Resolution: Eating Smart (Part One)

So I developed a solid exercise regimen, running dozens of miles a week that culminated in two marathons a year. Something I noticed out on the race course is that there were many runners who logged dozens of marathons but still appeared to have a weight problem. I could relate: despite all my running, I really wasn't losing that much weight; the more I ran (calories out), the more I ate because I was hungry (calories in). As a result, I was breaking even. You wonder how you can see professional athletes balloon up at the end of their careers? It's because they don't adjust their diet to their changing metabolism. They exercise the same they always did, but they still eat like they're 22. That was my gig: I responded to my runs by killing ice cream and burgers everyday so my exercise didn't help. Fast forward a few years later: my diet is completely different. But it didn't happen overnight. It took years to finally get me there.

STEP ONE: The staple I enjoy beverages. I'm constantly drinking throughout the day. I drink Diet Coke.

For many health nuts, this is a no-no. I constantly hear layman's warnings about the dangers of aspartame in diet sodas. You have to make your own decision but note that there is no scientific study that has linked diet drinks to cancer or other illnesses. The only definitive info I've seen from scientific studies about diet pop is that it makes your brain want more sweets. It might be true, but it still has far less calories than regular soda. Diet Coke gives me something to enjoy that's sweet without the calories. In my first year of college, when I picked up the freshman fifteen, switching to diet soda over that summer helped me drop a bunch of weight. I've been drinking it for twenty years now. By the way, a few years back, I did cut it out for a couple of months and saw no difference at all (none) in how I felt.

STEP TWO: The four-month experiment During my spring marathon training a few years ago, I gave up sweets. I had never attempted something like this before. I'm not a big Lent person (Protestant that I am), so abandoning sugars for four months was new to me. At the beginning, it was difficult. Looking at how I managed it:

1. One day at a time I remember that the first month of the experiment was most difficult. When starting, everything looked more enticing. And, of course, it was during this time that people were practically throwing sweets in my face. But everyday I made it through without giving in was a little victory. By the end of the experiment, it was a piece of cake (yup, pun). If you can get through the time until it becomes habitual, you win.

2. Giving myself space When I gave up sweets, it was predominantly deserts. I did allow myself to have syrup with pancakes and an occasional blueberry muffin. Even though I ate a little sugar, I wasn't relying on them to meet a fix. This reward mentality is helpful early on, as studies prove that quitting something cold turkey is extremely difficult. So I was dedicated but not overzealous.

3. Managing the night The best times were during the day. If I was at work and was offered celebratory cake or cookies, it was fairly easy for me to turn down. Night was different. The urge for a late evening snack would kick in. I relied on fruit and cereal as substitutes. Note that cereals don't necessarily solve the calorie issue; some "healthy" cereals have a high calorie count and can actually be worse than sweets. Regardless of how you cope, if you can make it through the night—the time when you have the highest desire to snack—you can win.

Ultimately, my four month experiment was successful. The afternoon after my marathon, I celebrated by downing a pint of Graeter's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip. Even though I made it four months, it wasn't a lifestyle change.

To really work on my caloric intake, I needed permanent changes.