Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's Not the Calories, Stupid

This post has been a long time coming.

I think we're on the same page, most of us.  Probably if you read this blog, you like running, or roses, or fake blonde girls, or the Gentleman.  You probably don't like deprivation, and self-torture, especially in the form of running even though you don't like to, for the sole purpose of burning calories.

For those of you who do like that, or are trapped by a voice in your head that makes you run for that purpose, I'm sorry, I hope you conquer that, and this post means no disrespect.

Well my friends, there is a lie out there in the world that many people I meet on a daily basis seem to believe is the truth. 

These people believe, without a doubt, with full conviction, that the only possible reason that anyone runs distances longer than one block, is to burn calories.  To keep their lady-like figure.  Let's take a journey through time.

Scenario 1:
New years day.  The year is irrelevant.  I happen to go out for a run that day, somewhere around 10:00 a.m., because I run 4-6 days a week, every week, and this happened to be one of those days.  Odds are in that favor.  I'm in my hometown of Napa.

Dude drives by that I know from growing up in Napa, and shouts out his window, "Is your New Years resolution to lose weight?!?" and drives away.

No you f-cking idiot, look at me.  I'm skinny.  And sometimes I eat while I run.  Sometimes I wake up at 5:00 a.m. so I can eat sugar, just so I can run.  I HAVE TO EAT THREE BLOODY DINNERS because I'm so hungry all the time due to that fact that I run. 

If my New Years resolution was to lose weight, I would go pay $49983459 to Tracy Anderson and eat macrobiotic kale chips for lunch, tea for breakfast, and dry fish for dinner.  I would not go on a two hour run.  I will eat EVERYTHING after a two hour run.

Scenario 2:
Happy hour, with some older dudes who have sad wives who have given birth and are so obsessed with losing weight that these men only can comprehend that women torture themselves through exercise and diet because they all share this obsession with losing baby weight and looking like they did when they were 22.

I order a stout.  And then a second.  And then maybe switch it up with an Allagash White.  While eating nuts and pickles and whatever else there is. 

Knowing I run, dude asks, "So, like, are you going to run 20 miles tomorrow since you drank two beers?"

Good god no.  I don't run to burn off my food.  I'm drinking these two beers because they taste good, and if I'm lucky they will help me run tomorrow.  Carbs, you know?

"Really?  You don't run to be skinny? Um...what?"

I said HELL NO.  It's my hobby, my passion, my favorite thing to be doing of all things, it feels amazing, haven't you ever broken a sweat or been on a hike and you feel strong and free and -- eh, I'm not wasting my time.  You don't get it, do you?

"No.  My wife runs at 6:00 a.m. and she hates it."

Well that's pathetic, but also, I hope she doesn't hate it.  Or at least I hope she grows to love it.

Scenario 3:
Hi, I'm a blog!

I started running when I was 22 to lose the freshman 15.  Check out my journey where I use running as a mathematical measure to compare to my cups of oatmeal because it's calories-in, calories-out guys and RUNNING HALPS ME WITH THE CALORIES-OUT PART.

Listen, I know that right there, scenario 3, isn't fair because people out there do need to lose weight, and running probably works in some cases.  It just seems so cruel to me to use running in that way. 

I hope for everyone who runs to lose weight, it becomes about more than that.  And they see the true therapy and religion and cleansing of running, the mind clearing wonder of it all, the strength when you look in the mirror.  Not the loss of flab.

Those three scenarios are true, fact.  It is also true that running will always be mired with disordered persons.  In my underweight college days, running was my religion and security blanket.  I didn't intend to be a poster-girl for the strange women who would sometimes approach me and ask what my secret was to being so thin (answer: go to college, falter into adulthood, and find your stabilizing element in a regimented schedule of running mixed with "too healthy" eating. Oh and have the metabolism of an 18 year old.)  Underweight runners, even elites, should not be poster girls for the rest of society.

Who here has gained weight while training for a marathon? Due to all the tapering and carb-loading and extra dinners and snacks and hunger? Raise your hands? yes.  aha.  See? Runners come in all varieties, but I like those who run for all there is to gain in running, not those who run for all there is to lose. 

