Then again, why should this day be any different?
Back in 2009, I had my first run at a 26.2 mile journey as I looked to tackle Chicago. Always in relatively good shape but without the desirable “six-pack abs” body to show for it, I decided this would be the perfect time to seize the opportunity and lose some weight, change my body composition, and take on a figure that would leave me unashamed to go shirtless as much as possible.
Even during the brutal Michigan winters.
During my six-month campaign, however, a combination of ignorance, self-consciousness, and information overload left me ignoring common sense and proper nutrition in favor of weight loss. Increasing miles and decreasing calories, combined with the low-carb craze was a perfect recipe for shedding away that belly I once possessed and despised.
When all was said and done, I finished the marathon in a time of 3:16:11, but at the cost of about 30 pounds: more than half of which I couldn’t truly afford to lose.
This mentality stayed with me for quite some time thereafter. I had already lost the weight, and feared that if I changed something, anything, that I might revert back into my previous “mediocre” physical state. Decisions on food consumed my life and altered my daily routine. Fortunately, with the help of family and friends, I can happily report that I’m right back on track to where I need to be.
This time around, I plan to do things a little differently. A lot differently. Completely differently.
Which is why I’ve recently been pondering my own eating habits. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve definitely partaken in more than my fair share of Tartine pastries, Bi-Rite ice cream and Pliny the Elder. Excited to explore my new city through food, I may have floored it a little too quickly.
I regret nothing.
But it did lead me to ask the question: What comprises a “healthy” lifestyle?
One of my closest friends recently took up the Paleo diet, which in short, attempts to mimic the lifestyle of those living during the Paleolithic era. Tons of lean meats and leafy greens make up the vast majority of his intake, with the occasional handful of nuts and even more scarce nibbles fruit, limited to dark berries. No dairy, no legumes, no grains. He, and many others, have expressed the wonders that this change has done for them in terms of both weight and overall well-being.
While I by no means contest their claims, I do have some qualms with the adoption of such measures. Personally, I am vehemently anti-diet, and have always been a firm believer that your body knows what it wants. Cravings are merely signals to alert your body that it requires something – nutrients, vitamins... – and that which you desire is the way in which your personal history remembers how to attain it. A craving for ice cream may not be as much be a hankering for junk food as it is your body yearning for calcium.
Diets by their very nature are restrictive, and it is this sort of self-imposed limitation that causes people not only to “relapse,” but also to overindulge when the time comes (and it will) to cave in. And when the stresses of ensuring you adhere to an arbitrary set of rules and regulations overpowers the joy you may receive from happily indulging in the occasional (re: occasional) sugary delight, what are you really sacrificing?
People often times underestimate the value of the psychological benefits gained from indulging from time to time. By no means am I advocating eating an entire pie in the name "emotional stability," but in evaluating the decision to indulge, the negatives (unhealthy, fattening...etc.) generally focus in the forefront. The mental benefits, however, are often put on the back burner.
Besides, it is a much more social (and healthier) venture to share a dessert than it is a salad.
More importantly, we have the ability to condition ourselves to recognize other sources, healthier sources, to achieve that same missing puzzle piece. By diversifying our food sources with a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats and carbohydrates, we can discover better ways to reach the desired goal of providing ourselves the nutrients we desire. As a result, the decision to reach for a bundle of kale to quench that very same calcium deficiency becomes just as turnkey as polishing off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Well, maybe not that easily.
Yet this diversification comes with a qualification – it has to be real, honest to goodness food. We genetically modify and manipulate food so that people are able to have something similar to genuine fare, just so that it complies with the latest craze.
Comedian Lewis Black (crudely - NSFW) explains:
But look around – never has there been a time where organically grown fruits and vegetables are so ripe for the picking. Farmers’ markets abound! Natural, real food in such a variety of brilliant colors, shapes, sizes, tastes and textures are all so close at hand that it seems almost irresponsible to choose anything else. It is not difficult to appreciate all that nature has to offer us.
My consumption habits will almost certainly change, as the demands of pounding pavement for 40 miles a week will take a huge toll on not only my caloric needs, but my nutrient needs as well. Still, there are still questions to be answered and decisions I have to make:
Will I give up beer and bread?
You must be joking.
Am I going to skip out on my latte and saffron snicker doodle cookie at Blue Bottle on Saturday mornings?
No chance in hell.
Will I do all of this with a greater degree of restraint?
For me, it is all about having everything in moderation; junk food included. Those who propose any sort of diet subscribe to the notion that at any given point, a particular item’s detriment outweighs its benefit. However, this is merely a short-term snapshot. Over the long haul, I submit that the wider range of nutrients taken from various sources will improve our overall health by exposing us to a more in-depth spectrum of possible sources for life's essentials, while simultaneously increasing our ability to resist disease and allowing us to enjoy the food we eat that much more.
Economics teaches us not to put all of our eggs in one basket, and that diversification in the market is ideal. This is my philosophy when it comes to the foods I choose to eat. There is just so much uncertainty out there that I hesitate to entirely eliminate (or conversely, only consume) a singular set of anything. For every study that proves that a vegan diet is ideal, there are twenty more just like it showing that a strip of bacon a day keeps the doctor away.
That’s my kind of doctor!
Our bodies are all so unique and with different needs that I refuse to accept the fact that there is one specific method of dieting that is the end-all be-all solution to consumption. It just isn't possible. But by keeping processed items to a minimum, enjoying a blanketed menu of naturally occurring fruits and vegetables, and ultimately enjoying the food we eat, we'll all be just fine.
Nosh on (in moderation),