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Life changing

I’m in the process of re-evaluating my life and trying to figure out who it is that I am and what my life goals really are. Obviously diet and exercise are a big part of that, but life is definitely more than that too, which I am starting to figure out!

I still have a long ways to go, but in the meantime I wanted to share with you an article I read recently that really changed my perspective on why and how I exercise the way that I do.

Runner’s World magazine has an article series called “I Am a Runner” which features different people in the public eye who run to maintain good health, even in the midst of their busy lives.

The last one I read was an interview with Mika Brzezinski, whom I only know of because my best friend Courtney turned me on to the tv show Morning Joe (weekday mornings on MSNBC) a few years ago. So I’m used to seeing her like this:

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Her story was amazing to me because according to her, she just runs because she wants to. She even ran on the days she delivered each of her children!

I don’t care where I am or what it’s like out. I’m running.

She’s not fast, she doesn’t have any fancy gear, and she hates the treadmill. Wow, how refreshing! She also gets the mental aspect of running:

My thoughts then wind down to bigger things, like what kind of a person do I want to be? I make decisions and figure stuff out.

But probably my favorite quote from the article, the one that made me think the most, was what she tells one of her daughters about running:

When we run, she says, “Mom, you’re so slow.” I tell her, “Stick with me and you’ll be running pain-free for the rest of your life.”

For so long, I have been running because I wanted to push myself in new ways and also because running burns more calories and I wouldn’t have to worry about gaining weight as much. That, to me, is a horrible attitude to have. It took me this long to realize it.

Yes, running does burn calories and can help maintain a weight loss but if that is your primary motivation, you may find yourself failing at that. I have actually gained more weight and worked HARDER to keep weight off since I have been running.

I’m also always striving to improve my running — to be faster or to do more weekly mileage. Why? Unless I am training for a race, I don’t need to worry about how many miles a week I run. I don’t need to be faster because I’m not trying to win anything.

And as Mika pointed out, when you run hard and fast, you risk injury more. Is being faster or running more miles really worth that?

I have come to the conclusion that I love to run. I love being able to run since I spent so much of my life as a sedentary, overweight person. I am thankful for the gift that is running. Now I am trying to get over wanting to be faster or “better” at running.

I am doing fine where I am now. Any efforts I’ve made at being faster or running more because I thought I had to never made me feel better about myself. But just running for fun when I’m not under that kind of pressure does.

I’m not saying that I won’t sign up for some races and challenge myself here or there, but I need to let go and just enjoy the run. Because I can! 🙂

For more “I Am a Runner” stories, click here.

The philosophy of Mark Bittman

I just read this really great article on Runner’s World – Simply Good by Mark Bittman

Bittman is the author of two books you’ve most likely heard of: “How to Cook Everything” and “Food Matters”. In this article, he details his struggle with excessive eating which came as a result of excessive running and the never-ending hunger that comes along with that. This caught my attention immediately as this is something I have struggled with in the past.

He also talks about how after gaining weight, being diagnosed with sleep apnea and other potentially serious health issues, he decided it was time to change his diet. He was eating too many animal products (especially meat) and processed foods and not enough of the good stuff (fruits and vegetables).

“…like many runners, I felt that I ran enough to compensate for overeating, and that running would make me immune to the middle-aged paunch and all the lifestyle syndromes, diseases, and problems that come with it. Wrong…”

Eventually, Bitman chose to reduce his consumption of animal products and processed foods, epecially after reading some alarming statistics about the health of Americans, global warming, overfishing, and other social issues that meat and processed foods-eating contributes to.

“When I turned my attention to vegetables, I realized they made a better core to my diet than animal products: They’re simple, flavorful, affordable, easily varied and cooked, and unquestionably healthy…”

This really resonated with me because that is EXACTLY why I am working on developing this vegan diet for myself. Vegetables (and some fruits) make so much sense to me. Meat doesn’t and I don’t really like it. I also don’t like the way dairy makes me feel or the potential hormones that come along with it, unless you buy organic. Processed foods are not only unhealthy, they are expensive.

