Transformation

How Gaining Weight Helped Me Run Half Marathons Faster Than Ever

Michelle Greenspan used to work out to lose weight. After changing her perspective — and putting on some muscle — she's able to run half marathons faster than before.


Gaining weight helped Michelle Greenspan run half marathons faster. These pictures were taken 6 years apart, both at the same race. Photographs courtesy Michelle Greenspan.

Changing your body takes hard work, persistence, and dedication. Here’s one local’s story. Want to share your Transformation Story? Email ccunningham@phillymag.com.

Who: Michelle Greenspan, 25, from Manayunk

Why I wanted to make a change: “I was hospitalized a few years ago for anemia. My hemoglobin level was dangerously low, and this was attributed to malnutrition (among other things). It was a pretty grueling experience to be in the hospital for a few days after months and months of feeling weak, dizzy, and not myself.”

How long I’ve been on this journey: “This transformation has been going on for years, and will continue for the rest of my life. I have been struggling with an eating disorder since I was a freshman in college. Growing up, I was always a little overweight but was still active and always playing sports. In high school, I was bullied for my looks and it really took a toll on me. My junior and senior year of high school, I decided to become healthier — weight loss wasn’t a goal, but when I began working out regularly and eating better, I got to be a much healthier version of myself. Unfortunately, when I began college, this became an unhealthy obsession, and I became extremely restrictive with what I ate. My eating disorder can be most easily summed up as EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). I was in and out of therapy for years and was underweight, but not alarmingly so, so it was easy to go unnoticed. After being hospitalized, I realized that I needed to nourish my body. I wasn’t able to do what I loved most — running — and that really hit home for me.”

What changed overall: “I am at a healthy normal weight for an active young woman. I feel less anxious when food is part of a social situation — which is huge — and I am absolutely stronger, faster, and more energized. I run distance, and now that I actually know how to nourish my body the way that it needs, the minutes have just fallen off of my time year by year.”

“I find so much joy in fitness now that it’s not used exclusively for weight loss.”

How I changed my approach to exercise: “I used to be exercise obsessed. I would work out every single day, without exception, and sometimes even twice. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I was completely exhausted and I would run Every. Single. Day. Now, I know the value of a day off and the value of cross training. I genuinely love exercise — it makes me feel strong, confident, and has introduced me to people that I never would have met otherwise. I am a very sweaty girl and find so much confidence in finishing a workout completely soaked from head to toe. Over the past few years living in Manayunk, I stopped running every single day and was introduced to The Wall Fitness studio, spinning and barre. I now see muscles that I didn’t even know that I had and feel so much stronger than I’ve ever been. Running remains my true passion but by balancing out running and cycling 60/40, I’ve become SO much faster and was able to cross a huge accomplishment off of my bucket list and completed a full marathon. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without changing up my cardio routine and adding in some strength training and barre. I find so much joy in fitness now that it’s not used exclusively for weight loss.”

How I changed my approach to eating: “I love living a healthy lifestyle — fruit and vegetables excite me, but so does wine and popcorn. Really, I do the best I can to be balanced — it’s all any of us can really do. I refuse to live a fully restrictive lifestyle because that’s what started me down a really dark path. I’ve learned that the more you restrict, the more you binge, the worse you feel about yourself and the cycle continues.”

The hardest part: “The hardest part of my transformation was the beginning. I had to learn that I wouldn’t gain weight by taking one or two days  a week off from exercise and that a night of indulgence wouldn’t be a setback unless I allowed it to be. I had to re-educate myself and realize that what I was was not healthy and that the physical changes that I was seeing were for the absolute best.”

What I’m most proud of: “All of it, honestly. I would never go back to the underweight girl I once was. I am supposed to be curvy, and I love seeing muscles and not just skin and bone. I’ll never be completely free of my food anxiety but food no longer controls me which is unspeakably satisfying. I ran my first half marathon underweight and food restrictive and completed it in two hours and nine minutes. Years later I may be heavier, but my personal record for the same distance is one hour and 41 minutes — almost 30 minutes faster. Not to mention, I never would have survived 26.2 miles without lots and lots of food.”

“Years later I may be heavier, but my personal record for the same distance is one hour and 41 minutes — almost 30 minutes faster.”

What’s next: “The only thing that I strive to change most is my own body image. I am so proud of the things that I am able to accomplish and what my body allows me to do, but there are some days that I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see. I’ve learned after a long time that it’s more important to accept and love what you look like than try to change it.”

What I want everyone to know: “You’ll never find happiness through the number on a scale. It is way more important to be healthy than to be stick thin, alienating yourself and feeling like you’ll never be good enough. Your best self is your happiest self, and I can say wholeheartedly that I would not trade any of my curves, muscle, or extra pounds for any of my happiness.”

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