Eating Right

That Not-a-Diet On-again Off-again Roller-Coaster

January 3, 2020

Body image is a real fucker.

I observe –rightly or wrongly, but it’s what I notice– that women get it so much worse than we men. Guys are not free and clear, but the gals got it so much more rough. Because even though I’m about to write some words here about eating right and getting in shape and all that, at the end of the day the only pressure I feel is due to some residual toxic masculinity nudge to keep up as a male runner in my generally fast age category. 

If I don’t look good in a dress, no one cares.

I put it this way because I don’t want some rando-hater to come wandering by in a month or six and accuse me of propping of the diet industry or to become the target of Jameela Jamil mistakenly thinking I’m pro-beauty culture and getting virally trounced in a tweet-storm for something that I’m (genuinely) against.

So, for the record: body image is a real fucker.

And I state that in alignment with this other thing: that I’m declaring the next two and a half months of my life an eat-better-get-in-shape-again phase NOT because I’m selling beauty products, but rather because I know I’ll never even make it to another marathon start line if I don’t elevate myself even higher –health-wise, anyways– than I was two years ago when I did my last one.

My plan, the one that worked last time, went something like this:

  1. Set some rules, boundaries, personal expectations.
  2. Commit to something publicly.

Simple.

So, rules boundaries and personal expectations go something like this:

From January 3 through March 18, two and a half months I’m going to follow the little diet plan that proved my friend last time I lost some weight. The (modified) NO-S diet*. No sugar, no sweets, no seconds, no soda, no sauces and smaller portions, except sometimes on days that start with S, such as Saturdays, Sundays and special days. Also, (at lunch) skip anything that isn’t salad, soup, sandwich, or steamed.

*Google it. It’s not mine.

The committing to something publicly: well… this blog is a start.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to set any bars, high or low, for body image expectations for myself or others. In the end, for me at least, it’s not about looks — it’s about feels. And getting to that start line in better shape than I am now.

Better Eats

June 1, 2019

In an alternate parallel reality, I’m a full-boned foodie. Oh, wait…

It has not escaped my attentions, not even a little bit, that to cross the finish line of a fifty kilometer race I need to come to terms with my complex relationship with the things I shove into my mouth, both on and off the course.

At least six years ago now I had one of those cliche look-in-the-mirror moments. Everyone loves reading about those. I should write a book about that moment. I could legitimately put words onto paper on said subject. That moment spun my life off in a weird new direction, and left in its wake one of those affirmation-type stories people pay money to read for inspiration. Over four months I changed the way I ate, got thinner, fitter, stronger, ran my first marathon, and never really looked back.

Well. I peeked back now and then.

In the six years since, having dropped forty pounds in a summer, I’ve stuck mostly plus or minus ten pounds from that final number. Being lighter put less strain on my health and body, allowed me to run that marathon, and fundamentally changed the way I look at physical activity and the adventure that accompanies it.

All that said, I’m still not a thin guy. I’m definitely not one of those writhe, speedy ultramarathon guys you see in the youtube videos. Instead, I’m more like that guy you almost but not quite believe is a runner. I see the look in the eyes of people I meet: “You run? That’t awesome.” sounds like a compliment, but it isn’t a “you must be runner…” or “oh, sir, manifestation of the running gods, teach me your secrets!” It’s “you run?” Good for you. Keep trying. We’re glad that the sport isn’t so elite anymore.

Where I’m going with this is simple: I’m not the fat guy I could have been… but I’m also not the thin guy I need to be to do this thing. It’s a real barrier. It’s a serious consideration. And ultimately learning to feed myself (even) better for the next fifty weeks is going to be as important as every single klick I run.

Are You Compensating For Something?

December 23, 2015

I enjoy listening to various podcasts when I work out, when I’m on the stationary bike or even when I’m running!

One of the channels that (almost always) climbs to the top of my playlist each week is Freakonomics, an economics podcast by the authors of that book with the same name that you’ve heard about, maybe even bought, but probably haven’t read.

