Nov 10, 2011

Breaking the Cycle

This week has been hard for me.  Honestly this year has been hard for me.  Aside from crazy work days, doing a very fast paced MBA program, and training for a marathon and half Ironman this year, Mike and I lost our dear Punkin (cat) and our dear Simon (cat) all in the span of 6 months. For Punkin, it was the day before our 6th year anniversary and it was a total surprise to us.  Immediately, I turned to my binge food of choice: chocolate.  Oh, but not just any chocolate.  No no no.  Not just any old chocolate will do in these situations.

This called for the decadent, luxurious, caramel, dark chocolate, sea salt and macadamia nut clusters that you can purchase at Costco.  *shakes fist in the air at Costco*  Oh why must you have such a thing in such a quantity for us to buy and gorge ourselves on?!?!

Fast forward to Florida in August when I had an epiphany that my relationship with food was really out of whack.  I worked out so freaking hard (so I think) but I weigh way more than I should given my caloric burn levels.  Obviously it lies in the intake and less on my output which really could not increase any more at these training levels.   I come home from the trip, re-start up clean eating and drop 11 lbs.  Every meal was a fight between the angel and the devil.  The eternal fight between necessity and excess.  Clean, lean, whole foods versus the processed, sugar laden foods which are my weakness.  While by eating processed sugar-laden foods I can survive; with whole clean foods I can thrive.

Then I quit.  I went right back to old habits.  I was on the right track, started to see some major gains (or rather losses) and I quit.   Why do I do that?  GAH!  It is so frustrating!  Oh, I know why.  It is the same reason why I pull back on everything once I see progress.  Maybe it is all because progress means going out on a limb, leaving my comfort zone and getting uncomfortable.  I do not like being uncomfortable.  No matter how uncomfortable in my own skin I am, it is better to my inner lazy bum of a self than being uncomfortable in exercise or lifestyle choices. 

So, I eat.  I eat to celebrate, I eat to mourn.  I eat to comfort my self.  I eat to fuel my workouts.  I eat to fuel my body to live.  Notice how the real reason to eat is noted last?  My relationship with food is still after all of these years so messed up. This is something I will take a while to work on, but it needs to change.

When I put Simon down Tuesday night, Mike and I went to eat afterwards.  we were both very upset.  However, I did something that surprised me.  I did not go crazy and turn to food.  In fact, I made some very smart decisions without even thinking twice.  The words just rolled off of my tongue.   Tomato based soup, a clean meal full of lean protein and steamed veggies, and then Mike and I shared a dessert.  I was satisfied, pleasantly full and not craving anything at all.  Well, except to see my beloved Simon again.  The rest of the night was rough.  The next day I went to lunch with my friend Stacy and the same thing happened.  I ordered a bowl of cabbage soup and then a sandwich with no accompaniments, also no dessert.  I did not go crazy and say that I deserve a huge meal full of fat and calories and chocolate just because I am sad.

It would have been one thing if I made the conscious choice and ignored my inner devil saying "Go for it Jenn!  You are mourning!  You need comfort food!'  The truth is, there was no devil.  My mind never even thought of comfort food.  

Ah, the face of emotional eating. 

Do I think that I have broken the cycle?  No.  I think that I am developing a good habit which will make staying on the clean, holistic path much easier as my stress levels rise. I said before that my 60 day challenge was to start and complete INSANITY.   I am changing that goal.  I realized that what I need to do now while I am in "off-season" from triathlon training is to focus on three things: sleep, whole foods, running.  Swimming, cycling and cross training such as INSANITY will still happen, however my focus needs to be on these three things.   

Getting my body used to sleeping regular hours will set myself up for a good habit when training starts back up and is in full swing.  I need to remember that rest and recovery is just as important as exercise.  Sleep is key in many functions.  Six to eight hours per day is the average amount of sleep a person needs. That is about one-third of a lifetime! As a population, we sleep about 1 to 1.5 hours less than we did 100 years ago. Additionally, substantial medical evidence suggests some fascinating links between sleep and weight. Researchers say that how much you sleep and quite possibility the quality of your sleep may silently orchestrate a symphony of hormonal activity tied to your appetite (WebMD, 2011).  On a hormonal level, when we don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means that we don't feel as satisfied after we eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means our appetite is stimulated, so we want more food.  

