How One Runner Beat An Eating Disorder

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

photo 2

Samantha van Huyssteen qualified for her county’s cross-country championships after stomping out bulimia.

Bulimia made it very difficult to have a respectful relationship with my body and its needs. I have always considered myself a runner, but at a time where I was suffering the most, I was punishing my body with exercise without sufficient fuel.

I was running for the all the wrong reasons. I didn’t run for the thrill of a personal best, or the smirk I’d get as I overtook someone who I’d been chasing the whole season. I wasn’t running for the brilliant exhaustion at the end of a long run that was also somehow exhilarating. Racing enjoyment was lost to me without these positive effects of running, and, to me, my body didn’t meet the standards of the other runners. So I stepped down.

About two years after perhaps one of my lowest points after undergoing therapy for bulimia, I practiced looking at running in a new light. If I fed my body with the fuel it needed, without purging it all out of guilt, it will hold up its end of the bargain and get me across the finish line. It’s an unspoken exchange. I have learned to respect my body for allowing me to do what I absolutely love, which is to run. I look after it now.

Running teaches me how amazing this body is for its physical ability to push through the staggering amounts of pain experienced out on trails. I have gained an appreciation for having legs that don’t give up on me, no matter how unbearable the lactate burns. I don’t worry as much how they fit into shorts or skirts. By running, I am learning to discipline myself and the negative disordered thoughts that still haunt me from time to time during my recovery. I do not drop out of a half marathon as I start to get tired, just as I do not drop out of my recovery when I am having one bad day. With every stride I run, I imagine these thoughts getting stomped into the ground and left behind in the dirt where they belong.

I am now a runner for the best of reasons. The utter ecstasy of a personal best has returned to me, and the butterflies I get when I let my legs carry me down a steep hill have come back. I adore the baths after a grueling cross-country race, the sore calves the next morning, which remind me of what I have achieved, and of course the well-deserved cake and glass of wine. I cherish the long runs in the rain where a bad mood gets washed away, as well as the silly satisfaction of accidentally running in time to Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

This is why I consider myself a real runner. I run because it has made me physically strong, but mentally unbeatable.