On Food and Eating

Something dawned on me recently.  I have spent so much time on this blog talking about running that I have neglected to talk about an equally important – and much more difficult – topic.

Let’s talk about food.

So, I want to get a couple of things out of the way.  First – I love food.  Everything about it.  Second – I am not a big fan of discussion about food addiction.  As a chronic over-eater, this is a concept that I simply don’t understand.  And not because it isn’t real, just that everybody is addicted to food.  In the most literal way, we are all addicted to food.  We must eat to live – “addiction” doesn’t mean anything in this context.

Even an addiction to certain types of food, to me, is spurious.  If I am addicted to pizza, and have pizza at least once a day … well, that’s called nourishing my body.  Poorly, maybe, but I have to eat and I could survive on pizza for a relatively long life.  Chocolate, sweets, etc., fall into this same physical camp.  Some of us are capable of overcoming special cravings better than others, though I’d argue that those cravings are as much mental as they are physical.

Now this is not to say that there aren’t “addictions” to deal with, just that I don’t think of those as addictions to food.  Perhaps I can illustrate.

The way I have always articulated it is that everybody has their thing, that feeling they chase, often to their detriment.  For some people, that thing is drugs and for some it is alcohol.  Others turn to sex or gambling … or even positive things, like people laughing while you are on stage or singing along to your song.  But I believe everybody has a thing.  So you know that feeling you get when you over-eat?  How your belly feels like it is stretching and hurting, and how you can sit down in a chair and go into a food coma and pass out?

Yeah – that’s my thing.

food coma

That has been my thing for years.  Eventually I reached a point where I sought that feeling out after every meal.  If I didn’t have that feeling, it meant that I hadn’t eaten enough.  People would ask me if I was hungry, and my response every time was that it had absolutely nothing to do with hungry … let’s eat.  The goal was to eat enough to put me in a food coma and pass out.

When I look back at my childhood, I can see how that attitude toward food grew.  I don’t blame anybody or anything, but life in the culture I grew up in pretty much revolved around food.  We gathered over meals.  The meal wasn’t ancillary to the gathering; we were not eating because we had to eat.  The meal was (is) the point.  We ate together and cooked together.  We grew gardens together, and we hunted and fished together.   Even our hobbies were about procuring food.  And being able to eat a lot was in some ways a badge of honor.

I have a relationship with food that runs deep, much deeper than mere fuel.  And I like all kinds of food – from the very healthy all the way down to McDonald’s.  I eat good food and I eat shit.  I get plenty of the right vitamins and minerals, but my caloric intake at its highest probably would have made a dietician blush.  I love the ceremony of a good meal – the tasting of the wine, the multiple courses, the conversation.   I know people who view food as a fuel.  They can eat without regard to taste or setting or anything else.  Food, for them, is somewhat like gasoline for a car, and very little else.  And I feel both pity and deep envy for those people.  Pity because food brings so much joy to my life; envy because food brings so much tension to my life.

I’m not sure when I began to realize that there was a problem.  My family will tell a story that when I was a teenager we were limited to one bowl of cereal in the morning so we wouldn’t eat the whole box in one sitting.  I got around that by using a mixing bowl as my cereal bowl.   Even then I probably knew something wasn’t just right … but I was chasing a feeling, you know?

I would have used it if I'd had access...

I would have used it if I’d had access…

Once I quit being athletic-ish in high school my body began its predictable expansion.  I was never comfortable with my body (likely at this point won’t ever really be), but I never got so uncomfortable that I stopped eating.  Probably the first time I really acknowledged an issue was when I was in business school and hit about 290 (I’m right at 6’ tall).  I got there that time by, for example, eating bags of Oreos for dinner regularly.  A whole bag at a time.  When I realized that I was out of control, I got a classmate that worked out to help me, and I lost about 40 pounds.  But that was through a diet, which is not a solution … diets are only tools.  At that point I committed to losing weight, not changing how I did things.

Interestingly, that effort was coupled with a physical goal.  I decided when I started the process that time that I was going to do a 160 mile backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  And that goal worked – I made the investment in the equipment and had a goal to march toward.  I would up doing over 80 miles of that trip before heavy rains and high rivers forced me off the trail.  But I was proud, and I’d done it.  And then I let it go, and my weight started a long slow creep.

That backpacking trip was in December of 2006, and I weighed about 260 pounds.  In April of 2012, when I finally realized I was completely out of control again, I hit 327.  67 pounds in 6 years – 11 pounds a year, that’s it.

