Monday, March 18, 2013

Hunger Like a Runner

I never believed all of the people who used to say that they could eat whatever they wanted because of their running schedule. In fact, as a slightly sub-athletic person, I don’t think I have ever in my life experienced a legit increase in biological eating cues as a result of exercise. I have an unbelievably emotional relationship with food, and as a result, I am in the habit of pretty much always restricting my impulses to eat. My natural assumption is that I’m not actually hungry and start looking for the “real” problem – stress, anxiety, sadness, or PMS – before grabbing a fork.

And then, three weeks ago, my relationship with food turned upside down. To understand how crazy this experience was for me, you have to first understand that I hate pasta. I never ate mac & cheese as a kid, I abhor spaghetti (I take my meatballs and red sauce with toast), I’ve spent extended time in Italy and never once ordered a pasta dish.  And then I woke up one morning three weeks ago literally salivating at the thought of penne topped with spicy sausage ragu. I swear to you, I was 100% convinced I was pregnant, until three days later it became apparent that wasn’t the case. But I was still craving pasta, and had started waking up around 5 am with my stomach rumbling and visions of French toast with a side of eggs benedict dancing in my head.
From the January issue of Bon Apetit. Get thee to a kitchen and make this IMMEDIATELY

I made the mistake of assuming that my caloric needs wouldn’t change with training because I had always done 3 mile runs a few times a week. If there was a change, I assumed I would respond to it naturally by incorporating slightly larger servings or by having a snack. As it turns out, running 10-12 miles a week is WAAAAAAAY different than running 20-30 miles a week. Shouldn’t have been a shocker, but it totally was for me. The cravings started when I crossed the 20 miles/week threshold, and no mere “snack” is going to solve the problem. My body is begging me for carbs, and I have to find a way to put aside 20 years of firm resolve against that urge. It’s way harder than I ever imagined.

When you are an emotional eater, re-wiring yourself to respond to your body’s biological cues without feeling guilty all the time is a heavy process. Luckily, the Grige has lots of experience with treating food as fuel, and stands ready to make reservations at Italian restaurants and tell me how good I look when I’m shoveling noodles into my mouth like I may never eat again. What I really notice now is how much media noise there is out there about “healthy choices”, carbs and what women “should” eat (hello, subversively guilt inducing Yoplait commercials!). Did you know that according to available messaging, it is NEVER okay to eat pizza and pie, and that I should feel guilty every single time? Did you know there is a war on bagels???

Clearly, our country has a problem with weight, and much of that could be attributed to the overabundance of convenient, high calorie, low quality foods. But are we going too far in the other direction? Is there any sane reason why a young woman in her ideal BMI range running 20-30 miles a week should feel guilty about eating a giant, juicy burger with the bun still on it? Why do I feel the need to compulsively explain to the waiter that I’m training for a half marathon?

So here is the challenge – I’m going to eat like a runner (because I am one) and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m going to proudly stuff my face with gnocchi, I’m going to have seconds, and yes, I will have another roll with that, thank you very much. Hopefully, I’ll find my way to a cultural space where other women wake up every morning as excited about breakfast as I do.

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