I’m also interested in seeing how this new way of eating affects my running. I haven’t ran more than 3 miles since April but eventually I would like to get to where 5 was comfortable and perhaps even build up to another half marathon someday. I used to think that was impossible but I just have to remind myself that I did it once, I can do it again. I also eat a whole lot better now than I did then (when I relied on too many processed carbs, sugar, etc.), so who knows?

I’m certainly inspired by Mr. Bittman and his determination to eat healthy and keep running:

“Yes, I’m more determined than I’ve been in a long time, but that determination comes from having taken control of my diet and, as a result, the basic shape of my body. Unquestionably, eating sanely has rejuvenated my running, made me more youthful, and helped me feel, well, simply good.”

“To me, running and cooking are both uncomplicated and essential pleasures that can be enjoyed with minimum equipment and time.”

Amen.

Exercise, food and weight gain

As I was checking my email this morning, I came across one from Runner’s World (I’m on their mailing list) and clicked the link to a response from “Ask the Sports Dietician” on the Time Magazine article entitled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” which were both interesting reads. So I thought I would give you my take on it.

Basically, the author of the Time article states that while exercise is important and many Americans do it, it can also stimulate hunger which then leads us to eat more, which basically undoes the exercise we just put in to lose weight. He says “…like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t. Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”

I feel like I’ve been in this same boat myself. Especially when I was a more serious runner, I would eat and eat and eat because the last thing I wanted was to “bonk” during a race or suffer from dehydration, carb depletion or any of the other horror stories I’d heard from experienced runners. Even after I backed off of my training, I somehow adopted the mentality that I had to work out everyday and burn a certain amount of calories per day in order to keep my weight under control because I knew how many calories I had to eat each day.

Turns out…as I have been exercising less the past couple of weeks, I have been less hungry and my weight is back under control. This also comes as a result of eating less sugar which has made me feel better overall. I’ve also come to appreciate the value of rest. At a time when I was putting in hour plus workouts at the gym and running/walking multiple times in one day, I was actually gaining weight! And I was tired and sore a lot of the time. And my meals never seemed to satisfy me which is why I would spend a lot of nights in the kitchen raiding through the pantry. So I think there might be at least some merit to this author’s discussion. But I think the blogger from Runner’s World is right to offer some solutions to exercise-induced hunger and find a balance between your activity and your eating habits.

I’d have to say it should be more like “Why Exercise ALONE Won’t Make You Thin.” There, that’s better.

As the author mentions, there is also the “reward” part of this, when we have a really great workout and decide that we “deserve” a special treat for being so “good.” I have seen this quite a bit in my experience. It’s something I’ve even been guilty of from time to time, especially as a runner (hello huge Panera bagels after races).

My family and I used to walk at the mall on Saturday mornings but as soon as we were done, we stopped at Starbuck’s (inside the mall) and while I ordered a coffee of some sort, another family member would get a pastry or other baked good from the case, which totally undoes the walk we just took. If walking for 45 minutes burns 300 calories and then you eat a Reduced-Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake at 290 calories (and 34 grams of sugar!), you’ve pretty much used it up. The walk was still good for your cardiovascular health, your muscles and bones but your treat took away it’s opportunity to contribute to any possible weight loss.

I’m happy to say that since the weather warmed up, we haven’t been walking at the mall much and when we have, everyone has pretty much been sticking to water or iced tea to rehydrate instead of useless calories from baked goods. However, as the Fall and Winter weather are ahead of us and we again have to retreat inside, will everyone be able to maintain this will power? I hope so.

Anyway, I hope you will read the above articles and make these determinations for yourself. It is important that we all find what works best for our own individual and unique bodies and maintain a balance so that both exercise and food are helping us reach our goals instead of becoming a hindrance.

Happy Thursday!