[This post is my first ever picture-less post.  I thought you could use a break from the last post.]

50 comments:

  1. I never run so I can eat. I've never used exercise as a tool to be skinnier. Even when I was rowing in a weight class, I was one of the extremely rare ones who was under the max. Surrounded by eating disordered young women, I was often reviled. It super sucked. I can't imagine having that mindset.

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  2. i run to keep weight on, no really. It makes me stronger and i store glycogen. But running is a privilege. I have learned that the hard way, and now and so thankful. I can't wait till i can run again now. Will get to in a few months, oh and i guess i'll eat oatmeal then too. jk.
    :P

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  3. I love this ! I am a littler person and people who don't really know me have been known to say I run to loose weight and I am obsessed. If they only knew how little foreign runners are, and that people actually like to exercises... People need to keep their opinions to themselves. What's so shocking about a girl wanting to be good at a sport??

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  4. Heh, interesting. I always get the "weight loss" assumption about my running, but I thought it was because I'm a pudgy runner. I didn't realize thinner runners experienced this bizarre phenomenon as well. Sorry to hear it's universal.

    Ironically I was fitter/faster when I was heavier (though I guess being 15 years younger at that time is a relevant factor).

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  5. I have friends who view running as simply a tool for weight loss. That's their motivator. Running is a "necessary evil." Kind of sad. I think when you let the numbers on the scale be the prime motivator, you're missing the boat. I also don't see how there's any longevity with that motivation either. So you're a slave to the pavement and a slave to the scale? Super fun.

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  6. Best post ever. Esp scenario 3 (omg, how many ridiculous, vapid blogs are there like that?). Scenario 1 was also funny. Scenario 2 = sad (and scary - I hope I don't turn into crazy-must-lose-baby-weight if/when I have children - though I am running throughout baby carrying, screw that. I'm not sitting around eating thinking if I run, it'll somehow hurt the baby. I swear so many people think that).

    Oh, and I don't gain weight from marathon training. I think I must be increasing my eating at a level equals to the increased mileage. Or a bit less, I think I might have lost 2 pounds or something. Which really is just noise (i.e. a big poop or something).

    And who runs 20 miles to be skinny?! Jesus, that seems like the hardest way/longest path to go about getting skinny.

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  7. Amen, sister. I gained weight with my first marathon and I am dealing with that again. Running makes me want to eat all that is available on this earth. I was FAR thinner when I just ran a few miles and walked. My thighs are that of a sumo wrestler now. And I like it. I feel strong, capeable and old school badass. If you are lucky you burn 100 cal a mile. I burn like 80. So 11 miles equals a burger. And Im hungry enough for two. You just gotta love to run. Or in the end, you will be super dissapointed. I have a friend who is doing couch to 5k. She just told me (while eating Mcdonalds btw) with 'all this running' I should be losing weight. I gently told her 100 calories a mile and she walk/ran 1.5 miles. Thats like 10 of those fries lady. I got eyerolls and a glare- she so didnt believe me. There is a line in the sand between runners and people who go for runs. Its either in your heart or on your adgenda.

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  8. LOVE this post!
    I loveeee running so much, I would never dream of calling it a calorie-burner...if I know I've got a run coming I eat MORE so I can run faster & longer because that provides more energy for running, and then eat MORE post-run so that I can recovery quick to run again ASAP!
    and I love the comment above there are runners and people who go for runs...the two are practically opposite! I'm so thankful running is a passion of mine and not a torture!
    and HUGE congrats on your Oakland-half!! SPEEDY! you are rockin it so far this year, keep it up! I know this is going to be a great year for you!!!
    xoxo!

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  9. People sometimes say bitter things like, "Of course you're skinny, you run a billion miles a week." No, I'm skinny because I eat a fairly healthy diet and have a fairly active lifestyle. I enjoy my food, I enjoy running, and I'm sure there's a connection there (I run, therefore I am hungry...).
    And running has ruined my girlish figure. My thighs will eat you. I have man shoulders. Oh well. I love it.

    Now. On a related note, I think it would be cool to drop a few pounds before a big race and see if it helped. I don't think that would be unhealthy, at least not for me, because I can fluctuate 5 lb or so and be fine (probably 10 would still be ok). I'm not super skinny, so someday when I get some willpower I'll try that and see if it gives me some kind of amazing PR.

