March 31, 2012

Racing Weight (Part Two)

In the first part of my recap of Matt Fitzgerald's "Racing Weight," I explained that, essentially, not all workouts are created equal. Calories out can vary greatly from one workout to another.

It makes sense, then, that calories in can't all be equal either. Think about it. 1200 calories of broccoli looks very different from 1200 calories of fried chicken - specifically, in volume. Per the calculator on MyFitnessPal, one breast piece of KFC's extra crispy chicken weighing 176 grams has 510 calories. The same weight in broccoli? Only 60 calories.

One of Fitzgerald's main points, though, is that calories aren't everything. There's a much bigger picture of nutrition we need to be looking at. The foods we eat - our sources of carbs, fats, and protein - should be high-quality in order to best benefit from them. Just because we budget in our calories for the piece of fried chicken doesn't make it the best choice; at the same time, though, eating exclusively certain foods can be just as detrimental to your health. (Upon reading this, I remembered a conversation I had with my sister a while ago about why even though I love it, I can't eat only cereal every day, because I'd end up malnourished.)

Humans, athletes and non-athletes alike, need carbs, fat, and protein to function. The proportions of each vary slightly from one person to the next, and for athletes, they can depend a lot on your sport. As a runner, I need to make sure I have a good amount of carbs in my diet, since that is what my body uses as fuel when I run. That doesn't mean piles and piles of pasta - we need to still be mindful of calories - but it does mean not freaking out and avoiding all carbs because the dieter's mindset tends to criminalize them.

As important as what we eat is when we eat. This doesn't necessarily mean the dieting trick of "don't eat after X o'clock," but more specifically, it means timing your meals and snacks based on your workouts in order to get the most out of it, specifically in terms of nutrients. Fitzgerald explains how to eat before and after a workout (and during, for "endurance exercise") in order to maximize fat burn and muscle growth. He also provides example menus for morning, afternoon, late afternoon, and twice-a-day exercisers with times included.

One of the biggest issues for athletes who want to lose weight is managing appetite - after hard workouts, our bodies want to be nourished, and if we do not refuel properly, there's a tendency to overeat. Fitzgerald says that we need to make peace with food - our appetites suffer greatly due to our modern food environment - and he offers the following strategies for appetite management (p. 150):
  • Practice nutrient timing.
  • Eat mindfully.
  • Eat high-satiety foods.
  • Eat low-density foods.
  • Eat less.
Timing refers to both when you eat, and how fast you eat; by eating too quickly, you might overeat since you don't feel satisfied until the food has entered into your stomach. This ties in with mindful eating, and being aware of how hungry you are - and if the hunger is, in fact, physical, or if it is an emotional craving. High-satiety foods keep you feeling fuller longer, and the nutrients in these foods include "fiber, certain proteins ... long-chain fatty acids, and possibly calcium." (p. 157) Related are low-density foods, which means they have a low ratio of calories to volume - basically, foods with high water and fiber contents (like fruits and vegetables) can leave you more satisfied than high-density foods. And our bodies can become acclimated to eating a certain number of calories, so by eating less, we can alter our body's craving for quantity - however, it has to be be done smartly (Fitzgerald suggests a sharp reduction for a few weeks, then an increase to a number in between the previous number of calories eaten and the reduced budget).

The information about nutrients and calories is all fascinating, but one thing that stood out to me especially was how often he suggested weighing yourself - and what other measurements should be taken. He said there is a merit to daily weighing, and essentially what you choose to do should be whatever you feel most comfortable with, but if you honestly eat well and stay active, the scale should move. (He also suggests a scale with a body fat percentage calculator, as that is a better measurement than just weight.) He recommends that when you weigh yourself, you should also take body measurements and do a time trial for whatever your sport is - for runners, for example, run a 10K and record your time. That will help show how you (hopefully) improve at your sport with reduced body fat and better nutrition.

The scale thing always gets me. I'm a total addict about it, totally envious of people who can weigh in weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. Weighing myself is as much a part of my morning ritual as brushing my teeth and taking my vitamin. Ever since Tim referred to the site in a post of his a few months ago, I've looked forward to the daily update from Thought Questions. I like to spend a few minutes each evening meditating on my response to the day's idea. There are hundreds of questions in their archives, but the one that I keep in my pocket for an offline conversation starter is the one that Tim originally referred to:
how old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?
I love the idea, and lately, I've been applying the same concept to thinking about weight. What if I didn't know how much I weigh? How would I measure success? What non-numeric cues would I rely on?

