Breaking Free From the Holiday Hustle

December 22, 2023

There’s a photo of me, on one of the coldest days of winter in Houston, in a Santa beard looking seemingly accomplished after completing the annual Santa Hustle run.

What that photo fails to show is the absolute dread in the weeks leading up to this run about what I’d allow myself to eat over the holidays and how many days my exercise schedule would be interrupted. It also doesn’t show how sick I had gotten in the weeks after.

That Santa Hustle run (and the other holiday-themed runs I had engaged with over the years) was my coping mechanism through the holidays when I felt most vulnerable about my body in the midst of so many people, so much food, and the looming “new year, new you” talk. And these runs were a widely accepted and celebrated tradition that family members would praise. These runs in many ways gave me permission to eat and a sense of worth to continue existing. These pictures were a badge of honor and a stamp that I was allowed to be comfortable with myself for another year.

Over the years, as I’ve focused more on my healing from an eating disorder that was deeply rooted in compulsive exercise, I look at these pictures with a deeper sense of sadness sprinkled with a flickering spark of hope.

I grieve for the connection & conversations that I could have enjoyed with family and friends that were clouded by fixation on what I was eating. I grieve for the mornings when I could have just relaxed in the comfort of my warm blankets rather than shivering in the dark, lost in a crowd at the crack of dawn. I grieve for the younger version of myself that felt the need to prove my worthiness of existence. 

But I find hope in the fact that I can now look at these pictures and see how I deserve better.

I can enjoy meals with my friends and family and not have to compensate with exercise. My pants can feel a little tighter and I will still be unapologetically me. My life will continue, no matter what those diet ads or over-stepping relatives might suggest, and the people who I want to spend my holidays with are the ones who respect & value me for who I am, and not for the body that I inhabit.

When I first started running, I felt free. Running was a respite from the world and a time where I could just be with my thoughts. But along the way, it became a cage that dictated whether or not I was allowed to like myself. Each run became an obligation that worked in overdrive over the holidays. 

Nowadays, I don’t post much about runs or how I’m spending the holidays because I get to focus on being present with myself.

I can find alternatives like going outside for a gentle walk with family and focus more on sharing stories than counting steps. I can enjoy the pie without panicking and spending the rest of the holidays dreaming of the pie that got away. I can take a family photo without losing sleep over how I looked. Some days, with deep intention setting & reflection, I can even allow myself to go for a run to de-stress. The beauty of recovery & healing from the eating disorder is finding freedom in the present and not punishing myself in service of an elusive future version of myself.