Ozark Highland Trailhead, December, 2006, about 260lbs

Ozark Highland Trailhead, December, 2006, about 260lbs

Now, this time I was (and am) determined to make some permanent changes – but I have a problem.  You see, I love food so much that I’m unwilling to simply give up most of the things I like to eat.  If being thin(ner) means not eating pizza, or hamburgers, or cookies, or a whole list of things … if I can’t occasionally have those things … then to hell with that, I’ll just be fat.

And I mean that.  I’m not going to live my whole life feeling guilty because every now and then I want to eat some fried chicken.  So that means I have to learn how to eat portions that won’t choke a horse, and replace most of my food with “fuel” and plan ahead for those times when I’m going to eat whatever I want.   Learning how to get, and keep, my calories down at a reasonable level is the absolute key, I’m convinced, to meeting my physical goals.

That’s why I chose WeightWatchers for my program.   WW puts nothing off-limits, but teaches you how all of those things impact your daily intake and hunger.  WW worked for me immediately, and when I actually keep track of what I’m eating, it works for me still.  Every time.

People still occasionally ask me if I’m hungry.  And the answer to that question, of course, is that it has nothing to do with hungry.  I live my life in a constant state of hunger.  But I’ve learned what an appropriate amount of food is, and I’ll continue the struggle to keep my intake there.  I’ve coupled this effort with physical goals as well, and maybe one day I will be able to replace that food coma feeling with a runner’s high as my “thing”.

Maybe, maybe not.  In the meantime – eat well, and keep running.

Must be a runner's high

Must be a runner’s high

Weigh In / Long Run 2-8-14

The frustration, it is building.

Weight:  281lbs

Weekly Gain / (Loss):  +3lbs

Total Gain / (Loss):  (-46.4lbs)

Weekly Mileage:  2.42

No excuses.  This week sucked, and I’m tired of weeks sucking.  This is going the wrong way, and it is time to put it to a stop.  Back to Weight Watchers tracking, and runs (even in the 15 degree weather and snow and ice) have to happen – no matter how short.

Incidentally, I didn’t want to do this post.  This is the first time I’ve really used this forum as accountability – it wasn’t laziness that made me not want to post, it was the message.  But the message is irrelevant to the need to get it posted.  And in fact, I’d say that the fact that the message is bad increases the importance of getting this thing posted.

So here it is.  Another post coming in the next day or so.

No excuses.

RR #12: Freezer Fives 5K

Turns out, February is similar to January in terms of trying to find races … they’re relatively few and far between.  And since my planned race was cancelled, there was a bit of a scramble hoping to find something that worked.  Fortunately, the Taconic Road Runners have two (count ‘em!) options – a 5K and a 5-miler that they use to kick off their season and call the Freezer Fives.  The races are held two weeks apart in FDR State Park in New York … I chose the 5K on 2/2.

So … this hasn’t exactly been the strongest lead-up to a race I’ve ever had.  This winter running thing, frankly, is kicking my ass and I’m starting to get frustrated about it.  But, given that January was such a slow month, I decided that my race strategy this time was to not really have a strategy – just go have a good time with it.

Until.

A couple of things about this race were different than recent races and also the last month in general.  First, because I guess they are worried about the weather, the race didn’t start until 10am.  And second, the high on Sunday was in the upper 40s and sunshiney.  Seriously perfect weather for a 5K.  And these two things led directly to something else unique about this one – my wife and son got to come with me, for the first time since my very first race last March.  Having a cheering section is … awesome.

The start line was down the road a bit from the finish line, and that wasn’t all that clearly communicated – after I got my number and shirt I just kind of followed the herd and got there.  There were no formalities at all – no national anthem, no “5-4-3-2-1”, nothing.  One minute we were standing there, and the next thing I knew all the people in front of me were running.  And so off we went.

The only picture of me taken during the race...

The only picture of me taken during the race…

I decided to go ahead and run it hard – no expectations for a PR, but given the conditions it felt good.  The course was another loop with an out-and-back spur, and because it was within the state park we had the whole road with no traffic anywhere … making for a quite pleasant run.  The little out-and-back spur started within the first mile, and featured a big hill.  Up and over, get to the bottom, turn around, and then up and over again.  Yay.  I met the leaders on their way back just about the time I topped out and started back down, which was a harbinger of things to come.

So, after that up-down-up-down, there was a short straight stretch into another decent hill that looped around to yet another decent hill … and then past the start line with half a mile or so to go.  My winter training struggles bit me on the ass on that last hill, and (spoiler alert!) kept me from a PR … but I’m not broken up about it.  Overall, this course certainly lived up to its billing as “challenging”.

