Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I used to be in good shape

Now I'm just a fattie. That's what goes through my head every time I look at myself. It has something to do with the fact that between 2nd year of med school and now I went from 155 pounds to 195 pounds, and from a 28 inch waist to a 36.

That process came from two things:
1) Bilateral plantar fascitis, the bane of all things running
2) Still eating the same as when I ran 12 miles, swam 3-4 miles, and biked 30-40 miles per day.

Of course Med School and Residency, with the concurrent lack of time, didn't help.

Some time ago we went on a trip with some friends of ours to Houston to go to the temple. It turned out poorly, as we all got some form of gastroenteritis and spent the evening and night exploding from both ends. For the next few days I just wasn't hungry, and even when I did eat, I just wanted 1/2 of an apple, for example.

I then noticed I had lost 8 pounds in a week, without being hungry at all. It took nearly 2 weeks before my appetite came back. This made me reflect on just what it is about my body that makes it feel full or empty, and the inescapable conclusion was: it had little to do with intake of calories.

Hunger, something that I nearly always feel, is a subjective sense influenced by many variables, For me, some of these include speed of eating a meal, recent foods (eating chocolate makes me ravenous 30 minutes later), content of a meal (protein makes me feel full, fat and carbs do not), and social situation (I always overeat when with others, even if I feel full).

I also examined my diet, which is the typical American diet loaded with fat, sugar, tons of protein, and little that might qualify as healthy. I'm a doctor, I know better than to eat this trash. I see the results in my clinic (and in the hospital, and in the ICU) every day. Why, then, the perpetual stupidity?

I think one of Sarah's books about food marketing (sorry I can't recall offhand the title, Sarah if you can send me the title I'll link it) showed me clearly just how much work the food industry puts into psychological tricks to increase food consumption and (let's be frank) food addiction. I think that's when I developed a dislike of the "American" diet, because I saw clearly that what we define as a meal is an arbitrary construct encouraged by companies who see $$$ but not heart attacks.

I also started reading a book called "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall that details a society built, by necessity, around running. It tells of the Tarahumara, an Indian tribe that performs tremendous feats of endurance, to include foot races lasting two days (48 hours straight), fueled mostly on corn, beans, and chia seeds, shod in strips of castoff tires as sandals. He writes of his own transformation from an injured lumbering "bear" to someone who can complete a 42 mile run with this tribe, in the Copper Canyons in Mexico. A great deal had to do with his running technique, but also his diet. And he adopted the diet of the Tarahumara.

So now where does that leave me? I've always thought of myself as an athletic guy, but it's hard to argue with the scale. So I have changed how I approach eating, and have come to a few realizations:
1) I can eat much, much less than I did, and be just fine.
2) Properly timed, properly composed meals, even if very low in calories, stave off hunger.
3) Improperly timed meals leave me ravenous and unable to resist junk food.
4) Junk food is a disgusting trap designed to leave the eater addicted, just like cigarettes.
5) When I avoid that trap I have more energy and feel better about myself.

So now I am experimenting with my diet, looking to change it. For years I have avoided healthy foods--veggies--because they always came steamed and limp. I'm adding some taste, not with fat and salt, but with spices and herbs. And I have some really good stuff.

I'm going to get back into running. I'm going to find a way to run without injuring myself again. And at some point I am going to run a marathon.

The scale says I'm 10 pounds closer to this goal.


Sarahbelle said...

You must, must, must read Mindless Eating by Dr. Brian Wansink, PhD.

Dr. Wansink is a psychologist who specializes in Consumer Behavior at Cornell. He opines that Americans have lost the ability to discern true physical hunger, and that appetite is triggered by everything from the size of the plate, to the reading of the clock, to the associates with whom we dine. The book is much more interesting than I have made it sound.

That said: I still think you are a fine figure of a man.

Sarahbelle said...

Mea Culpa.
I started writing my last comment before I actually finished reading the whole post.
I believe that "Mindless Eating" is the book to which you refer. Advertiser's, and corporate 'tricks' do factor into the book's message.

Starla said...

Is that really you or did you photoshop yourself in that pic? You look awesome there.

Chelle said...

Great post. You run that marathon. And wear the same outfit as the one in the picture.