Deprivation, Indulgence and Back Again.

We runners like to brag about how we can eat anything we want without concern. “If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn”, right? We put in big miles and basically log a negative caloric intake through breakfast and lunch during our morning run alone. We don’t balk at stuffing our starving faces any chance we get and we smile secretly, and not so secretly, when we step back on the scale and see we’ve still LOST weight in the process. We eat ice cream, cookies, cake and basically…indulge. It’s our reward for all the work we’ve put in, but also our selling point for running. We act like running absolves us of all caloric concerns and are free to dive into any buffet that challenges us. But this is quite misleading.

Runners know, we are a depraved species. Self-imposed even, because all that talk of bottomless stomachs comes at the cost of a lot of deprivation for the sake of running.

We can eat, yes, but it’s more important WHEN we can eat. When I did the seemingly all day team relay race a couple weeks ago, I was quite miserable waiting for my turn to run, not necessarily because I had the “jimmy-legs”, but rather because I wanted to EAT…but couldn’t. If I gave into the hunger screaming through my body, I would pay for that later during the run with a feeling of sluggishness, gas and whatever other undesirables. I was used to eating like a tiny bird leading up to a run, then letting loose once completed, but I was NOT used to eating like a bird, running, then having to hold off eating before the NEXT run and then doing it AGAIN! It. Sucked. I ended up nibbling on small batches of raisins and drinking small amounts of coffee just to keep level and ward off hunger-induced impatience. All I wanted to do was get to running so the feelings of hunger would be pushed away during the effort and then I could finally dive in to whatever when my turns were over. And that’s what I did. First thing after finishing I went straight to the car, poured whatever water was sitting around on my oatmeal and then went to town on that soggy mess like I hadn’t seen food in weeks. I must have looked like a wild beast hunched over that bowl of tepid, oatmealy goodness.

Then this past weekend we went South to run the trails and I was again compelled to eat just a couple pieces of toast before driving to the trailhead and running the woods for an hour and a half, completely depriving myself of my body’s requests for early morning sustenance. I had to though, or the run itself would have sucked for the same reasons I listed previous. It’s just what we have to do.

I don’t mean to sound so miserable about all this though, because the reward is in the indulgence. Yeah, it sucks to remain hungry before a run and even GET hungry deep into a long run, but the promise of something awesome, tasty, vegan, and in portions that would ruin the caloric intake of an entire weight watchers class is almost always worth it.

On Sunday, as I was starting my warmup for a 2 hour trail run my wife says to me, “After this, we head into Bloomington for the Bloomingfoods brunch.” She verbalized exactly what was going through my head. Basically, I was looking forward to the long, energy-sapping, exhausting, starvation-inducing run through the woods, but partly because I knew that initial deprivation was going to be rewarded with a massive plate of indulgent vegan brunch. And indulge we did. Tofu scramble, biscuits and gravy, herb-roasted potatoes, a massive cinnamon roll, homemade energy bar, coffee and tea. Then just a couple hours later we were hungry AGAIN. It was awesome and so worth it.

I hope I’m not painting an ugly picture of binge eating here, because it’s not entirely like that. We do a lot of healthy portion control and nibbling throughout the day to keep hunger and energy levels in check, while not ruining our ability to be physically active all the same. The indulging is just a periodic benefit of our active lives. And I never take for granted the value of of this benefit, especially when I see others struggle so much to deal with weight and health issues.

I watch those that actually care and make the attempt to address their weight TRULY deprive themselves, because they haven’t found the simple, intuitive ways to eat and live properly. They rely on crazy formulas of caloric intake and scheduled eating or compartmentalize their attempts by relying too heavily on either physical activity while sacrificing proper nutrition or vice versa. Healthy living is a package deal.

I know we are all constrained by so many parameters of daily life (work, school, obligations, etc.), but simplifying the process of healthy living is what will bring about true success. We don’t HAVE to eat animal products (both meat and dairy) saturated with bad fats and so much other detrimental crap. We don’t HAVE to miserably and meticulously count calories at every meal because we aren’t active enough in the day to convert them to useable energy. On the contrary, and sorry to be absolutist here, I want to grab all these people struggling with weight and health, shake them and say,

“Just eat vegan. Just be active. The benefits will come!”

So many dieters TRULY deprive themselves by trying to continue on with their unhealthy lifestyles by applying dieting principles to an already unhealthy foundation of living.

“Well, if I eat LESS animal products, I’ll be ok. If I walk from the BACK of the parking lot, I’ll lose those calories I gained with that low-fat yogurt I couldn’t resist at lunchtime.” *sigh* It just doesn’t work that way friends. I want to explain that if they just replaced all the shit they ate with whole vegan foods, I dare say they wouldn’t even have to count caloric intake. Hell, they could probably eat proportionally MORE than they do and still lose weight. Maybe the perspective would even shift from getting healthy through deprivation to getting healthy through indulgence!

Anyways, that’s not really a battle I have to fight…just a sad observation I find myself making constantly.

So yeah, back to our dismal state of deprivation, sometimes it SUCKS to be hungry constantly. Sometimes I wish I could put a brick in my stomach (is that what steak is?) to shut my hunger valve off and get me to my run for the day, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, I eat small snacks, easily digestible fruit, coffee, coffee, coffee, and wait until I get to temporarily run away my hunger by focusing on the stress and strain of the effort.

And when it’s all over and my body is flooded with fatigue, THEN I can get to the business of eating and indulging, all without worry. We deprive ourselves to a degree, but the indulgence is always worth it.

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3 responses to “Deprivation, Indulgence and Back Again.

  1. Whether intentional or not, you’re really hitting on one of the great challenges of running ultras (and marathons as well, if the course keeps you out there long enough). It’s quite the trick – and I can’t say I’ve figured it out yet – to fuel up for even a 30 mile training effort, without turning one’s self in to a bloated mess mid-run. But to dig too deep a calorie ditch leaves you shuffling, tripping over the most minor of protuberance.

    I also understand how balancing “eat to run” and “run to eat” can look suspiciously like an eating disorder. Telling someone you’re going to skip the heavy portions because you need to go torch 1,000 calories induces some concerned looks, especially when you’re already lithe of frame. But that’s the way of things. I’d rather be that guy, than the guy struggling to pull along an extra 40 lbs (and I don’t mean a backpack) up a steep incline.

    • Hahaha…sooo true, especially about passing on the calories before a run. It looks VERY suspicious and even feels weird vocalizing, but of course, they don’t see us AFTER the run when we are jamming our faces with anything in reach. Of course…THAT probably doesn’t look too good either. Eh, it all works out in the end. 🙂

  2. Wow, you’ve perfectly expressed my initial reasons for getting into running in the first place. I love to eat whenever I feel like it, albeit vegan food but nonetheless – very indulgent eating. So I started running to offset that, plus I’ve always been slight in size which helps but makes me feel a little hypocritical when I tell people I am the way I am because I exercise. It was only after I started to run that I realized it’s more than just exercise, it’s a total release not unlike opening a pressure valve. It just feels so good to able to have an extra piece of vegan pizza or two and not have to think about it and to know it’s because of personal effort that I can indulge so I feel like I’ve earned it!

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