Friday, June 27, 2008

It must be something in the air...

Or the water. Or perhaps the chocolate chip cookies.

It is kind of ridiculous that I am writing this with my stomach full of all the sugary junk I have eaten all day—and really that is all I have eaten, except for some egg and sausage casserole (which was at least protein, if not a model of healthful eating).

But what I am writing about is the trouble everyone is having with their weight these days. By everyone I don't mean the world in general—although we know that's true—but rather people who shouldn't be struggling too much with weight gain. People who have (supposedly) mastered the skills of healthy eating and exercise and weight loss, yet suddenly find themselves wearing a few extra pounds around their midsection. And still find themselves tempted by the sweet lure of office treats and weekend goodies.

I can name names. Only people who have publicly admitted this, of course. (I am assuming that anyone who posts something on a blog would not object to being quoted or linked here.)

There's me. I have written numerous times about five or so extra pounds that I have put on this spring, which are in addition to the ten pounds I really wanted to lose prior to spring (see, e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).

At least three of the running bloggers I read regularly have mentioned putting on a few pounds despite their running, or perhaps because of it.... Marathon Mama would like to find her lost running shoes and favorite hat, and lose the weight she gained during marathon training. Patti (a sistah with blistahs) has given up pizza, mostly, to help reduce her belly and look hotter—er, stronger and faster—while running. Absolut(ly) Fit Laura admits to having gained twelve pounds since December, probably thanks to travelling for work and the eating and drinking that goes along with that. And there's probably a few others who are hiding a few pounds underneath their loosely fitting technical fabric race shirts!

Amongst the weight loss bloggers there is a similar trend. My friend Mel is working on getting back on track (and we know she will), but like many of us turns to the high glycemic but oh-so-tasty treats in times of stress. Jennette Fulda, aka PastaQueen, author of Half-Assed: A Weight Loss Memoir, admits that she's gained a few pounds and struggles with tasty treats. (My theory: when a food tastes too good, especially sweet or salty, it is just too hard to stop eating it within reasonable limits. Thus best to avoid such foods most of the time.) Shawna Reid, also known as Dietgirl and also a published author (unlike those of us who just yammer on without anybody offering a book deal or any money), who has a fondness for Green & Black's chocolate, says she continues to struggle with food issues. (She doesn't say whether she's gained a few pounds, but really, who hasn't?) And Morgan, who has not gained weight, still struggles with temptations.

And we can't forget my mother, who is not a blogger, and probably will never read this (hence it is safe to write about her), who has had years of weight ups and downs, and bequeathed me her sweet tooth and weight issues. Of course it doesn't help that when I get a cinnamon roll after a race, I share it with her.

So now that I've outed everyone, what's my point here? I think it's obvious that if you eat too many cinnamon rolls you are going to gain weight (and possibly, though I hate to say it, if you eat any cinnamon rolls you are not going to lose weight); and running alone doesn't keep you from gaining weight; and lots of people actually gain weight when they are training for a big race.

But actually, what I've been thinking about is why now? Why in April, May, June, when the weather is getting nicer and the days are longer, is it the time for pounds to creep on? (Or is it simply a delayed effect from Christmas?)

I read an article in Woman's World magazine (yes, the supermarket rag) which, although I am not adopting it as the final answer, promoted an interesting theory in one of its diet pieces a few weeks ago.* I wish I had the magazine so I could discuss it more intelligently. But since I don't, I am free to make things up as I go.

The main theory of the diet is that people tend to gain weight in the summer because our bear-like bodies want to store fat to get us through the long lean winters. We stay fat (and gain more), because modern technology has deprived us of natural winter. That is, electrical light and artificial heat made even our winter days more similar to summer. Thus, instead of using up the stored fat for energy, our bodies continue to conserve.

I have no idea what the food plan was to combat this phenomenon. Probably eat protein, low glycemic carbs, and good fats. But one of the other tips was to make your days more like winter days, by going to bed early and probably using blackout shades to suppress the long evenings. Then your body will be tricked into going into fat burning mode.

I don't really think that I can adopt this scheme, although I know that I need to get more sleep. But I love the long summer evenings too much to block them out before nightfall.

One thing that I do take out of this, though, is the possibility that my body may be trying to conserve fat for some undefined future starvation period. Thus it is luring me into nibbling on cookies and hot tamales and other fat-promoting foods. Then, as we all know, sugar wants more sugar, as insulin spikes and drops, stimulating cravings and, probably, binges. (Obviously, this is just my take on the more scientific things I've read. It may not be exactly what happens, but it is certainly what happens to me.)

If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is self-power. The more I know about myself, the more powerful I become. And what I know is that sweets don't do me any good. It sounds so obvious, but I just have to keep reminding myself because I do love my cake. But really? I love my proteins, vegetables and low-glycemic carbs, and good fats (like nuts, avocado, and olive oil, in small amounts) just as well.

And I love the feeling of my clothes fitting snugly against my body, rather than my body pressing against my clothes trying to escape (it's a very fine line). And I love the thought that a few pounds less of me will lighten the load in the next half marathon. (Can't expect too much change by the next 10K, on the 4th of July.)

Earlier this evening I sat here at my office and ate lots of lowfat vanilla ice cream, because it tasted good, and for all the other reasons I mentioned above. But the whole time I've been writing this (and it took a while, with deviations to other sites, email, etc.), I've not had any desire to go back for more. All it took was a little bit of thinking about what I was doing to dampen my cravings. So let's stop being hungry bears, shall we? There's plenty of food out there for winter. No need to eat it all now!

*The magazine has a different diet on its cover every week, and I find them fascinating. Curiously, although the diet theories vary, the sample menus always seem very similar and actually quite sensible, stressing protein, vegetables, whole grain or low glycemic carbs, and good fats such as nuts; with a tweak or two to bring it in line with the diet of the week.

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