Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Lessons Learned From Running

As a kid I hated running.  Makes sense, right?  I was the fat kid.  The fat kid and the Presidential Fitness Run do not get along.  In high school I dreaded the 1st and 4th quarters because it meant our gym teachers would take us out once a week to run 3/4 of a mile.  It wasn’t even a full mile and it still took me nearly the whole period to complete it.  I was always the last one to finish.
One time during my junior year on one of these ¾ milers I was by far the last one.  My friends in the class, as a show of support, began cheering and clapping for me.  I ran the last 100 meters under the guise that their support helped me run a little harder.  The truth is I wanted to get them to shut up quicker.  I hated having all eyes on me as the last one to finish.  I felt so bad I nearly started crying, but being fat in high school is bad enough, I didn’t need to be labeled as a cry baby as well.  I held the tears in and pretended to appreciate the cheers.
Even with my disdain for running, I often secretly wished to become a “runner.”  Every time I attempted to lose weight I pictured myself crossing the finish line of a marathon, or at least a 5k.  This time is no different.  For the past few years I have been running off and on.  Since I moved back to New Jersey I started running around the neighborhood I live and then I found a trail close to home that’s great because it’s flat.  I don’t do hills-yet.  I don’t run great distances or fast, but I run (or jog if you want to get technical), and I have learned a few lessons as a result.
1. Music makes it all better.  I love music.  On my MP3 player (yeah mp3 not an IPod) I have all types of music: hip-hop, R&B, rock, dance, pop, alternative, neo-soul.  In the past I often heard of the healing powers of music.  Going through a breakup?  Put on some breakup music.  Experiencing one of life’s hard times- nothing like the blues.  For me, I came to music’s healing potential while trying to push myself to run just a little farther.  If I can make it through this Beyonce song then my time while be up or almost up.  These days I often turn my music all the way up and blast Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Eminem, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5 and whoever else I am in the mood for.  Music gets me into the zone, plain and simple.
2. Clothes can make the runner. The seasons are changing in my neck of the woods.  Meaning that instead of it being 80 degrees at 7 o’clock in the morning it is now around 55 and the other day it was in the 40s (WTF?).  Since I have moved a couple of times in the last few months I have lost much of the outerwear I had that I preferred to run in.  To remedy this I took a trip to Target yesterday to purchase a new running jacket.  I bought a hot pink zip up hoodie.  Wearing that hoodie for the first time this morning was most likely the only reason I got up this morning to run.  Hot pink is and has always been my favorite color and not to brag, but it looks damn cute on me.  While running I knew I wasn’t the fastest or skinniest runner on the trail, but my new hoodie made me feel like the cutest and that gave me more confidence to keep going. 
3. The power of positive thinking.  In most of my day to day life I often have a negative dialogue going on with myself.  “You’re too fat,” “You can’t do that,” “You’re not smart enough”- and these are some of the nicer comments.  A couple of years ago I was on the treadmill and struggling to keep going.  The negative self talk was playing louder than my music and I wanted to stop.  I consciously made a decision to tell myself I could do it.  I started saying things like “Good job Tiff”  “You are doing so good” “Just a little further to go” “You can do it.”  As cheesy as these comments may seem I could actually feel myself stand up a little straighter and relax just enough to let me continue running.  Since then, I often encourage myself while running telling myself I am doing a great job or saying things like “You could have never done this five years ago- keep it up!”  I am working on transferring this kind of self-talk into my life outside of running.
4. Your core is more than stomach muscles.  This may seem like common sense to some, but it wasn’t to me.  When I first started increasing my running times- from say 15 seconds to a full minute (seriously), shortly thereafter I would get this pain in my lower back.  I thought it just meant I needed to stretch, but after doing some research (i.e. googling “lower back pain after running”) I discovered it could be an indicator of weak core muscles.  Why would that affect my back? I wondered.  Well it turns out the core includes your abs, as well as, the lower back.  The core is the band of muscles that extend all the way around: front, sides, and back.  While running all these muscles take a pounding and since most people neglect their back while trying to build core strength these muscles tend to be weaker.  Once I found this out I began doing strength exercises to build the muscles of my lower back.  Guess what happened?  The back pain disappeared!  Lately, I have been slacking off because my lower back has been complaining after I run.  Back to working on those lower back muscles.  Sometimes I need to learn things more than once in order for it to stick!
5. Endorphins are God’s gift to those of us who choose not to indulge in illegal narcotics.  Before I ever experienced it for myself I had heard of runner’s high.  I never believed it would happen to me.  I had also heard that exercise is ideal for those suffering from depression because of the endorphin rush.  As someone who has suffered from depression for years (that’s another post for another day) I thought maybe it could be beneficial for me.  When I began working out I didn’t really experience anything.  Even once I started adding running to my workout I didn’t feel much.  Then, out of nowhere, one day I felt it.  After running on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes I would feel invincible or at least like I could take on the rest of the day.  I have yet to experience “runner’s high” while actually running, but I am betting that is coming.  For now, I can settle for the rush I get after my run/walk/workout. 
I am sure this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lessons learned from running.  I am anxious to see what comes next.  Maybe patience?
Have you learned anything from running or any other activity you do?    