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  10. Thank you Thank you Thank you for this. This is the post I never wrote but always wanted to. What I really hate is the marketing alluding to this: "I run because I really love sweets". :(

    This said as someone who did start running partially to lose weight (as an asshole 14 year old who didn't need to). But now I do it because I love it.

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  11. interesting..I am someone who lost a lot of weight..
    to do that one has to do more than just running..and if running is part of a lifestyle change like it is now for me...the person has to enjoy it or well it will be a major failure...! for me running is not the answer to how to loose weight..it is the answer to how to be happier.

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  12. WORD! It makes me so unbelievably sad when people run for any reason other than "I love it." No, maybe you don't love it every single minute of every single run - maybe sometimes parts of it are a struggle - but if you don't love it? If you never have those amazing moments with it? I feel sad for you.

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  13. Thank you for this. I needed to hear it. And I hate hate hate hate hate hate those comments!

    Amazing last sentence too

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  14. It must be really easy for someone who (I assume) has been thin her whole life to just see running for it's feel good aspects. I really can't relate.

    I didn't begin running in earnest until a few months after I started Weight Watchers. I didn't hate running and groan every time I went to gym or laced up my sneakers to run in my neighborhood. I never thought it was "cruel" to work at something I wanted. Just like runners do specific workouts to get faster and build endurance, I ran 3-4 times a week because it was part of a broader plan. I liked the results at my weekly weigh-ins. I didn't have to run, but it was the form of exercise I enjoyed the most. And guess what? The enjoyment stuck enough for me to eventually pay to run races. I don't see it as something cleansing or a religion. It's not that serious.

    Running as part of a weight loss or maintenance plan is not mutually exclusive with truly enjoying the sport.

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    1. Totally agree the two are not mutually exclusive. Running is good for the body and mind. My issue lies with non-runners, or strictly weight loss runners who find it a necessary evil (I don't think this describes you), who spread the myth that runners like me are self-loathing or obsessed with their body.

      And I use the term "religion" lightly, because I am highly not-religious. I meant the term to reflect that it is a bedrock of happiness in my life. Not that it is an uber-serious strict following.

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  15. People run for all sorts of reasons, but yeah, I hate this assumption that it's all about the calories and being skinny. However, I would slightly alter one of your opening sentences. Some (many) people believe that the only reason WOMEN run more than one block is to burn calories. It couldn't possibly be that you're an ATHLETE! That's so unladylike!

    Or am I way off base with that? I just feel like if a bunch of guys are out drinking beer and one of them is a runner, the general assumption is NOT going to be that he'll run 20 miles the next day to burn off the beer. The general assumption will be more like, he's running 20 miles because he's training for a marathon.

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    1. I'm replying bc Blogger won't allow me to comment (?). Anyhoo, this is a very interesting post and more complicated then meets the eye. I think most people run for the WHOLE experience (body +mind).

      I've never been thin in my life. Did I start running to lose some weight? Sure. But of course, I got addicted to the endorphins. Now, would like to say that I run bc it's spiritual? Sure. But would I run if it made me fat, well, no I don't think so. I run because I don't want to diet, or smoke cigs like my thin Spanish co-workers, and because I like the emotional high. I run for the WHOLE deal: mental and physical. I run not because it makes me skinny, but because it makes me beautiful. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest in my case.

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  16. I started running for a few reasons. The first was because I had failed at running my whole life and I wanted to try again. The second was because my husband was training for his first marathon and I needed something to do while he was out running. The third was because my goal for that year was fitness. I was skinny, but I needed to work on my fitness.

    Five years later, I'm still running. I'm running now though because I love it. I'm not a fast runner and it isn't easy for me, but I love it. To pretend that I don't enjoy that it helps keep me from gaining weight would be wrong. But part of what I love about running is that it keeps my body and my mind healthy.

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  17. why do people think it's okay to make those comments to you? They would never say that to an overweight person so it's not okay to say that to you.

