Because I have lost significant amounts of weight not once but twice in my life (almost 200lbs at 23, ~110lbs at 46) and because people have always seen me out running day after day, regardless of the weather, people tend to come to me seeking help or advice. But they really shouldn’t – I’m about the last person to ask.
This might seem a bit weird, but bear with me for a minute. First, anyone who follows running, fitness, or healthy eating blogs knows that many of these are written by people with little to no expertise in these fields. They have love and passion, and perhaps some talent and knowledge – but in general they have jobs in other areas and have slowly gained expertise and as bloggers want to spread that expertise.
For the most part that is harmless … but sometimes when people get a voice – they get POWER, and it makes them think they suddenly ARE experts. That isn’t me, and if I read your blog, you can be sure I don’t feel that way about you. Because I have no problem contacting someone directly when they veer into the ‘danger zone’ … I hinted about one such exchange about winter running safety.
The other reason I am writing this is because in 2012 when I started losing weight and running in public, I gained a lot of attention at the small Corning development facility where my project was located. People asked me about ‘my secret’, and those who were trying to lose weight approached me looking either for support or insight … and those who ‘fell off the wagon’ were embarrassed and avoided me. And as we are in the depths of winter with many sub-zero wind chill days each week, I am asked repeatedly how I keep up motivation for running. Again I suddenly found myself in a position where people looked to me for ‘expert advice’!
Let me be clear I don’t have any such illusions! Far from it – in fact, I have a mantra “what works for me … works for ME”! And that is why I wanted to talk about why you shouldn’t look to me for health and fitness advice:
1. I am not a health/fitness expert of any type. To be more specific:
– FITNESS – I am a runner. I belonged to a gym for two years. I belonged to a Nautilus gym for 3 months in my freshman year of high school. That is the entirety of my fitness credentials. Impressive, eh?
– NUTRITION – While I have always loved fresh fruits and vegetables, to say that I have suffered from disordered eating my entire life would be an understatement. When I started losing weight 25 years ago I did it through exercise and pretty significant dietary restriction. And honestly every time I slacked during the years, that was my answer – tighten up my running routine, and cut way back on eating.
These past three years have been different. I am eating the largest breakfasts of my life, normal lunches, and moderate dinners. I have played around with cooking and eating bulgur, quinoa, flax, kale and on and on. My eating is a work in progress, though I truly believe that some of my new habits will stick with me forever – like my love of fruit and vegetables.
2. I can JUST run … and nothing else – this is a three-fold problem:
– Boredom: most people would get bored doing the same thing again and again.
– Injury: continue to pound the same muscles again and again … and you are more likely to get hurt. A mixed fitness plan is a much better idea for most people.
– Lack of cross-training: without mixing up your workouts, it is more of a challenge to hit all of your running goals.
I am actually doing better with this, doing some core work at least a few times per week. But my running remains monolithic.
3. My running regulates my diet naturally – I have lost 25 pounds or more 5 times in my life at this point. And 4 of them looked like this: start running 4-5 days per week, eat better, done. (the other time involved getting on thyroid meds and joining a gym). When I start running I crave healthy foods and find unhealthy food unappealing. So while I have always done some amount of ‘I run to eat’, that is more confined to a bowl of ice cream at night than anything else.
4. I have never hit a frustrating plateau – I have many folks I know who are stuck at that ‘last 10 pounds’ or unable to get into a running routine, or whatever. So when I go back to the Bloom County ‘Eat less and exercise’ comics, it just works for me – and as a result I really feel I lack the skill set to help someone struggling at the end. Are they over-training, undertraining, snacking too much, eating too little? I dunno …
5. I have never had a running injury – at first this might make you think ‘hey, that is a reason TO ask you for advice, I want your secret!’ But the reality is that while I have tremendous sympathy for those suffering exercise injuries, I lack true empathy because I have not experienced an inability to get up and go running; as a result I am useless in terms of developing strategies or coping mechanisms.
Bonus: I don’t care about racing – I get asked all the time about what I’m training for … because why would I run more than a half-marathon at least one day each weekend, average 6 days of running per week and more than 50 miles per week? And really, this is due to me running for 23 years before my first race – it just isn’t a priority but instead a fun add-on. But with younger runners, even those who started as adults, chances are that they ran a 5K within months of starting running. I read on a blog of someone who has run 30 races in the last 7 years and had 4 injuries and wondered how she ran so many races with all those injuries? My lingering thought is that perhaps she’s asking the wrong question … perhaps she should wonder if focusing so much on racing is leading to chronic injuries?
So there you have it – reminders of why I should NOT be a fitness or nutrition resource for you. As I said at the beginning, there are loads of people who – like me – are not really qualified to be handing out advice. In addition there are people who can spend 2 days and get a ‘certificate’ that makes them a certified coach or trainer. Two days … seriously.
There are people who you SHOULD seek health advice from – they make it their life’s pursuit, have gained education and experience and a broad expertise. Doctors, PT, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and so on. As for bloggers, read them for the great personal insights and stories and shared experiences. Most of them are very clear that what they say is about what works for them – but beware those who do not!