This is going to sound a bit cynical and perhaps it is: American culture has become obsessed with the possibility of actions without consequence followed by a ‘quick fix’ to undo whatever mess we’ve made. I have a picture of my mother at a bicentennial celebration in 1976 and she was rail-thin, thinner than I had ever seen her. She had problems for years losing weight after my younger sister was born, so her doctor gave her diet pills to help. In the mid-70s ‘diet pills’ were basically speed. She lost weight way too fast because the
speed diet pills accelerated her metabolism, but also destroyed her appetite, made her moody and erratic, and otherwise were very dangerous.
For one fleeting moment it seemed like she could have the weight loss she wanted, but like most people she very quickly realized that the answer wasn’t to be found in a pill, so she stopped – and her weight curve for 1976 looked like a parabola. It is a simple reminder that anyone selling a quick-fix, is simply selling you something; and anyone pushing a ‘can’t lose’ system either is selling something or is overdosing on their ego trip. This is why when you ask for advice from me on health-related things, I will always preface them with ‘here is what worked for me’.
As I have written about quite a bit, for just over a year I have been on a weight loss and running journey that has taken me from having a big bag of peanut butter M&Ms in my desk drawer at work and weighing over 275 pounds, to weighing 100 pounds less and being a marathon runner and running an average of 60 miles a week. I am more than happy to talk about my journey, to share my approaches to exercise and healthy eating – but I make no pretense that what works for me is some sort of universal truth whether about eating or running.
Here are a few thoughts on what works for me – and why it might not work for you!
1. Exercise Regulates My Already Decent Eating Habits: I love fruits and vegetables and lean meats and non-fried, non-processed snacks. I have no special love for chips or fries (or crisps), no need for processed cereals or snack foods, nor pre-fab dinners. I always love ice cream. However, when NOT exercising I will eat larger portions of everything, and my snacking is less healthy – as I have said, rather than fresh fruit and nuts, in early 2012 I had one of those massive bags of Peanut Butter M&Ms in my desk drawer at work. As soon as I start exercising, my ability to control portions and balance intake is quite frankly pretty amazing.
I know many people who start exercising and find themselves voraciously hungry – indeed, that happened to me last March before I got serious. I was trying to restart my running and failing, but the fact that I was getting out a couple of days in a row left me hungry – and so in spite of only burning a few hundred calories, I was consuming at least twice that much in extra calories. A co-worker who sought my advice last fall was running into the same issue – and my advice to him was to journal what he ate to keep better track of progress.
Another thing – on several running blogs I see people advocating a bunch of different extreme diets. These are typically the ‘don’t eat any of X’ type thing, whether Paleo, ‘Sugar Detox’ or whatever. While I am not a fan of processed sugar due to the demonstrated health detriment of messing with your metabilic triggers and having addictive qualities, I personally love ice cream and enjoy a soda on occasion, and I have always found that a prohibition on something only makes me want it more. So I would never recommend that to anyone.
2. Exercise Also Accelerates My Metabolism … Big Time: I always thought I had a slow metabolism – then I started running. When I first lost weight after college I dropped 150 pounds in less than
a year, with the remaining 25 pounds coming off over the next few months. Each time I have lost weight, it has come off relatively quickly; don’t get me wrong, it is really hard work that involves dedicated exercise and portion control that leaves me constantly slightly empty. The same thing happened over the last year, but going from running <15 miles per week to 50-75 miles per week caused me new issues which I realized when I ran out of fuel near the end of my first half-marathon: I got to the point last year where I needed to carefully control my intake to be sure I was getting enough fuel for my runs.
I have friends who exercise, diet and so on and struggle with weight. And as mentioned above, I had a colleague whose workouts simply made him hungrier. My equation – exercise->better eating->weight loss – is unique to me; sure there are others who get similar results, but I will never assume that it works that way for someone until they tell me.
3. I Recover Very Quickly: When I travel on business I typically go on my normal morning run (avg 7.5 miles), and will also head out for an evening run between 5 – 8 miles. I’ve put in more than 40 miles on three-day trips, and then get up the next morning and go again. Similarly I will often do a punishing ‘double-hill long run’ on a Saturday followed by a fast & flat long run on Sunday, then get up and run again Monday. I let my family availability time dictate days off rather than a training schedule.
That is not normal, I know this. As I noted before, Judie got impatient starting her running training and went out too hard and too fast and ended up hurt, fortunately not seriously. I have other friends who cannot run more than 2-3 days straight, or who mix things up to protect their joints and so on. So when people ask me about a training plan, I tell them not to take my habits as advice, but instead to consult a professional plan or get a coach if they are serious.
4. My Joints Are Very Good At Handling Stuff: My ability to recover and adapt allows me broad leverage in trying stuff out. When I bought my first pair of ‘serious’ running shoes in May 2012 (everything else I ever owned was from the ‘running section’, but was basically the most comfortable pair under $50) I jumped right into the ‘semi-minimal’ Nike Free Run 3.0. I had no issues or adjustments. Same for the move to zero drop minimal shoes – no problem. I ran quite a bit with the Merrell Vapor Glove before deciding I really liked more cushion in my shoes. I put more than 2000 miles on my first Nike Frees, though I definitely felt the difference with my new ones; I will likely try a new type of shoe between marathons this summer, and I am pretty confident won’t have an adjustment issue.
But again, my body is pretty good at handling stuff. When I was talking about running shoes on Facebook I got asked for advice – and I was very frank about how my body deals with stuff, and asked probing questions to learn that the person asking for advice really needed high-cushion ‘stability’ shoes. They might not be the ‘sexiest’ market segment, but the most important thing is to protect your feet and knees.
Further to this, the main advice I would give someone concerned about shoes is this: find a running store and get some help with shoe types and fitting based on your feet and stride. I was in Dick’s Sporting Goods this weekend buying up some supplies of Gu for the coming weekend, and decided to try on a couple of shoe types, and really got no help at all. If I didn’t know what worked and didn’t work for my feet I could have walked out with some poorly sized shoes that would have messed up my feet when I ran.
5. I Know My Own Limits: My wife has a famous mantra for me ‘don’t do anything stupid’. It is deserved, because I like to push my limits or just ‘go with it’ and last summer ended up pretty badly dehydrated one night. Since then I have made sure to think about what I am doing, where I am going, and ensure that my nutrition and hydration needs are met – last week I cut a longer run short because the weather had turned hotter than expected and I ran out of water. The reality is that making up for fewer miles is easier than the extended recovery from dehydration or heat exhaustion.
So again my advice is to NOT do what I did! I jumped in last April and quickly ramped my distance over a couple of weeks, and never had a problem. For many people that would be the express route to injury! So as I told someone getting started – start off slow and with short distances, balance workouts between different types, and honestly assess whether how you are feeling is that soreness from a good workout, or exhaustion and pain from overdoing things.
Find What Works for You:
And that is what I end up telling people: my story is about coupling eating smaller quantities of healthier foods and exercising regularly. And the results are clear – and pretty impressive – I will admit. But they are MY results – based on a system that works for me. What system works for you? I have no idea – that is for you, and possibly your doctor, to figure out!