.
Out of shape? What shape, pray may I ask, am I actually supposed to be in? Square, rectangle or triangle?
How about, I am in the shape of my body. And the shape and fitness of my body is enough for it to do what it needs to do today.
I am happy with my body right now. I like the way it looks, even though it’s less muscle-y than it used to be.
I like the way it works, even though I get out breath quicker than I used to.
I’m also aware that the shape and size of my body is generally seen as attractive by the world’s standards, and so I often wonder, how will I feel about my body if and when I put on weight again.
My answer is: I don’t know. But I hope that, so long as I still stay connected to my body, that I will still love it.
And I know I will be reminding myself of how my body got me to where I am today.
Of how it knew best about what I needed to let go of control, over the years. Of how it has adapted to different levels of physical activity since then, and how it seems to intuitively know what kind of movement it needs on any given day, including some days where there is very little movement at all.
The word trust comes to mind:
I can’t say how I’ll feel, but I will continue to trust my body.
Whatever shape or size.
Something to think about: What is your relationship to your body like? What do you want it to be like? How can you let go of some control over it and let it do its thing? What does trusting your body mean?
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