A Runner’s Story of Growing Beyond Diet Culture


If you had to compare running to a recipe, what would be key ingredients?

Blog post by Adwoa Asante

I first learned about diet culture and disordered eating on my way out of a 10K race with one of my dear friends, Lizzie. It was a cloudy fall day in October 2017. I could tell that she needed to build up the courage to bring it up and that it had been something she was processing.

Invited in by a Friend

“So I’ve been talking with my counselor about diet culture…” I listened quietly as we walked to her car. I was more worried about what I was going to eat and how I might recover after this race. Later that evening, during dinner, she started explaining the principles of intuitive eating, an alternative and more holistic approach to eating rather than the restrictive eating habits we both had. It was a complete paradigm shift. I remember using phrases like “yeah, it’s all about moderation, right?” No. I was mistaken and my language for this new way was so limited. But Lizzie’s patience with me and her investment in her own healing from disordered eating drew me in. I was curious and needed to know more. 


Lizzie and I texted for months, sharing podcasts, social media accounts, articles about intuitive eating, how to identify diet culture, and how exercise might look different. I started consuming (pun intended) anything I could find on the subject. While I was interested, not all of my habits had changed yet. Instead of embracing intuition around food, I still relied on the familiarity of the binging and restricting cycle that disordered eating and diet culture often encourage and celebrate. I hadn’t fully committed to intuitive eating. I’d withhold certain foods, reward myself with others, and go to fitness classes I didn’t even enjoy. But every time I’d listen to Food Psych by Christy Harrison or see a post by Jessamyn Stanley and her life as a yogi in a larger body, I realized there was a kind of freedom I was missing out on.

Honoring my Body During Early COVID

It wasn’t until the pandemic that I became unashamed of my pursuit of health of a different kind. Conversations with friends about food and exercise started to feel tense as I couldn’t help but respond with the things I had been learning. It was difficult to ease up on running when spring 2020 had brought COVID and a horrendous allergy season. (Pollen in Raleigh is its own species, I’m convinced.)


I was an athlete in high school, ran track and cross country all four years, and consistently ran after high school so it was a central part of my identity. Running was about being fast, setting PRs for every race, and pushing through injuries. I was a pro at that. I had mastered running on shin splints and tired hamstrings. I was often choosing between keeping my body safe and trying to uphold an impossible beauty standard during a time in which we were confined to our homes. Our bodies were doing the best they could, covering us and serving us as we endured a collective trauma. 


I decided that I’d thank my body for all she had done. I committed to being gentle with myself because my body is sacred and worthy of gentleness. I had determined that the pandemic wasn’t the best time to create a rigorous workout routine so I’d come out of this event with the “best” body. The “best” body is one that is honored. Part of this decision meant that I chose to walk more and run less. 

Returning to Running

Adwoa with Julia, the leader of Reclaiming Running
Adwoa with Julia, the leader of Reclaiming Running

Earlier this year I started to miss running. I missed the ease of putting on my shoes and running in my neighborhood. I missed the familiarity of one foot in front of the other and how natural it felt. The opportunity to run consistently again came when Julia, instructor and running coach at Current Wellness, started advertising her six week Reclaiming Running course. 


I felt as nervous and excited to go to this class as I had when I tried out for the indoor track team my freshman year of high school. But upon entering the room, I realized that this space was unlike any other running experience I had. We spent our time unlearning so much about the myths of running. Julia had us ponder questions like, who do you think of when you think of a runner? How does it feel to run slower than you think you should? What does running hard feel like? If you had to compare running to a recipe, what would be key ingredients? I had been running since I was 14 and had never stopped to consider these things. Running had always been about excellence and competition. Now running is about honoring my body and what it wants or needs.


I’ve said this in passing to folks inside and outside of Current Wellness but the class truly changed my life! I learned that the first few minutes of a run, I feel anxious but I eventually catch a rhythm and settle in. I’ve learned that running slower than I think I need to is really good for me. I learned how to stop running when I feel pain or need a break. I learned that running at 31 does not and should not look like it did when I was 14. A lot of life has happened since then and I’m not the same person. 

A Poetic Ending


It wouldn’t be my life if there wasn’t some poetic ending or mirror image of a previous season in my life. After the class ended, I decided to sign up for a 5K. It was be my first race since my 10K in 2017 and since my life had shifted toward joyful movement, body liberation, and intuitive eating. I knew I wanted to run this differently to reflect all my growth in the last six years. 


I completed that race on July 15th with the support of my community, neighbors, and Julia!! She ran the race with me, reminding me to slow down, to breathe, to pump my arms going up the hills and run on my toes. Most importantly, we ran this race the way we wanted. I’m so grateful for second chances. I’m so glad that running hasn't soured for me. It has been renewed instead. I have a new perspective and love for running that’s motivated by the love I have for the body that carries me. No longer will it be a punishment or means of discipline but a gift and practice of gratitude. I reclaimed running and I hope you’ll do the same with an activity you once loved. 

Lizzie and Adwoa are still friends today!
Lizzie and Adwoa are still friends today!