I Run ‘Because’ I’m Skinny

“Why do you go running? You’re already so skinny.” I’ve heard that sentiment, in a variety of forms for many years now. The assumption implicit in the question is that exercise, particularly longer-distance running (though I probably wouldn’t count my 5ks as ‘long-distance’), is primarily about weight/metabolism control.

I’ve always been skinny, scrawny even. And I never participated in any concerted sports or exercising up through high school that required me to be in any sort of physical or cardiovascular shape. Every year in middle school, the day of the one-mile run was bound to fill me with dread.

No, I don’t go running three times a week to stay skinny. No, I’m not training for any fund-raisers, fun-runs, or marathons. No, I’m not running off the ice cream I eat. In fact, the reasons I go running several times a week have little to do with any of those. Of course I know I that getting some form of exercise is healthy, and that plays into it as well. But I have primarily two purposes for running. The first, is the mental space it provides while my body is occupied. I explored this a few years ago: https://jmhieber.wordpress.com/2019/09/14/the-non-physical-benefits-of-running/

The second is more complex in that it seems counter-intuitive.

When I get busy, when I experience more stress than usual, during times of transition, and sometimes just because, I lose my appetite. The idea of eating seems repulsive, nothing really seems like it would be tasty or nourishing, and the whole process of finding food, ingesting it, cleaning up afterwards seems like a big waste of time. And when it’s for a single day, it’s not a big deal. But when it happens for days on end, it can get dangerous.

When we moved to Al Ain in the UAE in 2012, I didn’t eat for about a month. I’m sure it was partly the heat, but the transition to a new country, the stresses of being a first-year teacher working under less than ideal conditions meant that every bite felt like trying to swallow a dry sponge. I knew I had to eat something; the human body doesn’t function well without food. I lost a ridiculous amount of weight and my frame can’t really afford that. I looked pretty haggard and gaunt for a while there and it wasn’t until I was able to settle into our new home, school, routines that my appetite slowly came back.

I also wasn’t running then, partly because it was difficult to make the time and because of the intense Al Ain heat. But once I was able to take it up again, I realized perhaps one of the most significant benefits of going running: it means I have an appetite. When I regularly go out and physically exhaust my body through running, my appetite doesn’t disappear. It may ebb somewhat, but it doesn’t go away entirely, because the physical activity reminds my body of what it needs.

So no, I don’t go running to become or stay skinny. I run because it assures me of having an appetite. Which is why comments about my skinniness in relation to my running are not entirely welcome. I mean, it doesn’t really bother me, but it is part of a pattern in which people assume the motivations of others. We all have our own goals, hurdles, motivations, and journeys to go on. And it’s generally not advisable to put our own expectations (even implicitly) onto the actions of others.

One comment

  1. theandyclark · February 20

    This is one I haven’t heard before. I think there are a lot of people who have wished they didn’t want to eat, but nothing comes without a price. I’d never question someone’s desire to exercise. Running’s not my bag anymore, but I enjoyed it for many years before I decided it was too rough on my back (part of the pounding the knees take ripples up the spine).

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