Freezer Fives 5K Course Map

Freezer Fives 5K Course Map

My official finish time was 31:31, which is only 16 seconds off of my PR.  I’m thrilled with that time given all of the apparent weaknesses coming into this race.  One of these days I want to progress to being in the top half of finishers, but this one was only good enough for 218 / 284.  I’ll absolutely take it.

Notes:

– After all of that polar vortex crap last week, we seriously got a perfect day – warm and clear and perfect.  And then got a foot of snow overnight that night, and two days later another 6 inches plus sleet and freezing rain.  Winter training is killing me, and I’m officially fielding job offers for warmer climates.

–  Having the family there makes it better, officially.  Because this was just a big park, my son was way distracted … and apparently wasn’t too happy about his Mommy making him stop long enough to cheer as I ran by.  But it was great, all the same.  Hopefully they’ll get to come to a few more of these this year than they did last year.

– This is my first Taconic Road Runners race, which is something I’ve been looking forward to.  To the extent that there is a running club around here that would be my local club, the TRRC is it.  And I was overall impressed – everybody was friendly, bib pickup seemed efficient, and it really was a very good small race.  No chip timing, which is fine, but in general a very well run race.

– Speaking of timing, an interesting thing happened in terms of my official time.  When I crossed the finish line, the clock said 31:28, and my watch said 31:12 … so I thought I actually had a shot at the PR depending on how much time they gave me to get across the start line.  I’m not sure how it works that they added 3 seconds to the time I saw … but whatever.  I’m certainly not bitching, just find this curious.

– Another thing about the TRR – they keep costs way down.  $18 for me, a non-member, and I think the member cost was $12.  Of course, for that you don’t really get swag – just the t-shirt.  It is, however, a nice long-sleeved cotton shirt with a neat graphic and no sponsor logos, so pretty cool.  Also, the bibs are TRR bibs – they say Taconic Road Runners and have the orange and green color scheme.  Bibs like that are just so dramatically better than the generic RoadID ones.

– So, that was February’s race, which brings the streak to 12 months.  Last March I ran my first ever 5K.  Since then, I’ve run an official event each month for a full year.  I find that almost hard to believe.  And I’m registered for March, April, May, and June races … plus the Ragnar in October.

– Next race:  Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, Washington, DC, March 15th

Weigh-in / Long Run – 2/2/14

Disappointing weigh-in, but I was expecting it … this has been a challenging couple of weeks.

Weight: 278lbs

2 Week Gain / (Loss):  4.6lbs

Total Gain / (Loss):  (49.4lbs)

Weekly Mileage:  13.38

First quick thing – I HATE dropping back under the “50 total pounds lost” threshold.  Hate it.  And will get it under control.

I’m not going to spend the time here in this post talking about why the last two weeks have been challenging.  I could trot out a whole list of reasons excuses that I haven’t been running and eating well, and whine about how hard it is.  And, lets face it … it IS hard.  Which is totally what she said.

But instead, I want to focus here on the very encouraging things that happened in the last two weeks:

  1.  After allowing myself the sad about not running the full marathon, I finally embraced the idea of PRing the hell out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon in March.  Many many minutes will come off of my half marathon PR, and this makes me excited.
  2. I went a week and a half without doing a single run … and then put together 4 straight days at the end of that stretch saying “eff it” and doing runs way outside my comfort zone.  Including a 3-miler in 3 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.
  3. My 5-mile long run on Saturday morning was very strong.  Not only did I feel good, but the run was a strong negative split – I got stronger as the run went along.  Also, a 5-mile “long run”, after I’ve been doing 15 and 16 mile long runs, was just the thing to get me mentally enjoying this again.
  4. Today I ran a 5K that was also MUCH stronger than anticipated – only 16 seconds off of my PR on a very hilly course.  I’ll have a race report up later this week, but I could not have been more pleased with how today went.
  5. This weekend had two straight days with highs in the 40s.  I know the groundhog saw his shadow today, so I don’t want to get too excited – but come on, spring!

For giggles, I went and looked at my running log for February 2nd of last year, 2013.  It turns out that I ran 3.1 miles (I won’t call it 5K unless it is an official race – which is a comment that will have my non-American readers rolling their eyes … but, hey, what’re you going do?), and I did it in a 13 minute and 42 second per mile pace.  Which right now seems glacial.  But, in my notes, I put the following quote:  “Did not seem that fast.”   THAT fast.

Amazing how far you can come in a year.  And I’m feeling that momentum building again.

Lets go have a great week.