Last Sunday, I was approached by the Beirut Marathon Association to write about my relationship with running. At first, I hesitated about writing it, because, to tell the truth – it is a personal story. It’s one I don’t normally share, and posting it directly on social media might be a stretch. Then I thought, maybe sharing my story will make someone else will think differently about a late night jog every once in a while, or will think twice about drowning their emotions in empty food.
So this isn’t just another post on calories and health. This is my personal story.
I am not what a runner looks like.
I am not quite the runner at all.
I am, though, the spirit of running, and these are the confessions of a dietitian.
From the young age of 13, all I remember about my teenage years is body image and dieting. I grew up perpetually on a diet, and perpetually dreading the scale. I hated going to the beach, I avoided gym class because they forced us into wearing pants and I LOVED that the “abaya” (the traditional/cultural outer covering obligatory for women in Saudi Arabia where I grew up) covered all the insecurities underneath it.
At 16, the weight came off after a struggle with protein diets and unhealthy eating habits. My mother’s sixth sense alerted her, and she encouraged me to read about the macrobiotic diet – organic eating; wholesome eating. Little did I know though that such a small step would amount to a life career. Looking back, I think my life has always been about these baby steps that have opened different doors for me. Infact, this is the motto that I live by now, and the motto I pass on to my patients – make changes, one baby step at a time.
In university, the stress of moving to a new country and to the university’s course load often meant nights of binge eating and diet pills. Yes, diet pills. This is NOT your average dietitian, and this is why I can relate. I am the tired story of so many young women, and I have made the change – the change into a better lifestyle which includes a lot of good healthy food, and an even better attitude. You don’t have to constantly count calories, or dread the scale, and most certainly you don’t need diet pills – all it takes is willpower, and a road.
It was an accumulation of reasons- education, friends, getting acclimated to Lebanon- that led me to just open the door one late night and go for a jog. Quite literally, one night, after having gone through a stressful day, I decided this time, I would not just eat my anger away, I would jog it away. I still remember it was around 11pm, and I was frustrated. Typically back then, I would drown my anger in chocolate, so, instead, I played a trick on my mind. I decided that if I wanted chocolate, I would walk to the 24/7 shop that is 25 minutes away from my house, instead of the supermarket that is 2 minutes away. If after I got there I still felt like chocolate would be the answer to all my problems, I would buy it. I put on my training pants and running shoes, and let my body take the lead. The road was welcoming, like I was a long lost companion, and my legs complied. I ran – steadily and slowly – for 20 minutes till my head cleared out. It was new and exhilarating, and every push helped me clear out the anger, clear out the anxiety, and the best part? It left me with no cravings, no bad aftertaste – that bitterness of a late night cheat meal you’re using as a “abaya” to cover up insecurities underneath.
That was 2006.
Today I run because I know better, because I owe it to my body, because I need to give thanks to the road that has been a good companion across the years.
Today I run because health is a lifestyle, because it is MY lifestyle.
Today I run because, for me, it is not about the finish line, it’s about the distance.
Today I run because, even if I may not look it, I AM a runner.