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  18. I gained 5 pounds when I started running. It didn't matter to me because I felt much healthier and happier. On an somewhat related note, I don't understand people who "reward" themselves with oats in a jar or whatever after running 20 miles. If I treated my body like that, I'd be screwed.

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  19. Thank you for this post, and so well written! I'd like to add something....the beauty of running is the ANYONE can do it and runners come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
    I love seeing someone who you wouldn't expect to be fast, totally pass up people left and right in races :)
    Oh and I ALWAYS gain weight during marathon training. My body craves the extra food and I feed it the fuel it needs and deserves.

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  20. When I started my running journey last year, I admit it was for the sole purpose of engaging in yet another calorie burning mechanism.... I had to run to burn whatever I put in my mouth. But then something happened along the way... I ended up gaining 35 HEALTHY pounds, my mind set on life took a total 180, and I honestly can say 90% of me getting my life back is due to Running! Great post lady.

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  21. Man I love how you speak your mind… This post doesn’t offend me but, as someone who is in the process of losing the baby weight this hits a little close to home for me. I love to run and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. There have been times where I feel like I’m going out for a run to burn off the beers I drank last night. Or going for a long run on Saturday, so I don’t have to freak out about enjoying pizza later on in the day. That feeling usually disappears during the first mile. I’d love to be able to run as much as you do. I don’t have the time in my schedule to run 12-18 miles before work. Also my body can’t handle that heavy mileage. Some people are just obnoxious with their assumptions about runners. Way to spark up a discussion.

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  22. One of the biggest reasons I started running regularly (AKA not in a team sport) was because I wanted to lose weight. I will absolutely admit that is was basically 99% vanity that pushed me to start running on my own. Somewhere along the way that changed and now it's actually something I enjoy. I also learned how to eat healthier, and I have no doubt that if I STOPPED running I would be around the same weight.

    I do hate that people assume I run because I want to lose/maintain weight. If I wanted to lose weight I might run intervals on a treadmill but I would definitely not stuff my face with carbs late at night, set out on 20 mile runs and then eat as much as possible afterwards for recovery.

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  23. Here's my perspective - I signed up for a 5K to get myself out of my comfort zone. I started running (we're talking, like walking/run combos of a mile) & fell in love with the endorphins. And also because running finally helped me lose some baby weight that I was really struggling to lose. Why do I run now? Because I love it. I love the feeling of accomplishment, the endorphins, the way it makes my body feel, etc. But I'm not going to lie - it's also an extremely efficient calorie burner. For me, at least.

    That said, I've signed up for longer races for the accomplishment factor, not because I somehow think running 10 miles will help me drop those last five pounds. It might, and being at a healthy weight is important to me, but I could run on the treadmill each night & probably hit my goal faster.

    My long winded way of saying, I run for multiple reasons. Losing weight is never one of them. I don't deprive myself after long runs, and actually love that running helps me eat a more balanced diet (I crave healthy foods, but there's room in there for beer/wine, treats, etc). Before I started running, I was pretty obssessed with how many calories I took in. Now I look at food much more as fuel for my body.

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    1. Last paragraph/second sentence - that should say that "Losing weight IS one of them."

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  24. Wow! I love this post!!! I started running because I was in a job that I hated. I would come home everyday from work, eat a big snack, then take a two hour nap on the couch (to erase the day). Then, I would get up, eat dinner and go to bed. One day (and I don't know why), I decided to go outside and try to walk/run instead of sitting on the couch. That day was the turning point for the rest of my life. I have been running for 10 years, and could list probably 100 reasons why I run. Losing weight hasn't been on that list in quite awhile!

    Glad to be a new follower!

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  25. I enjoy the fact that running affords me the ability to eat burgers and fries and hash browns and 8 tacos in a row whenever it strikes my fancy without giving a thought to gaining weight.

    But, it's a happy side effect. If I hated running, I'd find some other way to stay in physical shape, mostly because I enjoy being stronger/faster/better than my brothers, and living a long healthy life sounds pretty rad.

    I started running because I spent years looking at my car window at joggers on my morning commute thinking "they look so COOL! I wish *I* could do that."

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  26. Most of my relatives think I run to stay skinny, and their comments are annoying. At the same time, a few have been inspired to run -- yes for vanity reasons, but I am optimistic that they will grow to enjoy it.

    I currently train with a beginning running group as a volunteer pacer, and we have a few trainees who started running to lose weight. Now we're ten weeks in and they love running; I love their enthusiasm. I think they'll stick with it after they reach their goal weights.

    However, there will always be people who refuse to believe I run for fun, that I run to be thin. I tell them that I actually gained weight while training for half- and full-marathons, and they don't believe me. I can't help but feel bad for people who associate exercise with punishment.

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  27. I started running because I always wanted to run. As a former fat child I never could run for distances, and when I tried I got out of breath and turned bright red. 30 years later - I still get out of breath and bright red if I run hard, but at least now can moderate my speed so I can run distances.

    I run so I can eat. My eating is out of control this week when compared to how much I am running (week off for piriformis rest), so I have to moderate. Moderate, not starve. Moderate =/= 300 calories of chocolate (this afternoon), and cake (tonight). *sigh* MODERATE, BRAIN!

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  28. Or could be legitimately fat like me and run anyway. YAY FATTIES!

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    1. This temporary west-coaster named Megan obliterated your secret--that you are flipping HOT--by showing me a couple pictures. The secret is out.

      p.s. I don't care what size anyone is if they run and they like it. If they run and they hate it, there must be an alternative...walk/bike/swim/ski/weights/jillian michaels/gym classes/etc etc

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    2. Yup! Megan also showed me a few pictures on Monday, and she quickly confirmed my long-held suspicion that you are attractive and slender in real life. Sorry, AR :)

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    3. I'm not sure what pictures she showed you (I heard a rumor about this) but I assure you both that my pants don't fit right now. :)

      Heh.

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    4. i showed them the HAWT PHOTOS from Kristen's wedding.

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  29. Mmmm Allagash White....

    Agree, agree, and agree. Drives me INSANE when people ask or insinuate that I run to lose weight. Um, hi, I out-eat my 6'4" 200-lb boyfriend because I am so damn hungry. My weight can fluctuate within 5-7 lbs on any given DAY. If I were trying to lose weight, I'd have given up on running by now.

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  30. Hi Rose! I agree with everyone's commentary that this is definitely a complicated topic. As for me, I have an anecdote to share that fits in nicely. I'm currently injured and not running, which is affecting me both mentally and physically. It's very apparent in my workplace and elsewhere that I am pretty miserable right now. Anyhow, I opted to get a PRP injection despite the cost ($$$$$$!!) and my abiding fear of needles. I was chatting about it with a guy at work and he simply could not wrap his head around why I would get the injection, given that it has had inconclusive results and is expensive. He was like, "is this a weight thing?" to which I very firmly said, "definitely not! I don't worry about that..." before I could go on to say that I run because I love it and how very much I am missing it, he dismissed the idea saying, "then don't do it." Gee, thanks. I just found it so absurd that he thought the only reason I would be so desperate to run again would be to drop the weight I have gained since not running. (And oh, I have gained weight.) I mean, yes, I do like the way I look much better when I'm in putting in serious miles. But it is and will never be THE REASON I run.

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    1. it is *NOT* and will never be, is obviously what I meant to say in the last sentence!

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  31. +++ on your scenario 2 beer choices. haha.

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  32. +1,000 to this post. So many people make comments like "you must lose so much weight while marathon training" ahahahahahaha no, not at ALL. if i wanted to lose weight, i'd probably have to quit running and start doing cross-fit or something. or just stop eating. and both of those things sound really awful.

    so glad we were able to meet in real life! come visit new york!

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  33. Well, this is one heck of a complicated topic.

    I am sure this has been said more eloquently than I can put it a thousand times above, but I'm not so sure it's quite so clear cut that anyone could run without weight figuring somewhere in the equation.

    Personally, I have wished many times that running did not burn calories. I don't run to eat more, but my weight IS a factor in my periods of injury. I just don't think that anyone can stand on a pedestal and claim to be a running purist who never, ever thinks about weight at all with regard to their running.