Whole Foods
One of the best things to have come from my trip to PCB with Annelise was the focus on whole foods, and a holistic approach to living.  I learned so much from her and I appreciate her taking the time to educate me on some topics.  The best things that I took away from her was the importance of feeding the body on a micro-nutrient level.  The means less focus on the burgers and fries, and more focus on the vitamins and nutrients I am putting into my body. 
Sometimes in life, we don't see the forest for the trees. And the field of nutrition is no exception. We can get so focused on the health benefits of a certain vitamin or phytochemical that we miss an important point: that different components in a single food can work together to benefit our health, and so can components in different foods that are eaten together.  In addition to focusing on the foods and nutrients that I am putting into my body, I need to re-learn my hunger cues.  I often grab something to eat without checking if I am thirsty or even determining if I am hungry or bored.   My portions have grown out of control and when eating a normal, real, portion I often feel surprised that I am not stuffed.  I am putting an emphasis on the clean foods that I am eating, stocked up on veggies that soup making produce that I know that I love and will eat happily, and have even purchased some new things that I have told myself in the past that I do not like, to give them another try.  Namely apples and pears. 

Part of this process will entail tracking my calories in and out to really understand how I am doing.  No more guessing.  Guessing for me does not work.

Standing in line waiting to register this past weekend, Annelise and I had the pleasure of standing in line with two 70-75 year old multi-time Ironman finishers.  We took the time to get to know them and to pick their brains about the process.  Both of the men had gotten into triathlon and Ironman in just the past few years.  While that alone is inspirational, I found my conversation with one of the men particularly enlightening.  I asked him, of all the sports what is the one that it is "all about".  Without hesitation he responded the run.
I was surprised by this only because everyone else in my circle has always said that it is about the bike.  I guess that when you are a strong runner it can be about the bike.  However, this gentleman was like me.  His strong suit was the bike and for him he needed to work on his running in order to feel strong in the Ironman race.  I know for me that I will have plenty of time to swim bike and run in the next year.  However, in the back of my mind I know that my weakest sport is the run.  
I can make it through the swim, and that is my goal; to make it through under 2:20, preferably in by 2 hours.  I could do under 2 hours in a lake swim, possibly substantially under or even closer to 1:45, however in the ocean I am nervous about the current and waves.  Oh, and sea creatures.  Oddly enough, not sharks. OK, sharks too.  But I have a while until this will become a focus. 

For the bike, I want to get into the zone and hold on.  I hear that the winds can be brutal, so I want to get strong on the bike and be able to hold on to the effort Bonnie tells me to while maintaining a good speed.  I need to learn to execute the bike, not "eat the paste' and stay in the box until it is time to react.  The bike is not that time. And neither is the off season.  Now is not the time to worry about all of that.  Not quite yet.  

The time to react in the race will be somewhere between miles 18 and 20 on the run.  The difference I see here for me personally is the condition that I will be in at that point.  Will I be on a death march?  Or will be I be cruising along cheering and clapping and high-5ing every volunteer and bystander I see?  I really hope the later more so than the former.  In the past I have had horrible runs off of long bikes.  My half Iron races are more like slow painful walk fests, namely due to poor BRIC training and high heat.  Or as I say - poor training period.  I will most likely not have high heat to contend with come November 3, 2012, however I will have myself to contend with.  In training, I tend to ditch the running first because I was a runner before triathlete and I feel as if I have a gimme on that, even though my performance shows otherwise.  Funny how my brain can rationalize and justify just about anything I want it to.  It really is a blessing and a curse. 

So in this off-season, or as I like to call it the season of getting my head right, I am focusing on the mechanics and strength of running.  Not to get faster, only to get stronger. 

I feel that once the habits are formed, that as long as I keep the focus on my routines and rituals each day, when the stress levels and fatigue levels increase I will be ready to tackle them with both ferocity and perseverance.  My mother was right; I am a trampoline girl.  I can bounce back off of a situation and keep on going, even if it is in a different direction.  I believe that this trait will be more of a blessing for me as the days count down.  

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Jenn - Great blog! The parts on eating and nutrition were interesting, and helped put a few things in perspective for me as I'm sure you can imagine. It sounds like you have your head on straight, and are tackling this the right way - thorough analysis of the problem, and comprehensive tactical correction (very engineer-ish of you ;-). Thanks for the info, and good luck on your IM journey!