I used to be super athletic. I could jump from activity to activity within the day and was euphoric at the end of it. Now I wonder, where has all that energetic enthusiasm gone? These days, aside from eating out, or eating in, anything more strenuous is relegated to later, and then pushed on to much, much later. I started running once upon a time because it seemed a great “couple” thing to do with my then better half, and then nowadays, it just seemed to be the only activity that could match my amazing appetite. So to keep the calories down and to keep the fitness meter up, I run, and when I run good, I feel very, very good, and when I run bad, I don’t really care.
I even went so far as to google “Run with joy” online and came up with zip. Although due to a good friend (Celine Novenario the heart and soul of http://www.the30before30project.com), I got a glimpse of an article that made me realize, just running wasn’t going to make me the supermodel I always dreamed of. So instead of go run and eat what you can, she made me read this:
First, you go for a run, of course. Then what you do is go ahead and take a mess of red beans and let them spill across a big white plate so they just kiss the pile of dry-rub ribs. You go for a run (of course!) and then you roll a grilled cob of corn on a stick of butter until it’s good and gooey and shake some salt and hot pepper flakes on it. Actually, since you went for that run, just go on and do two cobs, but don’t forget to save room for the raspberry pie.
What you’ll want to do with the pie is take out a wedge about the size of a shovel blade and lob on a double dip of ice cream and eat it really fast and think how lucky it was that you got that run in.
Or here’s something else to try. Start with a run like I do and then go to the kid’s birthday party and rush the potato chip bowl with the rest of the children. Stuff a handful of chips into your mouth and laugh wildly over your shoulder at the nonrunning adults nibbling miserably on carrot sticks. Raise a can of orange soda in their direction and watch them tentatively lift their cans of diet. Then chug yours down in one swallow and slam the can on the table and wipe your mouth on your sleeve and let out a howl. Man, you don’t need no stinkin’ diet soda ’cause you ain’t on no stinkin’ diet, so pass the pepperoni, ’cause you just ran your fool head off and you’re hungry as a dog.
Something else I like to do is go for a run, do my normal cooldown followed by a short stretch and a shower, then go into the pantry and rip open a bag of chocolate chips and fill both cheeks. That’s a fun one. And like so many people, I used to drink beer and eat fried fish. Never again! That was the old me. Now I go for a run and then drink the beer and eat fried fish. In fact, for me, the beer and fried fish have become one of the great joys of running. The only other thing I’d really like to try with running sometime would be a little weight loss. I haven’t seen that as much as the beer and fish.
The prospect of losing weight was the primary reason I took up running in the first place. With a crafty bit of magical thinking, I figured there was no possible way I could run and be fat at the same time regardless of what I ate. There is no such thing as a fat runner. This reasoning, coupled with low mileage and a newly raging appetite, resulted in precisely that. But rather than panic when I stepped on the scale, I attributed the rising numbers to a new accumulation of muscle mass. I found a doctor who would support the claim and clung to him like a barnacle. Then I used any chance I could to make the point that muscle mass is so much heavier than a mass of fat. My weight gain was a product of a building athlete, not a midnight pantry raider. After increasing my mileage from one to two miles, and my running frequency from two to four times a week, I finally saw a small drop. Encouraged by that, I built my mileage and waited to see the pounds fall away. And waited, and waited…and ate like a cow the whole while.
We are all at least partially defined by the questions we ask ourselves in the bright light of the bathroom mirror–deep questions with profound implications: Can I run for a few miles and butter my steak too? Somewhere in my gut, I already knew the answer. Somewhere deep in my deepening gut. But the answer, like the gut, wasn’t pretty. The answer was a big fat no. Running may produce or otherwise support many miracles, but the butter/steak miracle is not one of them.
One morning while eating a cinnamon-raisin bagel with honey-walnut cream cheese, I came across an article about exercise and weight loss and went straight to the source study online to pore over the data myself. As reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in September 2009, researchers in Australia tracked 58 “sedentary, overweight/obese” male and female participants who took part in a 12-week, supervised “aerobic exercise intervention” without any change in diet. At the conclusion of the program, the mean weight loss for the group was just over seven pounds, but for 26 participants, the average was only two pounds. Three months of no-cheat toil for two lousy pounds! That’s a long, hard road to beautiful, partner.
I took a giant bite of the bagel and clicked to more studies. One focused on how athletes’ bodies allocate and utilize calories in an effort to discover a phenomena known as “afterburn”–roughly translated as an ability to continue burning fat calories after a workout; a get-out-of-jail-free card for my cream-cheese bagel, thanks to my previous run. And man, who among us couldn’t use just a little afterburn every once in awhile? One problem. It doesn’t seem to exist. In fact, the only good news I found was that exercise seems to keep pounds off once you’ve managed to shave them off through strict cream-cheese-bagel restriction.
One Saturday morning, from the sidelines of our sons’ middle-school lacrosse game, I shared my discoveries with Dr. Matthew McCambridge, Lehigh Hospital physician and medical staff president of the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania. “It’s all pretty straightforward,” he said with a smile. “Weight loss and attending health benefit is essentially a calories-in/calories-out proposition.”
He could have also gone on to tell me that grass is essentially green and the sky is essentially blue, but he’s too much of a gentleman for that. I pressed for clarification all the same.
“To lose weight,” I said, “you have to… eat less.”
“Even if you’re a runner?”
“At the typical distances and durations for the average athlete–yes, even if you’re a runner.”
“But I get really hungry after a run.”
McCambridge, who is trim and muscular, had just completed a 12-mile run. “To lose weight, you have to occasionally allow yourself to get really hungry,” he said with a knowing smile returning to his face. “I haven’t had anything to eat yet today. I’m actually quite hungry.”
I smiled back and nodded, but mine was a guilty smile. I hadn’t just run 12 miles. I hadn’t even run two. And I wasn’t hungry either. After a heaping breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs and pan-fried potatoes, I wasn’t even just satisfied. Two whole hours after my undeserved feast, I still felt quite full.
So there you have it, and yes Celine Novenario, you now have me sadly not reaching for that second delicious portion til I find a consistent running rhythm! If anyone out there knows an article that will make me find the joy to run, on a consistent, less whine-y and whinge-y basis, feel free to share!