Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel – #5

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

I absolutely eat for enjoyment and pleasure.  I love food, after all.  I eat things that taste good and make my taste buds happy.  None of this, however, means that I sacrifice nutrition.  The combination of getting older and discovering my inner long-distance runner has made eating food that nourishes me critically important in my life.  I need to eat food that is delicious – but I also need to eat food that provides sustenance, energy, and valuable nutrients.

Cucumber Sandwich at The Hazel Room

While I was once fairly oblivious to my body’s needs, I have worked to become in tune with them now, and it’s amazing how much my body will tell me when I listen to it.  Instead of making food decisions based solely on what is in front of me and what my pleasure sensors encourage me to snap up, I now make choices that are much more well-informed and in tune with my body’s needs.

With all of this in mind, I want to talk about food for healing and fuel both from my perspective as a burgeoning endurance athlete, but also just as an ‘average’ person with a desire to live a generally healthy life.  Certainly, the running side of me has nutritional needs that may be fairly specific, but I truly believe the values and concepts are fundamentally the same for athletes and non-athletes alike.  Even if I never ran another mile (yikes – that hurts to even think about!), I would still want to be as healthy as I can.  If I have the ability to ward off illness and disease, why the heck wouldn’t I?

Eating to heal – as a runner:

When it comes to healing, I truly believe in the power of food.  As a runner starting to train for my first marathon, I need food that is going to promote repair and regeneration within my body.  Each time I push myself to increase my long run mileage, fervently engage in plyometrics or strength training, or complete high-intensity speed work, my body breaks down a little.  Healing and recovery after those workouts are crucial and I know that what I eat matters above all else in this regard.

Eating a post-workout meal designed to feed my muscles and joints plenty of healthy carbohydratess, proteins, fats, and loads of vitamins and minerals is crucial.  I have (at times) adhered to this plan well and (at other times) ignored it completely.  I have most definitely noticed the difference.  The speed and quality of healing and recovery is evident when I eat nutritiously.  My body feels all that much stronger, all that much faster.  I experience less soreness, stiffness, and inflammation.  This all results in less turn-around time needed between training sessions, less injury, less muscle fatigue, and continued training that is safe, effective, and high in quality.

Chopped Veggies

Eating to heal – as an ‘average’ gal:

Running aside, food is frequently at work healing me.  And, possibly more importantly, it prevents me from needing much healing in the first place.  On a small scale, this is clear when I’m under the weather.  Eating vitamin-rich foods when I start to feel run-down and sniffly is incredibly effective in providing my system the nourishment it needs to recharge and heal.

Since I’ve changed my eating habits, I’m rarely ill.  I battle allergies at times, but true illness happens much, much less often than in my devil-may-care style eating days.  There is incredible research that shows the benefits of certain foods (unprocessed or minimally processed, of course) to prevent major illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.  If a small amount of extra time and money spent now prevents hospital stays, medical bills, loss of independence, and a shortened life span in the future, you bet I believe that the extra time and effort put into my diet is also warding off more minor ailments, as well.  There were loads of seasonal colds and flus flying around my office in the last couple of months at my office and I am happy to say that I have seemed to avoided the worst of it.

Eating to fuel – as a runner:

Just like I need to heal and recover as a runner, I need to GO.  To MOVE.  When I first started running, I naively didn’t think too much about what I ate and when. Of course, I wasn’t run very long or far at that time, so the relationship between these two wasn’t immediately clear, but that sure changed over time!

Now I can’t imagine heading out for a long run (anywhere between 13-17 miles for me currently) without adequate nutrition.  A Picky Bar is my fuel of choice.  It’s a perfect combination of nutrients and energy to get me going and not upset my stomach.  But in reality, proper nutrition working to fuel my runs happens around the clock, not just 30-60 minutes before I head out the door.  It’s all so clear. If I’ve had a drink or two the night before, I’m inevitably dehydrated during the run.  If I haven’t eaten enough, I’m quickly fatigued and my legs feel like lead.  Too few carbohydrates during the day and I have no kick in my step at all.  Watching the patterns develop between my dietary choices and my running performance with such consistency leaves me with no doubt that making the ‘right’ choices for fuel is crucial for performance (and enjoyment) as a runner.

Biscuit, jam, and coffee

Eating to fuel – as an ‘average’ gal:

I’ve heard people say that because they’re not very active, they don’t need to worry about ‘fuel’ or specific energy gains from food.  I’ve also heard these same people say that they’re often tired, that they feel hungry even though they’ve just had a meal, and that they feel distracted and unfocused at specific times of day.  Daily diet is often a culprit in these issues.

Whether you run a marathon, you ride your bike to work, or you walk little more then to get from your car to the couch, you still need the right combination and amount of nutrients to get you through – that is, at least, to get you through it without feeling miserable.  Life is taxing.  You don’t have to be super active for that to be true.  Even at my most sedentary, it’s a glaring truth.  When I eat too much salt, I wake up with puffy eyes and hands.  Yep.  It’s true and it’s not pretty.  When I don’t eat a balanced lunch, I am a scatterbrained mess around 3pm.  And, I just can no longer function without breakfast.  I get light-headed and cranky.  You do not want to be around me if I am denied a healthy, fresh breakfast to start my day – just take my word for that.