    Running is like a religion for me too, but my second thought after the devestation of not having my chosen form of freedom and 'release' open to me is the terror of what will happen to my weight without running. You speak of eating more as if it is a chore, something arduous and onerous, but would you, would anyone find it so easy to just snap out of consuming the number of calories they do when they can run?

    I have never met anyone who doesn't panic about ballooning when they have a long-term injury.

    Yes, the ability to eat more is a perk of running, but obviously as I have found out it's easy to out-eat even the highest of mileages. I can appreciate the annoyance that comes with people assuming running=weight loss stragegy+guilt and punishment, it bugs me too, but at the same time it's a sad reality that weight generally does figure into people's approach to running, and to the way they run.

    xxx

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    1. Eating is definitely not a chore...probably in my top 5 favorite things to be doing. I've had an appetite my whole life, in my various athletic pursuits, which is why I don't equate running with weight loss--running makes me eat more, and keeps the weight on. If anything I tend to lose weight with injuries because of muscle loss and loss of appetite.

      You are fully right that this is a complicated topic that I didn't delve into deeper than to address the assumptions that many people have about female runners.

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  34. I will say I originally started running when I weighed 250 lbs and saw all the skinny girls running around campus. And it really did help me lose weight, and I will be forever grateful for the start it gave me into a healthier body. But at the moment where I completed Couch to 5k and actually ran a 5k race, running turned from weight loss to a mechanism for personal pride. I took time off for an injury but came back with gusto and signed up for my first half marathon (I had completed up to a 10k, I didn't go c25k to half) and almost 3 years to the date from when I started getting healthier and losing weight, I finished my half marathon. And I cried as I crossed the finish line. I did not cry because of the 1500 calories I had just burnt but I cried because of what I had transformed myself into: a healthy person who ran a freaking half marathon. Running may have started as a weight loss tool, but like many others I have discovered I love it (most days) and want to do it. My body is stronger (and skinnier!) and I feel so proud of where my legs have taken me.

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  35. Oh, I run for fun. Or that's what I tell myself on the days that aren't amazing. But I also run so I can eat. I'm not a perfectly healthy, green, clean eater and I never plan to be. In the short times that I've completely slacked on running but not altered my eating habits in any way I feel a few pounds move in, but running is definitely not a weight loss activity for me. Honestly, its more of a way to stay fit enough to do everything else I love - boarding, biking, hiking, etc.

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  36. I would be lying if I said I didn't partially start running to keep my weight in check, but it's really hard to care about that shit when you're in the thick of marathon training and hungry and tired is the new normal.

    I say that as someone who can't even look at her training plan right now without thinking about how hungry it makes her.

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  37. Ugh. People can be so...stupid. I think that these stupid people tend to think that way about all women that exercise. Like, the reason they are exercising must be because they want to lose weight, right? Right?? We live in a pretty screwed up society in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is the way that the female body is treated and perceived. We are constantly being told in so many different ways, that our bodies should look a certain way and if they don't, that we should take actions to do so. So it doesn't surprise me that people say those things when they see that you run. So stupid though.

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  38. Just gonna chime in: one of the reasons I love running so much is because it's the one type of exercise I did NOT start in relation to my ED. It proved to me that exercise really can be run and that eating really is (gasp) important to fuel you. Then again, I feel like I'm also the one runner I know who has problems keeping up with her refuleing.
    The point is, I honestly run because I love it. BOOM.

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  39. I think some people love to run and for others it's just a way of burning cals in order to "stay in shape". Just wish that latter group would learn that putting in a few less cals = don't need to go for a run!

    Abby @ http://cheeseandcats.wordpress.com

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  40. white girl problems. you're the girl the rest of us hate-- not 'cause you're skinny, or 'cause you brag about chugging back stout beers while hanging out with the dudes, or 'cause you eat three dinners a day. we hate you because you are solely concerned with yourself (hence the self-absorbed blog on running and the post to reiterate how it's not about the calories). you are out of tune with the rest of the world. keep living your happy life and complaining about your (lack of) problems.

    p.s. I don't care if you delete this post or if it never shows up as a comment. maybe my "some stupid reader" comments will force you to look at this post another way.

    p.s.s. and by the way, I was a collegiate runner, I've never run to lose weight, but I've never bragged about not having to, either.

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