Monday, September 12, 2011

What the Ten Year Anniversary of 9/11 Taught Me

This was going to be a different post.  I planned to write about something else, but then yesterday happened.  As you all know, yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I remember exactly where I was that morning ten years ago and I remember everything I felt that day.  Therefore, I decided I was going to avoid coverage of the anniversary.  I felt as if the media were sensationalizing the events of that day.  I watched a little bit of the memorial dedication in the morning and did not turn the tv back on all day.  At 8 o’clock last night I finally caved in and watched a documentary of a group of firemen who were there on that day.
 I had seen this particular documentary before, but I couldn’t look away.  As I watched I thought about the lives that were lost that day and about the town that I live in now.  I live in a commuter town where a number of people commute to New York City on a daily basis.  Within close proximity of my home there are two buses, a ferry, and a train station all leading to New York.  My town is known as the town with the highest number of September 11th casualties for any town outside of New York.  There is a memorial at the train station dedicated to those from this town who perished on that day.  I’ve been there.  The saddest part is imagining these people waiting for their train to come, going to work, sitting at their desk, and then never making it home.  They simply went to work and never came back. 
At this point it sounds cliché, but that is the truth.  It was an ordinary day.  But how many times has this happened?  Someone goes to work or out to run an errand and never returns having gotten into a car accident or something like that.  What makes Septemember 11th so tough, for me, is that so many lives were lost and the most horrific part was, this was no accident.  Human beings plotted and carried these attacks out against other human beings.  I still cannot comprehend it ten years later.
As I watched that documentary yesterday a thought kept creeping into my mind: I want my life to mean more.  If nothing else, these attacks show us how precarious life is.  I am sure many of those people that died had plans to have dinner with friends that night, or see a movie, or go on a weekend trip and they never made it.  How many do you think kept thinking “someday I will (fill in the blank)” and never got to do it? 
For me this anniversary shone a mirror to my face.  Life is uncertain.  There are many things I have been putting off until “I had more money” or “I was ready” or (my personal favorite) “Once I lose weight.”  In doing and saying these things I put my life on hold.  I tricked myself into believing I had more time than I actually do, because I don’t know how much time I have.  None of us do.  It’s scary to think of one’s own death.  None of us wants to do it.  So we keep living on autopilot as though that will keep us safe from dying.  I read a quote once that sums it up this way: “Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.” 
For a long time I have done this.  I kept telling myself, once I graduate high school and go to college I will start to live, then it became once I graduate college and start working I will being to live, then it was once I find the right career, and it has ALWAYS been once I lose weight I will live.  Yesterday, was a reminder that I don’t have that kind of time.  If I want to do or be something then I need to start doing and being it now because right now is where life is.  There are many things that I have put off for tomorrow and now I plan to start working on them today.  Here’s a list of things I have always wanted to do but kept putting off:
1. Become better with my personal finances
2. Run the Broad Street Run 10 miler- in Philadelphia
3. Learn to swim
4. Travel more and live abroad (again)
5. Get married and have a family
6. Forgive people from my past
7. Forgive and love myself
8. Go camping
These are just a few, but it’s a great start.  Do you have a list of things you have been putting off?     

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome to my Blog!

My name is Tiffany, and I am a compulsive overeater.
After nearly four years in recovery I still flinch at this statement.  I am a member of a Twelve Step program and, in therapy off and on for the last four years. I continue to work on my eating habits, and more importantly the reasons behind them.  I don’t have all the answers, yet, but I do have some, and with them came a lot of personal growth.  My continued recovery is dependent upon  sharing and connecting with other women, especially black women, who are going through the same thing.
If you would have told me a few years ago that I would confess to having an Eating Disorder (ED) I would have laughed in your face.  “I don’t starve myself or throw up,” I would have said.  I eat too damn much!” what I’d really be thinking. Not to mention the fact that I am a black woman.  No, we don’t get Eating Disorders.(Ha!)
 As a teenager, I remember watching Lifetime movies about girls who wouldn’t eat or who would make themselves throw up.  I came to know these disorders as anorexia or bulimia.  The characters in those movies were always white and always skinny, therefore in my mind, only white women struggle with eating disorders.  I just didn’t fall into that category.
I, and many other black women, grew up in an environment that said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with having a little extra meat on your bones’ or being ‘thick’ was thought of as sexy.  However, I didn’t have a little extra meat on my bones, nor was I ‘thick’.  I was fat, plain and simple. 
Fast forward a few years. It was not until after undergrad when I finally decided that I wanted to lose weight-this time for good.  However, this time I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.  I tried numerous times before and failed.  My periods of restricting often lead to days of bingeing on everything I had denied myself in the weeks or months preceding.  Fortunately, I found a therapist whom I met with weekly, who encouraged me to go to a 12 Step Program.  I did, only to oblige her.  I ended up staying in the Program even after my relationship with that particular therapist ended.  I stayed and found out that I have an eating disorder.  It’s called Compulsive Overeating.  I also found out that I wasn’t the only black woman with an eating disorder.  Until the last few years I had never even entertained the thought that I could have an eating disorder.
I learned that an eating disorder is not determined by my weight or color, but by my relationship with food.  Eating in excess of my body’s needs, sneaking food, restricting food, over exercising are all symptoms of an eating disorder.  However, the most important piece I learned is that, the eating disorder itself is merely a symptom.  Overeating, for me, has allowed me to ignore aspects of my life that I rather not deal with and stuff down emotions I didn’t know how to handle.  Restricting also allowed me this opportunity.  If I was focused on what I could not eat, and how many hours of exercise I got in that day, then I wouldn’t be thinking about other areas of my life that were out of my control.  This is why It’s Not About the Food- it never was. 
Over the last few years I learned to pick up the phone and call a friend when I am feeling sad, anxious, or angry.  I learned that there are many things in my life, and in the world at large, that I am completely powerless over, but how I react to these things is well within my power.  I can choose to eat over them, or I can cry, talk to a friend, write in my journal, pray, or (and this is the most difficult) sit with it. 
This blog is a renewed commitment to my recovery.  I invite you to join me, and I look forward to hearing about the ups and downs of your own journey.