Running & Body Image: Let’s Focus on the Positive

October 5, 2017

There are so many reasons to love running. The thrill of covering miles using your own two feet, the endorphins that flood in post-run and boost your mood, and the social connection of sharing a run with a good friend. Not to mention all the health benefits, such as lower risk for chronic diseases, higher quality of life, and lower rate of illness in general. Yeah, running is actually pretty great.

But there is an ugly side to running. A side that sucks all the joy and love out of the sport. One that affects our relationship with our own self. Somehow running can go from a healthy, happy, mind-body connection, to something that creates a huge disconnect between our thoughts and reality. I think we’ve all been there when suddenly we become dissatisfied while comparing ourselves to others. This isn’t always negative, especially when it has to do with performance. But when it has to do with body image and self-esteem, it can become unhealthy very quickly.

Stephanie all smiles doing what she loves at Peterson Ridge — connecting and covering miles on the trails. Photo: Paul Nelson

But today, I don’t want to focus on that negative relationship. I’m so tired of reading about disordered eating and poor body image as it relates to running. We’ve heard this story so many times and have glamorized these issues as almost a rite of passage to be a “real runner.”

This needs to stop.

Let’s stop telling this story and focus on the positive. Let’s talk about women athletes who are strong, self-confident and healthy. Let’s celebrate these women who have refused to settle and have broken all stereotypes as they’ve risen to success. Wouldn’t they be better role models to focus on?

As a runner myself, I’m so sick of being judged about how my body looks. Recently someone commented, “You look really fit,” which was meant to be a compliment (I think). But it got me thinking. What did that comment mean? Because this person made the comment based on my appearance, not on anything athletic I had accomplished. Which is part of the problem. Does that mean I look muscular? Lean? I hate being judged by how my body looks. It’s not for anyone else to judge but me.

In the flow we discover our reasons for running. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama Photography

To promote a healthier relationship with running, we need to shift our focus to what the body can do rather than how it looks. I think that will leave a lot of athletes feeling more confident and happy with themselves. Because when it comes down to it, what we are capable of lies so much further deep down. Let running be the link to creating a more positive mind-body relationship with our self. Next time you go out for a run, think about how awesome it is that your body is capable of such a feat. Practicing gratitude and love can change our perceptions of body image for the better. You only get one body, and it’s much more fun to go through life loving it!

About the Author

Stephanie Howe, Ph.D., is a nordic skier turned trail runner, and enjoys racing distances from 50K up to 100 miles. Stephanie splits her time between racing as an elite runner on The North Face team, and working as a coach and sports nutritionist. She recently completed a doctoral program in Nutrition & Exercise Physiology at Oregon State University. You can learn more about Stephanie on her blog at www.stephaniemariehowe.blogspot.com and about her coaching and nutrition at www.endurancebystephanie.com.

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