Are Runners Too Obsessed With Weight Loss?

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When I was a kid, I’d throw on an old white tee, some Converse sneakers, and go blow off steam at the track behind my house. After what felt like a solid effort, I’d head home and go right to bed. Running meant something to me, and while I didn’t know exactly what, I knew it was a good thing for me to do.

Now, running is my life. I run to be free, feel alive, and of course, I run to stay fit. A lot has changed since those evenings I spent at the track, and running has gotten more and more popular. But the other day when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed I’d had enough— it seemed like every single running publication I follow was pushing some kind of weight loss agenda. Since when did runners become so weight obsessed?

Personally, I can’t stand weight stigma. And I’m coming from the perspective of a former fashion model who graced the cover of several national magazines, posing professionally for over a decade. In all that time living up to beauty standards, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was this:  What the body looks like isn’t nearly as important as what it can do.

When I transitioned from model to athlete I started to see myself less like a clothes hanger and more like a runner— and the more confident I felt. My body in motion became the body I’m proud of. But harnessing this self-love wasn’t easy. No matter where you look, someone is always trying to tell you how to fix your appearance.

When it comes to fitness, I think our culture completely misses the point, dwelling on the way we look instead of the way we feel. I’d argue that this emphasis on aesthetics can actually prevent us from reaching meaningful goals.

The drive to run has to come from deep within. There has to be a pretty good reason to wake up before the sun every day in the freezing cold or sweltering humidity and surrender to being uncomfortable. The real work comes from figuring out what that motivation is. I could never have gotten as fast or fierce if I was only running to alter the way I looked. There are so many more important things to focus on.

A girl runs up stairs

Real results come from setting genuine intentions for yourself. Putting your body through intense physical challenges builds a strong mental game, and that’s what bleeds into other aspects of daily life. After I run I am mindful of eating and recovering in order to run again the next day. It’s not a strict regimen of diet and exercise. It’s living with a purpose. Instead of looking at running as a means to burn off pounds or calories, I like to look at it as a chance to connect with myself to improve in other parts of my life.

The way someone approaches movement completely affects how enjoyable it is. I feel like so many people would reap the benefits of running if they simply changed their reason to run. Focusing on developing strength, stamina, and discipline are positive goals that bring such a bigger outcome than the goal of weight loss. Even though we are led to believe that slimming down is a noble undertaking, there are much bigger things to put your energy into. Whenever I go into a hard workout, I like to think of it as a privilege to see what I can do with the body I’ve been given. That’s when I feel ready to lay it all out.

From my point of view, the more weight obsessed people are, the less intuitive eating and moving becomes. Reaching your goal weight doesn’t suddenly make you happy— but working towards a Boston Qualifier or even a faster 5k? That’s a real achievement worthy of the pursuit.

In an attempt to fix the fixation of losing weight prevalent in the running community I often turn to one of the female empowered running groups I’m a member of. We post and discuss how often we feel inundated with weight loss articles or weight-speak in general.

Talking to these other runners, I learned that a lot of people do start running to lose weight. For those people introduced to running on the notion that they can lose weight, having communities of people who share all the other reasons to stick with it can help alleviate the pressures of diet culture.

Getting fitter isn’t to be confused with getting lighter. Being a healthier person is one of the main reasons I run, but it’s my commitment to positive goals regarding function instead of shrinking size that brings about the most powerful, long-lasting changes. I believe that we can go much further than we think we can— as long as we’re running from the right place.

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