Yet, if the prospect of an economics podcast just sent shivers down your spine, then put on a sweater and give a few episodes of this one a listen. I suspect you may face your fear to positive effect.

One episode I would suggest for runners is the recently posted “The Cheeseburger Diet” which while it does talk a lot about cheeseburgers, is actually less about cheeseburgers and more about the tangential observation that humans are interesting creatures and we do strange things… like this thing called compensatory behavior.

I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears

Compensation: You do it, too. I know you do. Because I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears.

So, the podcast led in with a story about one woman’s obsession with finding the ultimate cheeseburger. She sounded like my kinda gal: not because of the cheeseburger obsession, but because of the analytical, over-thinking process she went through of setting up a process, schedule, a grading system, and then (essentially) writing a book-length document chronicling the results and her adventure (which she has no plan on publishing, of course.) In the context, you think the story is leading to something about a new fad diet of eating cheeseburgers and fries twice a week as a model of some unexpected outcome relating to weight loss, but it turns out to be a little more mundane and grounded than that. (Get it? Ground-ed? Hamburger? Oh, never mind.)

Drooling Economists

As it turns out she followed some classic compensatory behavior. Just like salivating over a fresh burger, this is the stuff that makes human economists drool.

“If you take on some extra risk in one area of your life, you might need to compensate by adding some precautionary behavior in another area. Some of us are certainly better at this than others, but it is a nice act of faith, isn’t it? Faith in ourselves, and our ability to self-regulate, as opposed to relying on some top-down guideline that may produce the behavior you’re hoping for — or, given the power of the law of unintended consequences, may produce the opposite behavior.”Freakonomics Podcast, Episode 230

Cheeseburger Lady did not actually end up gaining a hundred pounds over her year of eating greazy burgers. Why? Because she made up for it in other parts of her diet: she ate healthier for the other nineteen meals of the week, as she put it, rather than just adding a more fast food to her menu. She compensated for one increasing health risk by consciously reducing another.

All Of You Runners?

Runners do this. I know we do this, because (a) we’re human, and (b) I’ve done it and (c) I’m therefore extrapolating my observational data to include all runners in the entire universe. Can you believe I actually have a university science degree?

Sarcastic exaggeration aside, I’ve noticed that many of us seem to do this in both positive ways and negative ones. We do this in ways that usually relate back to eating more because we’re running more. We do it by saying (stupid) things like: I’m burning more calories by training so I deserve a desert today. Or, I just ran ten klicks so I’m going to have a great big cookie at coffee afterwards. In fact, I’ve heard one particular refrain come from the mouth of many of my fellow runners at one point or another: “I run because I like to eat.” You know that one? I know that one? I may have even said it myself.

eating all the cheesyburgers

In the podcast, Cheeseburger Lady had managed to maintain her healthy weight over the year of her cheeseburger quest, and in fact improved a few other health factors like her cholesterol counts, and the reason proposed was that she had been compensating for a new risk factor (eating all the cheesyburgers) by behaving better in the rest of her life (walking more & eating less other junk.)

Conscious Compensation

As the podcast concluded, it was revealed that Cheeseburger Lady’s biggest struggle came when she stopped eating two burgers per week: she no longer had reason to compensate, perhaps. Her discipline wavered. The balance she’d found between risk-factor extremes had unbalanced, and…

The takeaway lesson, at least I think so, is simple to understand (if not-so-simple to implement.)

We run. We fuel. We eat. We train. We burn calories. We consume some more. And in this complex mathematical dance of calculating optimal caloric intake to meet the ever-changing requirements of a casual fitness schedule we find a narrow path down which one side is hunger and the other side is over-eating. Straying from that path is as easy as under –or over– compensating. And when we compensate as a matter of course, as a purpose for the effort itself, that compensation in either direction becomes an excuse. In other words, if we learned one thing from Cheeseburger Lady it’s that we should not let compensation become justification.

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