The girl on the treadmill

pie 1

By Taylor Smith

To the girl on the treadmill,

I ate a piece of pie for you today.

I don’t know your name. We haven’t even had one of those awkward gym conversations — red-faced, outta breath, fumble for the iPod pause button.

But if I can take a shot in the dark, I bet I know part of your story.

It’s a story of feet hitting a revolving rubber belt that is getting you nowhere.

It’s a story of buttons,
and glowing yellow numbers, the ones that you watch creep up as you go for
another minute,
another quarter mile,
another dozen calories burned.
They are, perhaps, the only numbers you are OK with increasing.

Right now, life is a lot of numbers — numbers that you hope will lead to happiness.

lauretta jeans

Throw away the 100-calorie pretzel packs.

But when will happiness come?
When you drop another five pounds?
When you fit into the jeans you wore in middle school?
When that centimeter gap between your thighs turns into an inch?

Stupid thighs. Stupid body. Who needs to feed you, anyway? You’re strong. You can go without breakfast. Just keep running; just keep going for another mile, or three.

I want to reach up and lay my hand on your shoulder. I want to turn down the speed and lower the incline. I want to sit with you on the scuffed gym floor and let tears tear through silence.

I want you to know that I care,
that I was there once, too.

I want you to know that you can stop running now. I want you to know that you can come home.

You can donate the scale and throw away the 100-calorie pretzel packs. You can curl up in your blanket with a bowl of mac & cheese, the way you used to love to.

You can do all these things, when you are ready.

But until you are ready, I want you to know that I will keep you in my prayers.

My first prayer manifested this morning, right after I saw you on the treadmill.

It took place in a pie shop, one that you’ve probably passed by a dozen times, looked at the menu, and kept on walking.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith

Today I decided to go in. Not just for you, but for me, too.

The Hallelujah Chorus began when I saw the plates of strawberry rhubarb and lemon meringue.

Those pies looked just like Grandma’s, like the coconut cream one she taught you how to make.

Today, my prayer for you was blackberry raspberry streusel baked in pastry dough served on a chipped porcelain plate.

Tart, sweet, broken,
yet beautiful.

When fork sank into sugared oats and purple berry juice, I thought of you.

I thought that someday soon, this might be you, eating one of those before-noon-on-Monday slices.

I hope that when you take your first bite, it’s so delicious that you know you can’t turn back.
I hope that flaky crust is instant memories of 5-year-old you, twirling in summertime dress and dreaming of swimming pools made of Jell-O.

Maybe you’ve thought of all this before,
and maybe you haven’t.

But I believe you are worthy this plate-of-pie euphoria.

You are also worthy of being nourished by breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
by a man holding the door open for you and singing you love songs,
by a warm shower where you don’t care if you use all the hot water in the tank.

You deserve not just one slice of pie. You deserve the whole thing, a la mode.

You deserve all that and more.

Taylor Smith is a tree huggin’, deep-conversation lovin’ Oregonian with a passion for listening to people’s stories. One of the greatest joys in her life is helping women celebrate the beautiful individuals they were created to be.


Editor’s note: Taylor was a features intern at The Oregonian last year, working out of the Hillsboro office, so I got to know her as a professional colleague. Her back story is pretty extraordinary so I invited her to share it in a guest blog earlier this year. Read it here: “Meet my mom.”

Tomorrow: “Chicago’s mind-numbing numbers” by Tim Akimoff


19 thoughts on “The girl on the treadmill

  1. Diets are the human equivalent of chasing your tail. As a person who used to weigh over 400 pounds, it took a long time to let go of the “diet” piece of it, and recognize it for it’s own sickness. It makes you “white knuckle” your own life. Diets remind me of an old saying: “The man who checks his pulse is already dead.” I’d change that to “The person who counts their calories is not living.”

  2. You clearly have empathy and insight to spare, Taylor! My daughter is exploring starting a zine that aims toward helping people with body acceptance issues … I will let her know that you should be a contributor. I really did love this post … thank you!

    • Hi, Lynn! I would love to hear more about your daughter’s endeavor with her new magazine! As I like to say, any opportunity to raise awareness about ED is another victory in the battle.

  3. Oh Taylor! You said it all, right down to the core of an eating disorder…or disordered eating, whichever it is that binds someone to a place of captivity. You talk about the concept of worth. You said it perfectly. I will pray for her too.

    • Thanks, Amy! So glad we can talk about health in an honest and real way. Cheers, to listening to what our bodies need and showing love and grace at all times, to all people!

  4. Beautifully written, Taylor. I loved the part where you insisted on the girl on the treadmill’s worth because we are all worthy and it is so hard to remember sometimes. Thank you for sharing and for recognizing your own worth. Salut!

  5. Your writing and thoughts are lovely. To be honest, however, lately I’ve been having a contrary opinion. Just as you mentioned the term “happiness” in your piece, I wonder about the degree to which happiness is a worthy goal in life. There should also be room for valuing discipline, at least that’s what my Asian sensibilities would argue. As my employer switched over to a new health care plan this year, I reflected on how healthy families essentially subsidize unhealthy ones. On a related note, I am also intrigued at how we Americans/Westerners conflate health and beauty. It’s possible that dieting goes awry, precisely at the point where the objective becomes beauty instead of health.

    • Aki, I meditate on the word happiness, too. In the end, I always come back to the word joy. I believe happiness is conditional and true Joy is unconditional. When I love myself at any given moment of any given day, I realize that place of love comes from my core Joy. While happiness is fleeting, Joy remains. If I respond to others (and myself) from that place of Joy, I find that showing love and grace are my only options.

    • Thank you, Nike, for your kind words. I hope that healing comes for those in your life who are struggling with eating disorders. It is a tough battle, but it is one that can reveal amazing strength.

  6. First, the picture at the start: You had me at flaky goodness. You could have written about software engineer coding and I wouldn’t have even been bothered that it was totally over my head. Glad it was a young woman’s thoughts about women’s war with food and image and society, however. That, like most wars, is messy and sad. And it’s worth fighting one treadmill tribute and one pie slice at a time.

    • Diana, I am so glad that we can celebrate things like positive body image and eating delicious pie! Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for choosing to show love in the battle of food, image and society!

  7. I’ve been that girl and I’ve been her polar opposite. I don’t remember a time when some form of eating disorder wasn’t plaguing me. Somehow, after decades of struggle, I’ve managed to come mostly out the other side into a sort of balance. I’m at the point where sometimes loving myself means dishing up a big ole serving of pie and sometimes it means passing it by. But, let’s be real, most days it’s the pie;)

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