Certainly some food for thought.

March 29, 2012


I ate a cupcake in Chicago - from my favorite bakery, Molly's. The cake is moist, the frosting is not too sweet, and the flavors are delicious - everything from peanut butter Nutella to peach cobbler to my personal favorite, chocolate chip cookie dough:

But this is not a story about a cupcake.

This is a story about two halves of a cupcake.

Half is a fascinating measure. No matter what is being divided, you're separating something into two even, complementary parts. In "The Symposium," Plato wrote:
According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs, and a head with 2 faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.
It's a terribly lovely idea, and I like to also think about it beyond romantic relationships. Sometimes you meet someone and you bond so closely, on such deep levels, that it doesn't seem illogical that you were possibly once the same being.

Not having a strong offline support system in California is one of the reasons why I've struggled so much out here. These things take time to develop, I know, but even without the stress of being the new kid in a new place, I've always had a tough time making new friends. I'm shy, I'm initially rather quiet, and I'm harboring stories that I've always found myself apprehensive about sharing with people. It's particularly tough, too, that I met some really fantastic people and finally started to feel like my Chicago social circle was expanding about a month before I was uprooted with no warning. One of whom was Claire.

When we met last summer at the Do Life 5K on the 4th of July, there were two forces of destiny at work. One, that we would meet that day and become incredibly supportive and fantastic friends. And two, that our time in the same city was limited - I applied for my job in California the day before the run.

For one reason or another, I haven't seen Claire since the Bastille Day race, so a reunion was absolute top priority this time around. First, because I missed her intensely. Second, because there were a lot of stories ready to explode out of me, things I have kept off the blog for a number of reasons. And third, somewhat selfishly, because I wanted a babysitter, of sorts. I wanted to make sure I didn't fall into the issues of my last visits, and I knew that spending time with someone who understands and inspires me would help me make sure that at least one day could be counted as a victory in my recent binge struggles.

I've had a really tough time with binge eating on my visits back to Chicago. I see the people I love and visit the places I used to frequent, and I wish that was enough to keep me feeling satisfied. But feeling like a stranger while walking around a place that used to feel like home is tough, not to mention the fact that all my visits have been emotionally very heavy, as is to be expected when you infrequently see the people you care about.

For me, a binge is not about the food, but the ritual. And my experience has typically been that binges are (a) usually carb-heavy and (b) always secret. Walking around unknown in Chicago, stressed and overwhelmed by whatever that visit's emotional issue was, I would seek comfort and familiarity in the ways I traditionally sought them.

I promised myself that this time would be different. I would find comfort and familiarity in non-food sources. And how lucky I am to have spent one of my days with Claire, talking and laughing and crying and shopping and feeling absolutely perfect. As I've worked through my frustrations with being in California, I've been so grateful for my friends, and for the fact that the weeks or months between visits and two thousand miles between us are only time and physical space. We see one another again, and the distances are irrelevant. It feels as if we'd seen each other much more recently, and all that matters is that right now, in this moment, we're hugging each other tightly.

I told her about California, about my relationships, about the binges, about my fears and frustrations with weight loss and exercising and the whole business of healthy living. And with each word rolling off my tongue, it felt like emotional weight being lifted off of me. Being able to bond with someone over shared feelings and experiences is one of the most satisfying parts of human existence. We can count ourselves lucky if we have a friend we can share our secrets and stories with, but we're even more blessed to find someone who follows them up with "me too."

Claire and I are open (with each other and on our respective blogs) about our struggles with binge eating, and while traversing the city in search of adorable dresses for spring and summer, we found ourselves at Molly's Cupcakes. Overwhelmed with choices while looking in the glass case, we decided to each get one cupcake - and to split them in half. At my biggest, cutting a cupcake - or any food, really - in half never crossed my mind. I didn't need to decide between one thing or the other - I'd just have them both. (And if the choices were only two, that'd be a lucky thing in itself.) I didn't save food for later. I didn't share it.

But to be honest, I didn't share much of anything. I didn't share my stories, my secrets, my thoughts. So, of all the changes that have happened with the weight loss, this is, without question, one of my favorites. I'm open with my experiences. I tell my stories. I share my concerns and my successes - and my cupcake.

And I am endlessly, incredibly grateful for someone like Claire to share them all with.