Marathon training has absolutely destroyed my diet.
And by “diet” I don’t mean, “counting calories, Slim Fast Shakes, and slowly chewing celery sticks throughout the day LOL!” I mean my actual way of eating.
I’ve been on a health food kick for the past 3 or 4 years – a kick that has only became more intense after I moved into an apartment complex that was just down the street from a Trader Joe’s. I got into this “organic-everything” mindset around the same time I got into yoga and tai chi and the concept of running 3 to 5 miles on a fairly consistent basis. Much like yoga or tai chi, I would end my runs thinking, “Well, that was quite refreshing! I would like to eat an apple or a salad and continue on this healthy living practice.”
After my training runs, I have only one thought on my mind: “GREASY CHEESY CHEESY GREASY CHEESY SALTY FATTY GREASY CHEESY FOOD.”
I guess that’s the difference between burning 400 calories and burning all your calories. It didn’t help that, as I hit the longer distances, I moved 30 miles away from the Trader Joe’s, into a town where the health food store is exactly the type of organic shop that most people despise (not to mention their selection is terrible). In the midst of packing and renovating and moving and unpacking, my husband and I had a lot of pizza delivery, a lot of Chinese takeout. We found ourselves in kitchens without pots or pans (or vegetables), but two sets of cellphones that could call the local pizzeria. And, for someone who had been eating organic veggies for the past few years, it was pretty damn easy for me to switch back to greasy, processed foods.
And it is just impossible to ignore the part of our brain that takes over when we’re in desperate need of food. We go into a primal, feral mode: a type of mindset where we’re lucky if we pay for the food without grunting and thumping our chests at the cashier. Our lizard brain kicks in and replenishing lost calories is all that matters (except it’s not “replenish lost calories” to the lizard brain; it’s “GREASY GREASY SALTY GREASY CHEESY FATTY FOOD.”)
Take, for instance, my experience last week: I ran roughly 8 miles in my old neighborhood and went grocery shopping immediately afterwards. I went into Trader Joe’s hoping I would find a nice, healthy snack to enjoy on the drive back home — and downed an entire bag of Cheetos instead. And not one of those, “travel sized!” bags. I mean the kind that technically has 7-9 servings in it. Granted, it was Trader-Joe’s-brand Cheetos, but Cheetos all the same (I’m not nearly delusional enough to think that, just because I bought it at Trader Joe’s, crap food is suddenly good for me).
I’ve been trying to get back into the healthy-food-for-fuel attitude, but it’s difficult when quinoa takes 15 minutes to cook and the bag of potato chips is right there. Oh, six grams of protein? No saturated fat? Yeah, but can I just rip the bag open and stuff the delicious contents of said bag right into my piehole? No? Come here, then, Lays. Mama has some words for you.
I’m not beating myself up over it too much, as I’ve been burning sometimes as much as 1500 calories per run. But I am trying to make a more conscious effort of eating decently. Eating whole foods and avoiding the temptation to order a large pizza just for myself. It’s hard to shut the lizard brain off, but sodium benzoate doesn’t give a flying shit if I’ve been running for the last hour and a half and I need to be a bit more intelligent about what gets shoved in said piehole.
Although, sometimes the lizard brain works in my favor. A few days ago, I ran a little over 9 miles in my current neighborhood. I stumbled into my kitchen and noticed the cold, steamed broccoli, still hanging out in its colander from the previous night’s dinner, just sitting out on the oven. Before I could even get my shoes off, I start popping the day-old broccoli in my mouth, savoring it like Wolfgang Puck himself made it fresh, just for me. With broccoli in my stomach and my lizard brain slightly more subdued, I made myself a proper plate of scrambled eggs and fruit (and avoided the Tostitos bag on top of the fridge).
My first half marathon is now less than 3 weeks away. I then have two more half marathons before I go after my white wale — the Chicago Marathon — next year. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to run the Boston Marathon under a charity (because, God help me, I doubt if I’d ever make a qualifying time) in 2015. It’s ambitious, but if there were ever a time to test my physical limits, this is it. And may all the Cheetos and chips wait for me at the finish line.