I have another secret. I was not always skinny.
My first coach describes me showing up to my first workout as a chubby kid from somewhere in Nova Scotia. I was not fat and my BMI was within the normal range although possibly on the higher side. When I looked around I noticed that everyone else was skinny. Four percent body fat skinny.
When I was growing up I was not thin. I was a bit on the chubby side and during my first undergraduate degree I gained the dreaded freshman 15 (or 20...). My family, in their infinite kindness and supportive nature, teased me and told me how fat I was getting. I remember one particular Easter when my older brother wanted me to move my chair. His command to me was "move over fatty". This would normally be an innocuous statement to be ignored, as my brother was quite an asshole. What made this particular comment hard to ignore was the uproarious laughter it garnered from my family. As I began to get myself in shape and lose weight I had some dry kindling to fuel disordered eating. The only thing I needed was a match.
Joining a university cross country team not only provided the match to ignite disordered eating but also the bellows. The culture of distance running is obsessive. When one runs at a certain level life becomes running. When I was in university I lived with runners or swimmers, my friends were runners or athletes, social activities were with teammates and many meals were shared with running teammates. Life becomes about running faster and getting better. The most important part of the year is the championship race and making it to CIS nationals. As life becomes running and training and racing faster, priorities change and behaviours that would at one time be seen as outrageous become the norm. When I saw myself getting beaten by guys who were skinnier and who ate less, there was motivation to lose weight to race fast. I am a quick study and when I started running I noticed a big difference between me and the other guys on the team, I was fat.
To get faster and combat my 'obesity' I changed my diet and began eating 'healthy' as well as increasing my mileage while adding extra workouts. Initially my diet changes were beneficial as I was eating more whole foods, less processed food and less saturated fat. As I began to lose more weight and run faster, as well as get positive feedback from teammates, I began to want to lose more and more weight. This is not an uncommon pattern in the world of disordered eating.
After my first year of running I lost approximately 10 pounds from an already trim frame. I can remember one of my former teammates running up to me after the first race of my second season with my university cross country team. Her first comment to me was one of excitement that I had 'gotten skinny!'. I was also running much better moving from non-scoring member to being in the top 5 of my team. I was delighted with my run and even more motivated to lose weight over the course of the cross country season to be 'fit' for our conference championships. My diet was so restricted by the time our championships came along that I was unable to sleep and could barely climb a flight of stairs, yet we won with me as a scoring member of the team.
My disordered eating continued for the next year. As I got faster and leaner I also learned how to fuel my body so that I could eat as little as possible while still being able to train. I would have a small snack (a piece of dry toast) and a big cup of coffee before workouts to provide energy. During the day I would constantly eat small nutritious snacks that were not enough to fuel a normal person let alone a young man training 70 to 80 miles a week. Amongst the starvation I would binge on Friday nights and Saturdays. We raced on Saturday and I needed the energy to race well. Saturday night was the purge followed by a long run purge on Sunday. I was now both the 'fattest' and the fastest on the team. I could see the proof in my running performance that leaner and fucked up eating are the way to get fast.
At this point in my running I had been with my university team for 3 cross country seasons. I had a few incidents during my season that were distressing to me and I was not happy with my progression despite being conference all star and winning an AUS league cross country race. I was also frustrated being closeted and very lonely. I was pretending badly to be straight and not liking it. At that moment I had the opportunity to take an exchange trip to England to study and train. I jumped at the chance to move to England for a winter to train hard, finally get to my goal weight of less than 120 pounds, and try being gay. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster.
My disordered eating in Canada became total eating disorder in the UK. I was running between 70 and 90 miles a week in double workouts daily while restricting my calorie intake drastically. I could not sleep, did not have bowel movements, had no energy and was miserable. I did not take advantage of what a new country had to offer and spent my time training and trying to rest. There was no scale or full length mirror where I was staying so I could not see the damage. One fateful weekend I made a trip to London to meet a friend. I got a shower upon arriving at his place and when climbing out of the shower I saw my body for the first time in 2 months. I was skeletal. I was shocked by what I saw and scared of what I had done to my body.
I immediately went out and ate the best donut I have ever tasted, and did not purge.
I began eating again and started to regain a bit of normalcy. By the time my voyage home was upon me I was back to my disordered ways, though better able to manage my obsessive tendencies. For the remainder of my time running in university I maintained my obsessive relationship with food and perseverated over every bite of food that went into my body. I continued to get faster and everyone else was still doing it. I was still normal.
What shocks me now, as I weigh 10 pounds heavier than I did in university, is how I still felt fat most of the time I was in university. I cringe when I think of the misery I exacted on myself and how the deep seated message from youth maintained such a strong hold in my mind. Since graduating from university and living in the real world I have developed a much healthier relationship with food. I believe eating more and better enabled me to continue to improve with my running performance. I had the energy to train and prevent energy. Although I have a healthier relationship with food I have maintained a portion of my obsession with being thin and lean.
There are certain aspects of my body that give me comfort. The feel of my cervical spine, feeling my hip bones protruding as I lay in bed, the spot under my chin I cannot shave, the look of my back ribs through a t-shirt all give me comfort and make me feel good about myself. Being thin and lean and fit make me feel good about myself. I am struggling trying to be happy with gaining weight.
Tonight when I put on my Speedo it felt a bit tighter than usual. My suit was not baggy in the bum as I have grown accustomed to feeling. I felt like my ass was being squished over the edge of my elasticized leg holes. A reverse muffin top. Of course this is my imagination but it makes me wonder how I am going to cope when I actually start gaining weight. My shorts were even a bit more tight than I am used to.
I want to be muscly and manly. I do not want to be the skinny runner anymore. Although I do not want to be the skinny runner I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a layer of fat and muscles. It is nearly impossible for me to foresee the results of eating copious amounts of food and lifting crazy amounts of weights. I have no frame of reference to draw from. I am terrified of getting fat.
In the end I know I will not ever gain a huge amount of weight and nor will I ever be Mr. Universe. I will somehow have to gain comfort in my body without drawing self worth from the sight of my ribs through my shirt or the space between my quads. This will be a difficult journey.
Weights start on Wednesday. Time to somehow become a meat head!
One last note. Download Sufjan Stevens lastest EP entitled 'All Delighted People'. I have been looping it all weekend and I am in love. He is playing in Vancouver in October and I have tickets and I cannot wait! The first tune is called All Delighted People and it is over 10 minutes long. There is so much complexity and depth to his music it defies description or classification. I cannot accurately describe his work and give it justice. The only thing I can describe is how it makes me feel. When I listen to this EP I feel joyous and happy and confused. And he is hot!