I always knew my relationship with food wasn’t normal. From family functions to outings with friends to dates, I’d eat to avoid potential social awkwardness. I knew that if I kept putting food in my mouth, I wouldn’t have to engage in conversation where I’d undoubtedly say the wrong thing, be judged, or simply not fit in. This crutch of emotional eating silently hid in the shadows of my life, until a pandemic made me address it. This is my journey with food, and how running brought it all into focus.
My compulsions to eat followed me through high school and the rigor of the International Baccalaureate program into college and an undoubtedly difficult freshman year at the University of Delaware. Rather than addressing the root of the problem, be it my lack of friends, long-distance relationship, or difficult roommate, I ate. Usually Smartfood popcorn by the family-sized bagful, followed by something sweet of course (the dining halls’ red velvet cheesecake bars were to die for). Weight was put on, then taken off when I was home.
Around one year ago on my birthday, I looked at a photo of myself that a friend took. As I took in my appearance, I wondered, “Did I really look like this?” While my friends would tell me I was beautiful and didn’t need to worry about what I ate, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror or on the scale. I simply wasn’t happy. And so I vowed to myself that I would make a change for the better.
When December rolled around, I tried eating healthier and being active, but wasn’t seeing much of a difference. Like many people my age, I made concessions for eating junk food, telling myself I deserved it for hitting 10 or 20 thousand steps that day on my fitness tracker. This negative trend continued through January, when I studied abroad in Italy. My frivolous eating habits, lack of exercise, early mornings and late nights led to extreme exhaustion.
When returning to school in the beginning of February, I disliked my body even more than I had in November. As a highly emotional person, being separated from my family and returning to school causes a flood of emotions. That week, I went to the gym every day after class to kickstart my new exercise regimen. I was so proud to not cry due to homesickness, something I had done every time when leaving for school. And so, every week, I continued my efforts to eat healthy and exercise. This consisted of eating mostly vegan and gluten free and beginning to calorie count. It also included wearing the Fitbit daily, occasionally swimming and weight lifting with the club team, and going to the gym with a friend or two after our Friday classes.
Then COVID hit hard. Soon after, UD sent us home.
In the next couple of months, I suffered quite a bit. First a death in the family, followed by a breakup, and then an elderly relative moving in for an extended period of time. This caused a whirlwind of emotions, but I tried something new: I took all those emotions (the frustration and anger and sadness and much more) and put them into running. I had never liked running before, but obviously getting in a pool wasn’t an option, and the biking I had been doing wasn’t rigorous enough to show results. Well, it turns out that running was the best decision I could have made. Dare I say it has changed my life. Eight months and countless miles later, my life is forever changed. I am healthier, more fit, and more emotionally stable than I was last November. From then to now, I dropped roughly 10 pounds and ran more than 240 miles. Those 10 pounds encompass my journey with food and exercise. My relationship with food has drastically changed thanks to running. I now sit at the dinner table and actually think about if I am still hungry or if I just want to keep eating. I’m more aware. I no longer rely on the scale to define who I am; in fact, I can’t even remember the last time I checked my weight. Frankly speaking, I’m happier.
Trust me, if you had told me a year ago that all of this would be happening during a pandemic of all things, I would not believe you. But if this story has taught you anything, let it be that even the smallest of victories can come from an isolation. Running has given me something to work for every day, a reason to give back to my body through good food in proper portions. My relationship with food may always be a struggle, but hopefully with time, I will continue to mend and rebuild this mindset with every mile I run.