I used to think my body was something I had to tame. I thought that if I didn’t closely monitor my body it would look unkempt, like a garden becomes overgrown when neglected and left to the elements. Gardens require constant upkeep, with the proper balance of trimming, watering, weeding and sunlight. I thought that in order to be good, my body required this same degree of maintenance. I believed that left as it was, my body would forever be unshapely and grotesque.
I grew up in a household where fad diets were the norm. If you weren’t on a diet, it meant you didn’t care—if you weren’t losing, you were gaining. I went on my first diet in seventh grade. I was 12 years old.
Whenever I ate junk food I told myself I was “being bad,” and for each time I indulged, I compensated in some way. I punished my body in order to tame it. An extra slice of pizza meant 50 sit-ups before bed. A bowl of ice cream after dinner meant going for a run the following morning. My body wasn’t good, but I was determined to make it so. With enough discipline, I would seize control over this body of mine, this unruly thing.
I made workout plans and diet plans and taped them to the walls of my bedroom. I prepped my food the night before and wrote strict schedules of when and what to eat, with specific time intervals and all. A step outside of this schedule meant falling off the wagon. It meant completely failing. It meant letting my body win.
I started running as part of this attempt to control my body. I trained for a 10k hoping that by the time I got to race day I’d be slim and toned. Over the two months of training, I built up my stamina. My runs grew longer, and my average pace became faster. After each run I’d stare in the mirror, begging to see a change. To the naked eye, my body appeared no different. I wasn’t any better than I was the day before.
But somehow I had changed, because one mild day in November I was able to run 6.2 miles across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (with a pace I would have believed was unattainable just two months prior). Though my hard work and discipline was unseen in the mirror, it was completely evident in my runs—and in the sense of peace I felt when alone on the trails.
As I became more comfortable in spandex and running shoes, I realized that this body of mine didn’t have to be “made good.” By nature it was good, made in the image of God. While my body does require some maintenance and nurturance, it certainly doesn’t need to be punished for what it is. When my feet strike the pavement and carry me for miles, I know that this body is a gift. It is strong. It is resilient. It is good.