When I was 18 I was squeezing into size 14 clothes, snacking on burgers, Chinese takeaways and whole tubs of Ben & Jerry’s, and feeling suitably comfortable in my skin. I was curvy, had a boyfriend and was quite happy.
But I caught the flu over winter which left me with bronchitis, which then led to my first bout of pleurisy (the lining of the lungs becomes infected and inflated, meaning they can’t move up and down smoothly. I’m already asthmatic so it made breathing a bit of an issue!). I was treated with penicillin which gave me a severe allergic reaction, and that then led to kidney problems.
So, I was sick for a long time and ended up accidentally losing three stone. I didn’t even notice until I returned to school and found that my uniform was far too loose, basically hanging off me. I’d dropped down to almost a size 6. Friends, classmates and teachers all commented, and sadly I think that their compliments were the start of a long, unhealthy relationship with food. People were quick to tell me how amazing I looked - so much better, so much healthier, so much nicer in new clothes. At our Sixth Form leaving assembly I was awarded ‘Shrinking Woman of the Year’ and given a certificate, with our Head of Year praising me for doing so well.
It dawned on me that I must have looked hideous before, that I had obviously not been attractive or acceptable, and that being slim had gained me some weird sort of respect. I honestly don’t recall feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious prior to my bout of illness and had always tucked into food without thought. But now, I felt a pressure to remain small.
I’m not naturally slim and can’t get away with eating anything I want. So, maintaining a size 8 figure for the last twelve years has not been easy by any means.
When I lived alone in my mid-twenties I would never eat dinner – I’d just have a cup of tea if I was hungry, because I knew it was only 11 calories. I’ve been through stages of making myself sick after eating big meals because the guilt and full stomach were too much to bear, and used to keep track of everything that went into my mouth, including chewing gum, using the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app. I obsessed, counted calories, and would never order takeaways (I still don’t and haven’t had a Chinese takeaway since I was 18). Living alone was actually a big trigger in fuelling my terrible attitude towards food because there was no-one around to tempt me, remind me to eat or cook for me, and I could get away with not eating. I almost always had an empty fridge and avoided meals out.
My ex-fiancé was a marathon runner and I was inspired to try the hobby after supporting him at events. I loved it and have been running ever since. Running has nothing to do with losing/maintaining weight – I run because it relieves stress, clears my head, makes me happy, challenges me and provides a ‘time out’.
But, my relationship with food was really bad after my father unexpectedly died in 2014 – I had lost my appetite anyway but relished in not eating. I was living alone then and had to stop running for a while because I wasn’t fuelling my body and didn’t have the energy to exercise, which made me feel even worse. This photo was taken about six weeks after dad passed away, on the day of the July British 10K in London. I struggled around the course, nearly fainted at the end and cried on the way home. That was really tough and a bit of a wake-up call: I knew that I didn't have enough nutrients inside me. I realised that I need to fuel my body adequately in order to continue doing my favourite hobby.
I moved in with mum temporarily and signed up to many more running events, using them as a reason to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. I started to read running magazines and tried to integrate with the running community on Twitter and Instagram, to increase my learnings of what and when to eat effectively around running. I learnt about carb-loading, energy gels, healthy fats, protein.
Right now I’m the ‘heaviest’ I’ve been since I was 18. I do still battle with myself and feel ‘overweight’ and uncomfortable some days – sadly, eating disorders don’t just disappear. However, I completed 26.2 miles for the first time at the Brighton Marathon in April this year, and LOVED it. I’ve already signed up for the 2019 event and can’t wait to complete it again. The feeling of accomplishment, pride and actually just sheer happiness after crossing that finish line was something that can’t be measured, and there’s no way I want to be in a position again whereby I have to stop running because I’m not fuelling my body effectively.
I often wonder what would have been different if I hadn’t been so ill when I was 18 and if people had worded their lovely comments a bit differently. It’s so easy to say to someone: “Wow you look so much better!” but in my case, that unintentionally altered my perceptions, changed my relationship with food and started almost a fear of returning to my old size 14.
Running has been my focus and I’m not actually sure where I’d be without it. I’m super excited to be taking part in Runr’s ‘Miles for Mind’ challenge during May 2018 because it’s just so relevant and for a brilliant cause.
Here’s to many more years of being a Runr!