Friday, September 14, 2012

Eat, Run, Eat some more, Repeat...

It’s been on my mind for some time to post about this topic. Food and running. Not talking about nutrition for runners here, no. I'm still learning about it and don't claim to be an expert. I'm talking about society’s obsession with diet and how it ties into the world of running. You know, those "rules" about eating. And those rules that can lead us to either overdoing it, or restricting oneself from the pleasure of food or from the nourishment one truly needs. You know, people saying to avoid carbs when carbs are what runners really need to fuel performance. Then there's finding faults in one’s reflection in the mirror. This overanalysis of food and challenges with managing food has unfortunately played a large role in my life. I think it’s a focal point for the majority of women, as we're expected to look and act a particular way. And it’s something I’m trying desperately to break free from. I’m almost there. 

I think this topic has come to the forefront of my mind recently because I’m at the peak of my marathon training, and therefore, I’m eating more than ever these days. Essentially when I am not running, I’m either eating, sleeping, or planning my next meal. I am burning thousands of calories a week, and therefore consuming a whole lot of extra calories too, to ensure I’m getting the nourishment I need. I joke about it. I do see humour in it. I joke about my grocery bills being the most expensive part of training for a marathon.  After a long run, I’m known to have a protein shake, take a shower, eat lunch, have a nap, eat lunch again, then I start cooking dinner. 
But with this humour comes a darker side,  a voice that creeps into my head to guilt me and ask if this is what I should be doing and warns me to be cautious and count my calories. And of course this is silly; it is what my body is asking for and I’m simply responding. It is not weakness, it is self-respect.  I have calories to consume as they were burned and if I don’t eat, my body will quite literally break itself down. I’m not working hard to build muscle only to have it break down from not eating enough.
I understand the existence of the voice in my head. It’s worried I’m overeating. I mean overeating is what got me into trouble before and led to years of being unhealthy. Overeating while training for a marathon is certainly possible. I worry this voice will always exist. But perhaps I shouldn’t shy away from the voice, if it is the same voice that’ll keep me healthy and on track. Yet perhaps it’s a voice that, when it speaks to often, it is unhealthy to my mind and soul. But what I have now, that I didn’t before, is both knowledge and self-control. I am healthy and my body has learned to self-regulate.  It tells me when I’m hungry, and I listen. It tells me what it wants, and I listen. And when I eat, I continue to make healthy choices. Training for a marathon doesn't give you license to eat anything. I eat more, yes, but I'm still eating healthy and properly fueling my body with what it needs and what it's asking me for. Once I start my taper and run less, I will eat less as well. I have to remind myself that regardless of my multi-meal-a-day days during my training, I have maintained the same weight for months now.

And this is one of the struggles I have with my blog. My blog is NOT a weight loss blog. It is a running blog. I tell my story of having lost more than 130lbs not because I want to talk about how running helped me lose weight, or to suggest that I continue to run to lose weight, or to claim that I'm a weight-loss expert. I only make mention of the "W" word because it’s a part of my own history and journey to health. I want you to know me, who I am, and what makes me human. I want to express over and over again that if I could do this, if I could overcome what I did and become a marathoner, really anyone can that has the will to do so. Weight was my battle. I believe we can all overcome our own battle, whatever that battle is, and realize our dreams, no matter how big.

So I feel I need to clarify a few things.
First of all,  I did not start running to lose weight. If anything, I lost weight to run. I remembered what running and training for half marathons were like when I was in my early 20s. I also remembered that I hadn’t realized my potential as a runner, I hadn't trained to be fast, and hadn’t fulfilled my dream to run a marathon. And I knew the safest way to transition back into running again was to be lighter. I lost a good 80lbs before even considering running. I knew running while significantly overweight would be dangerous and unsustainable. I’d risk injury and likely get very discouraged very early on. My weight loss journey started 4 years ago. I started running again only 2 years ago. 
Secondly, today, I do not run to lose weight. I don’t run so I can eat lots and maintain my weight by burning  it off. Trust me, I wish I didn't have to spend so much time preparing food! Sometimes I get bored of eating. But honestly these days, weight isn’t even part of the deal. I run simply because I love running. I run because it’s freeing, empowering, and makes me feel truly alive. I run to live. And the food part of it, it’s just simply to fuel myself so I can keep running and living my life. 
And third, I no longer have weight loss goals. This year, I lost 5lbs while training for my first marathon. I read all kinds of things out there that suggested I should aim to lose 10 more in order to be a faster runner. I lost another 4lbs and felt so close to this ideal. But I promptly put back on those 4lbs as I ramped up my training and muscle mass increased. The scale hasn’t budged since. I’ve been pretty much the same weight since the spring of this year, despite the thousands of calories I burn weekly running. I’ve learned to maintain, and this to me is something huge that I can be proud of. I’ve learned to maintain a healthy weight. And it's not an effort to do so. The 5lbs I lost early this year are the only lbs I've lost all year and kept off. I'm very happy with this.
Of course there was a moment after noticing the small weight gain this year where I got discouraged. I wanted to lose those 6 more lbs so I could officially say, "I am literally half the weight I used to be".  It was my first weight gain since 4 years ago when I started my weight loss journey. The numbers had only gotten smaller, not bigger. But then I read this article in Runner’s World that put tears in my eyes. It was exactly what I needed to read at that very moment in time. It reminded me to let go. To allow myself to be healthy. And to trust in my training and trust my body. And to realize that training and experience can have just as much to do with running success as something tangible and quantifiable like weight loss:
"Sometimes a runner will have a breakthrough, and they'll credit it to losing weight when it might be the past six months of training or a certain maturity they've had with their running. The thing that's identifiable is that they lost five or 10 pounds, but that may have just been a small piece."
I’ve been the same weight since March or April. I’m really happy with this. I’m thrilled to have reached a place where I can just be and not worry about losing more. I’m happy with how I look, although I admit I sometimes pick at my faults. But I'm human. I am working hard at my training, and I'm proud to say that it is not to lose weight, not to look better, but to get stronger, faster, and better at my sport. That’s all. I just want to run and I want to run well. I am not losing weight anymore, but I am building muscle, changing my body composition, getting stronger, getting toned, and fitting my clothes differently. And I’m so thrilled it’s no longer a numbers game. It's all about how I feel. So I ignore the "calories burned" field on my Garmin and on the treadmill. I don't compare it to what I've eaten. I just trust myself. I just try to be. And really, that's all I want, to be Zahida. I don’t want to be Zahida: that girl who used to be fat and needs to watch what she eats. I really don't need to be reminded often of the weight loss bit.  
Don't get me wrong, I'm awfully proud of my success story and I love sharing it. But there are days when I get tired of the topic of weight loss. I hate the obsession with perfection that we live with and I'm breaking free. Perhaps it's because it makes it seem like before now, I was somehow inadequate. And I KNOW for a FACT that I am, and always have been, a force to be reckoned with!
Thanks for listening!

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