I Am A Runner, No Matter How I Look: The food-related pressures of being a female runner.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an interesting article circulating around my newsfeed being shared by some of my current running mates. Titled "Hopeful, Hungry and Chasing a Lie," the piece highlights the food-related pressures that competitive female runners face that- at their worst- cause them to develop eating disorders. I found this to be an incredibly eye-opening piece that I really related to, so I thought I would share my own thoughts and experiences here on the blog. While I have never personally had an eating disorder, I have seen and felt the effects of the pressure to "look a certain way" as a runner.   

I don't look like a runner.

I don't have a flat stomach, a long and lean body, or the muscular limbs that other girls do.

I don't always "eat clean," plan my meals around my workouts, or bake "healthy" desserts.

But I am still a runner. And I have been for nine years of my life.

I still struggle every time I step foot on the starting line. I see the girls with the flat stomachs, the ones wearing crop tops and barely there shorts. I look at them knowing that I could never pull that look off because of my little belly pudge. And usually, these girls are fast. This makes me think that maybe if I looked that way, at least on the outside, that I would be as fast as them.

I've seen this all before; it's not anything new. Ever since high school, what I ate was always something I was self conscious about- particularly when it came to running competitively. Back then I was faster. I was on the girls varsity cross country team where the top 10 fastest girls were set to do different training than the rest of the team. We trained with one another, had exclusive movie nights together, and had hair dying sessions as a group.

We all wanted to fit in with one another, and even though our "varsity" status brought us together naturally, there was pressure to do what everyone else on the squad was doing. When one girl suggested that we completely cut sugar out of our diets for weeks before a major cross country race, she wasn't met with any protest. In fact, a lot of girls climbed on board with her idea. I didn't follow along- maybe that's because I knew better, but maybe it was because I just couldn't bear the thought of not having any sugar. I saw the girls who changed their diets drastically get weaker and slower, struggling to finish workouts.

At University, the story is somewhat similar. Our monthly all-girls potlucks are what I look forward to after a long race and an even longer week. But there's always "talk" about the food. We can't just enjoy it without discussing who's now a vegan, a vegetarian, or dairy-free. Specialized diets seem to be becoming the norm among my peers- of course, not all of them for "health" reasons (allergies and environmental issues justifiably come into play here too).

While I don't mean to sound accusatory of my fellow runners, I don't think girls realize how much pressure we're putting on each other by constantly chatting about the contents of our plates and trying to one-up each other in the health department. As runners, we are naturally competitive- and I think that definitely shows in how we talk about food. I can't deny the pressure I feel as a runner to get flat abs, to eat the "right" foods, and to Instagram that perfectly healthy brunch that doesn't contain gluten, sugar, or dairy.

And because I don't do these things, I ask myself: Am doing this whole "being a runner" thing right?

I'm not trying to skinny-shame girls who are thin or who choose to alter their diets. What I think is wrong is when girls restrict their diets to appear skinner and sacrifice their health for the sake of what probably will turn out to be just a few "faster" races. Even more so, I think it is wrong for girls to pressure one another, whether that is consciously or unconsciously.

I don't think what my teammates did in high school and what they do now in University are done with poor intentions (and, in all fairness, my current running mates and I will never say no to some post-race cake). However, I think we need to support one another in whatever our nutrition related decisions are while also encouraging each other to make healthy decisions- not restrictive ones.

We need to stop thinking that this heavily food-conscious mindset isn't a problem. Far too often we excuse it as being "just the way runners are." But giving in to these restrictive diets for the sake of looking a certain way isn't healthy, and it definitely isn't normal.

Food isn't the enemy, and I wish girls who run would stop acting like it is. The skinnier girl on the starting line is not the enemy either- you do not have to look like her to be faster.

I, for one, am proud of what my body can do far more than what it looks like. And I intend to keep it that way.


  1. Great blogpost.

    I'm a man, so am not subject to the constant societal pressure around food or body image in my day-to-day life. I'm also certain I'm not subject to it as much in my running life. That said, I do notice that many men finishing around me are 15-20 kilos lighter than me, and people (men) have said "imagine what you could do if you lost a bit of weight." Even these minor and infrequent comments do make me feel pressure to change what I eat. It must be very difficult not to be affected when the level is higher, the pressures are greater and the conversation more sustained.

    Thanks for raising the issue.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I think this definitely applies to men as well- sometimes in different ways, though. Yes, it's those passing comments that really get to you. I'm so glad you find my blog post relatable :)

      Thanks again!


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