Saturday, April 5, 2008

Running and weight

I am on a perpetual diet. I suppose I should say "healthy eating plan intended to assist with weight loss"—because that's quite true, I do try to eat very healthily and I would like to lose a little weight—but the truth is, you might as well call it a diet anyway.

"Diet" seems to be a bit of a dirty word these days. Undoubtedly it conjurs up visions of crash diets and liquid diets and Atkins (which is not all bad), and the grapefruit diet and the cabbage soup diet and the Scarsdale Diet (1970's, anyone?) and Weight Watchers (which of course is a good plan, and by the way they now eschew the word "diet"), and any other more or less radical plan by which one hopes to lose weight before returning to one's old ways of eating which caused one to gain the weight in the first place. (Which, in fact, could be described as a "diet" itself, in the true sense of the word.)

"Diet," of course, simply means what you eat. Webster's Dictionary gives it three definitions before even getting to weight loss. Check it out:

1 a: food and drink regularly provided or consumed b: habitual nourishment c: the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d: a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight .

I like the etymology of "diet" (that is, the derivation of the word): Middle English diete, from Anglo-French, from Latin diaeta, from Greek diaita, literally, manner of living, from diaitasthai to lead one's life.

But let's not kid anyone, we all think of "diet" or "dieting" as eating in a way to lose weight. Using the word diet is a handy shorthand, not to mention a reminder of what one is trying to do. It's so much simpler, when faced with cookies, candy, pizza, nachos, etc., to say simply "No thanks, I'm on a diet," than to explain, "No thank you, I am on a healthy eating plan in which I avoid sugar, empty carbs, bad fats, and excessive consumption of anything but non-starchy vegetables." (Then further explaining, "I eat primarily lean protein, vegetables and greens, low glycemic fruits, whole grains in moderation, and good fats such as olive oil and avocado.) (Then perhaps qualifying, "I do like to indulge in small amounts of dark chocolate, and the occasional cookie or piece of cake on special occasions.") At this point your friend might be thinking: "All she had to say was no thanks!"

Okay, so I'm on a diet. Luckily, this diet, this manner of living, is one which I can largely follow all of the time, for the rest of my life, as opposed to some of the more radical schemes which seem designed only for the short term.

And I have in fact lost lots and lots of weight by eating this way, over about a two-year period a few years ago. I have also kept it off, not just by the way I eat but by running a lot and walking and working out. Kind of a lot.

Still, for various reasons I would like to lose about 10 pounds. I've actually wanted to lose those ten pounds for about a year and a half, which probably makes me seem pretty pathetic. I really don't want to give up anything that I eat regularly, which means I'm relying on cutting out the extras (the odd cookies and treats). That is a reasonable plan, it just seems that special occasions come up just often enough to thwart me.

One of my reasons for wanting to lose just a little more weight is that I think it might help me run a little faster. After all, Lance Armstrong lost weight to improve his marathon time; so did lots of other less known runners. There was a very interesting piece in Runner's World last summer (I think it was the July issue), with a chart showing how a few pounds can affect your time in various length races. (I can't find a link to that article, though.)

At the beginning of the year I set a loose goal of losing ten pounds by April, since that's when my first two half marathons are this year. By late February it seemed clear that wasn't going to happen. I revised it to five pounds.

It's now April 5, and... no go. (Or more precisely, "not gone.")

For now I am just sticking to an interim goal of not gaining any weight while still nourishing myself appropriately for Whidbey and Robie Creek.

For me that means eating like I always do, but emphasizing the healthy carbs a bit more. I'm thinking of cooking up some sweet potatoes to eat with my dinners. And I do indulge in pasta the night before a race. It seems to make the race go faster. Whether I really am building up my glycogen stores or whether it is just psychological, I'm a firm believer in the pre-race pasta dinner. (And I eat some bread too.)

The post-race cinnamon roll is not really necessary, it's just a treat. (Which might explain how too many races could lead to weight gain!)

I don't use Gu or Gatorade. I might bring a couple honey packets in my pocket for a mid-race energy boost (in a half marathon, not a shorter race). I do think I might have run low on energy stores near the end of Whidbey last year. I'm sure I have enough fat to fuel my body for a while, but probably there isn't time in a half marathon for the fat stores to be accessed. So perhaps a squeeze of honey will help out. (I did order some JellyBelly sport beans and Luna moons to try out, but they're not going to get here in time.)

I've just started reading The Runner's World Runner's Diet by Madelyn Fernstrom. I'm reading it for the information, not so much because I want to follow it. I'm often reading diet and nutrition books, looking for ideas and concepts that will work for me. This book may be geared to people who run a little less intensely than I do, but I think it's a good reminder that most of us do not need to eat like elite runners do (so lay off the Clif bars, buddy!).

I know I am never going to be waif-like or skinny, or have that slightly skeletal look that some (possibly undernourished) runners do. I'm more muscular. And yes, there's a layer of fat over some of that muscle (particularly in my arms and legs) (although my scale says my body fat is about 15-16%). I sometimes think that being "on a diet," always wanting to lose a few pounds, is the best way to keep myself on my toes and not falling down the slippery slope of weight gain (surely a downhill slope is not the best metaphor here!). On the other hand, that could be the road to madness, if I ever lost those ten pounds I am fighting with, and still was not satisfied!

Perhaps it is a reassuring sign that, in spite of those ten pounds I'd like to ditch, I'm pretty happy with where I'm at. I look good, I feel great, and I can run hard and fast (enough).

Although I have to admit that all of this writing about food and diet is making me a little hungry....!

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