If you are aware of your own patterns with nutrition, healing, and energy, I commend you!  If you’re not, I really encourage you to spend some time paying attention to it.  Tracking your food, your moods and energy levels for a few weeks can be an incredibly insightful experiment.

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 Previous Entries in This Series:

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 – Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen – #4

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

I’ve read often how so very many Americans are overfed and undernourished.  I can absolutely understand this.

I used to eat out a lot.  A LOT.  Well, actually, let me clarify that, I used to eat food that didn’t come from my own kitchen a lot.  I ate in restaurants, in my car, and sometimes at home, of course, but the meals didn’t originate there.  It generally arrived via the delivery person or was transported home after being picked up at a drive-thru.  Various factors contributed to this habit.  I was busy, sure.  I was tired, too.  I suffered from a severe lack of confidence in the kitchen.  I barely knew how to boil pasta, let alone cook a complete meal.  Nutrition rarely crossed my mind in these days and my flavor palette had been co-opted by Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Sonic’s dessert menu.

Cookbooks

Eating out had its benefits, of course.  It was fast and convenient.  It could sometimes be cheap (if you don’t know how far $5 can go at Taco Bell, you’ve missed an important lesson in life).  Alternately, it could be indulgent when I wanted it to be (a nice table, waiters bringing me whatever I order, and never having to get up to re-fill my own glass is a pretty good time, after all).  It was familiar and comforting, harkening me back to trips to Burger King with my grandma.  Plus, I couldn’t fail at it.  I mean if the French fries were burnt, that disaster landed squarely on the shoulders of the good folks at Wendy’s.

But, as I’m sure you know, all of this convenience and food delivery bliss had costs, too.  While it could be cheap, it often wasn’t.  There are only so many .99 cent cheeseburgers a girl can eat before she wants a fancy bowl of pasta.  The money flying out of my budget on food costs really knocked me for a loop.  Before being the diligent budget tracker that I am now, I was turning a blind eye to the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars being handed over to those who prepared my meals each night.

Another cost of this fly-by-night, eat on the run lifestyle included developing a really unhealthy love/hate relationship with food.  I was in LOVE with that box of donuts as I they pretended to be my perfect dinner all the way home, but I HATED them about 10 minutes afterwards, when my stomach felt sick from a combination of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and overindulgent-food guilt.  I didn’t have self-control, so I ate ALL the donuts or nothing at all.  I ate the ENTIRE super-sized quarter-pounder meal or nothing at all.  Not one single aspect of this cycle was wise or cost-effective.  It was damaging and had high costs.

I also paid for these food choices with a disconnect to what I was eating.  Rarely did I really enjoy a meal.  I seldom actually tasted exciting flavors and enjoyed sharing a meal with others.  I was too busy.  Too gluttonous.  Too quick to do more than eat and run.  I was pretty numb to the process.  I was full of food – too full of food most of the time – and incredibly undernourished (both literally and figuratively).

Recipe Cards

When I started eating meals at home, this began to change.  Slowly at first, with meals that were hardly REALLY homemade (rice-a-roni, anyone?), but small food changes were beginning to shake things up.  Even sitting down to a bowl of pasta with a jar of Ragu tossed on top began to change my relationship to food.  Pretty soon, I tinkered with the Ragu.  I added extra peppers or sautéed some garlic into the sauce.  Before I knew it, I would just make the darn sauce myself!  My cooking skills were growing, and with them, came a deeper understanding of flavors and techniques.  I watched cooking shows.  I read food blogs.  I began to figure stuff out for myself and my culinary savvy was starting to flow.

I’m still not the type to whip up a meal completely on my own, with no other guidance.  I usually find a recipe, make changes to my liking and go from there.  But, it’s a big change.  In my home, I eat homemade meals for dinner pretty much every single night of the week.  I take the leftovers to work for lunch.  Even breakfast, though simple, is something taken to work from my own kitchen.  Healthy grainy bread, natural almond butter, maybe a homemade muffin I baked over the weekend.

Meals out now are generally saved for two occasions: special events or celebrations and Sunday morning brunch.  The latter is just a fairly new tradition that I quite enjoy – a time to honor the luxury of eating out, rather than take it for granted.  Otherwise, I’m eating food I know.  Food I purchased with consideration and prepared with care.  I enjoy it more, I can tell you that.  I get to dedicate time to it and share it with others whose company I enjoy.  I taste it more deeply, now that my flavor palate has been freed from the restrictions it had for many years.  My budget doesn’t terrify me in quite the same way it once did.  My runner’s body finds it nourishing, and my health is tremendously thankful for it.  Plus, I’m probably a much safer driver now, too.  You know, now that I’m not distracted by searching for every last French fry in my bag as I navigate the streets!  So, there’s always that.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 –   Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully