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Food isn't Earned

This Thanksgiving was different and strange for both runners and non-runners alike, but personally it felt very weird not to line up at a race on the fourth Thursday of November. My very first 5k race was the local Turkey Trot, held in Clearwater, FL. I remember the race fondly, as the new-found love of running was so exciting at the time. Through the rest of High School and college, I ran that race, eventually doubling in both the 5k and 10k races as I became more inclined toward distance. I ran my fastest 5k time on that course, and it was such a beautiful experience: unexpected, on a holiday, and in my hometown. The race looped through neighborhoods and eventually finished on a rubber high school track, which coincidentally is also the same track I ran my last High School race on. There was something about being there, on that track, and picking up a still-frozen mini pumpkin pie that felt like it should. There was nowhere else I could start Thanksgiving morning, it was home in every sense of the word.

Once I moved to Atlanta and experienced the nightmare that is Thanksgiving air travel, I began running the Thanksgiving Half Marathon prior to driving down to the airport to head home. Again, it felt so good to run with friends and experience the race atmosphere, just as I had always done since identifying as a runner. The airport is always empty, which is another bonus.

While I certainly enjoy the community, spirit, and fun of a Thanksgiving race (not to mention the turkey hats and pilgrim costumes), the absence races this year really made me think of why that tradition was so important to me. I’ve always had a rule that holiday races are supposed to be fun, and not to worry about pace and/or effort. No forcing anything, no plan, no looking at my watch; just running. However, I realized in processing disappointment over canceled Thanksgiving races that there was an ulterior motive: food.

I’ve struggled with various forms of disordered eating over the years, and while attitudes surrounding food are mostly under control and healthier, occasionally I notice some strings that are still attached. Running more or harder than usual assuaged anxiety over eating more or “less healthy” foods than a typical day. It was a form of earning food, when food never has to be earned in the first place.

I still ran on Thanksgiving, but made a promise to not to run any further or harder than normal. In fact, I ran easy, following the intuition of my legs. While I was registered for the virtual Peachtree, I didn’t complete it. Such an act of defiance may have been unfathomable in the past, but this year it felt right. It even felt freeing.

For anyone else that may have struggled with this, I see you. Relationships with food and exercise can become really strained in the holiday season, complicated this year by COVID. I think the most important mantra pertaining to this is that food does not have to be earned, that I am (and you are) worthy of all the pie, stuffing, and turkey that my (your) heart desires. Of course, this is not exclusive to holidays, and applies each and every day. Denial breeds desperation and discontent.

Most people would probably agree that it does not feel good to eat too much. The food coma is real. The body knows what it needs, but sometimes it can be difficult to listen to those cues due to internal and external noise. The best way to honor yourself in this season is to get quiet just long enough to hear what you need. Relationships with food, body image, and exercise are ever evolving, and ebbs and flows become easier when you give power to the journey instead of the progress.

Hope everyone found a way to move, eat, and enjoy Thanksgiving in 2020!

Eat the pie,

Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT


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