For this seasoned runner, learning to let go of her demons was only one part to getting back on track

By Reylynne Dela Paz | Lead photo courtesy of AV Photography

Calorie counting. Food restrictions. Consistent and intense workouts. Constant weighing. Running efficiency. Looking good. Sacrifice. Discipline. Happiness. Stress. Health. Strength.

These are just some of the words commonly encountered and embraced by athletes. As a runner who used to be very competitive, these words echoed in my head for quite a while until recently.

I finally learned to loosen up. Not to say that those words are entirely wrong but getting obsessed with losing weight through extreme food restrictions based on a wrong sense of priorities became aggravating, which probably exacerbated my condition.

Sure, I gained weight, but I still run regularly as much as possible, considering my work schedule. I still keep track of my mileage and speed but not without listening to my body if it screams for rest. I still watch my diet, not for the sake of anything else but for running efficiency and good health. And yes, partly, for looking good.

So what’s the difference? Where did I let loose? I shifted focus and embraced the fact that I can’t control everything; that as long as I properly manage the things I have control over and do my best in everything I do, I should be okay.

Since I had Hashimoto’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that caused my hypothyroidism and slow metabolism, I gradually accepted my reality: that no matter how much I try, I wouldn’t go back to my weight and strength when I was at the peak of my running life. This isn’t a statement of surrender but more of peace and maturity.

I felt the stress and pain of not being able to run as fast as I could because of palpitations and diminished endurance. I don’t even know where to begin to explain the depression of gaining weight despite maintaining the same diet and doing intense training. I can’t count the times when I cried after hearing people tell me to my face or hearing them whisper among friends that I got bigger and that my exercises and diet were failing. Those comments added insult to injury.

Even before getting sick, I’d keep an extremely disciplined lifestyle. You’d see me carrying a container of my own food since I didn’t want to have anything processed or oily especially when I dine out with friends. I’d count calories and end up eating the same kind of food for years. My diet was predictable and crazy. I was losing weight, I was running fast, I was feeling good, I was healthy—or so I thought.

If you do the math, you’d conclude that I had been starving and depriving myself of sanity and unconsciously violating my right to enjoy life. Discipline wasn’t the culprit. It was the obsessive compulsion. I found myself denied of the chance to enjoy good food that was not necessarily unhealthy. I also realized that running had become another source of stress rather than relief. I stepped back and watched the lifestyle I kept and found out how sad it had been. I wasn’t wrong for being concerned about matters of significance. My problem was that I blew them out of proportion.

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When I finally learned to deal with my reality, I found freedom. This transition began with letting go of obsessive calorie counting and instead, enjoying the food I like, which are mostly healthy anyway. Now, I redefined my goals: instead of simply losing weight, I do it to become healthy and as an expression of my belief that I owe that to myself and my loved ones. Now, I eat happily. I still care about my weight but this time, with the awareness that I can only do so much and that’s fine. I am no longer hurt or offended when people tell me I gained a few pounds because I’ve decided to take that as a statement of fact rather than a derogatory remark.

Because I couldn’t get as light as before, I’m training myself to run heavy and be as fast as I can. It was a challenge I gladly took. Now, I enjoy running just like old times. I train and set goals because that’s part of the fun but with the willingness to rest when needed. I make a conscious effort not to be bothered by it as much as before, when I couldn’t forgive myself every time I missed a kilometer in my set mileage.

I run when I should and when I can. If there’s any hint of stress in running, I’d stop. This isn’t the feeling you get from pushing yourself further to get stronger because I don’t classify that as stress. This is more that heaviness you feel when you drag your feet despite knowing what you need is rest; that agony of wanting to run out of fear of gaining weight or losing fitness. There are days when I run based on feel; when I don’t worry about my mileage or speed but only to enjoy my solitude so I can think and release all the stress I carry.

I am no longer hurt or offended when people tell me I gained a few pounds because I’ve decided to take that as a statement of fact rather than a derogatory remark

Life is too short to place ourselves in unnecessary imprisonments; the world offers so many other hustles and bustles and we don’t need to add more. Balance is key. Health is the main goal. Becoming a better version of yourself is the reason for engaging in any kind of regimen, whether diet or sports. It’s good to check from time to time how we’re feeling about what we do; whether they still function as how they were originally designed; if it continues to be a source of happiness and relief or we’ve unconsciously converted them to another monster that sucks out the joy from within us and the life we deserve to have.

I recently placed sixth among female runners and had my fastest time in 21K (Sub 1:56) since I’ve had Hashimoto. It wasn’t a podium finish nor was it a PR but I did my best and therefore, it brought me happiness.  If I could describe it in one word, it was humbling.