A formerly fat person’s guide to avoiding long-run weight gain

You might think that training for a marathon means built-in weight loss. But I’ve learned that if anything, I have to watch what I eat MORE closely on a long-run day. My tendency is to overeat, thinking I’ve earned a splurge. It’s ridiculously easy to eat more calories than you burn on a long run, or at least it is for someone who likes to eat as much as I do.

Here’s what I’ve learned this time around that’s helping me dial down that impulse, or at least channel it in a way that helps me avoid the maddening (yet all too familiar) feeling of weighing MORE the day after a 15-miler:

*Hydrating is huge, especially as humid as the weather’s been here lately. As a reformed Diet Coke addict I try to not keep a stash of soda of any kind around the house, and as a former fat person, I haven’t drunk juice in years. But if I don’t have something appealing to drink besides water in the hours after a 10+ mile run, I’m much more likely to go into binge mode. Being able to indulge in a couple of Powerade Zeros or a sparkling water feels like a treat that gives my body what it’s really hungry for: moisture.

fruitpizza*Laying in a stock of fruit helps immensely. When I was following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet a few years ago, fruit was considered a “free” food that you didn’t have to count. Sometimes I’ll revert back to that method on long-run day and allow myself as much fruit as I want in the hours after a long run, provided I control my intake otherwise. A big bowl of fresh berries with a couple of fat-free Greek yogurts and a couple of bananas are a hugely satisfying postrun feast that helps me “win the day” at the scale.

*If I really must eat something ridiculous, I’ve found that I can get away with consuming half a carton of Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom ice cream – but ONLY if I follow a specific dietary  regimen otherwise. This is a nutritionist’s nightmare, but one menu template that I follow every once in awhile when I’m feeling a junk-food impulse on long run day is to have a pre-run PBJ with banana made with Healthy Goodness bead, one serving of Combos during the run, half a carton of the aforementioned low-cal/low-fat ice cream afterward (Bunny Tracks is my favorite, but even vanilla will do the trick), then two bags of 94 percent fat free microwave popcorn with as much Powerade Zero or sparkling water as I want the rest of the day.

heyerly's*One of my favorite long run routes is an out-and-back with the turnaround point at Heyerly’s, a local small-town bakery. At 13.6 miles (going the long way), it’s just a tad over half-marathon distance. I’ve found that I can get a Gatorade and one doughnut (almost always the fried cinnamon, aka a caramel roll) without consequence – and even weigh slightly less the next day – provided I hold myself to 1,200 calories otherwise. Because I’m so hungry on long run days, this means filling up on veggies and lean proteins. There is no room for any other junk, or I inevitably pay a penalty at the scale the next day.

*When my long run doesn’t take place until the afternoon or evening, the challenge becomes how to stay fueled without overloading. (I once took off on a 15-miler with the remains of half a dozen bakery-style cookies in my gut, and suffered enormously for it. You’d think I’d know better – and I do – but a delayed run can make me anxious and when I’m anxious I’ve got to battle the impulse to eat.) The best way around this problem for me is to limit myself to 25 carbs every three hours. In the hours leading up to the run, I might have something like 1 T of peanut butter with lettuce on 2 slices of Healthy Goodness 35-calorie bread, a fat-free Greek yogurt with 1 T of dry rolled oats or an egg and 1 oz of cheese on 2 slices of Healthy Goodness toast. After the run, if I have two more 3-hour segments left in the day before bedtime, I load up on a big salad with lots of lean protein in the first segment and then allow myself one 25-carb treat in the second segment (for example, one slice of the garlic toast I really wanted earlier). Another option: 1 McDonald’s vanilla cone (24 carbs) and 1-2 plain hamburgers with no bun or carby toppings.

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Donut run disappointment leads to Keg Bike 1 discovery

With no breakfast bar in our hotel, and not wanting to grab a boring pack of peanut butter crackers from the car, I decided to take a dollar bill along on a recent run in Wabash, Ind., thinking I’d make a pit stop at a donut shop I’d seen marked on a local tourism map.

We’d been on an old-fashioned meandering “Sunday drive” of a road trip,  ostensibly scouting out material for a regional travel feature I write periodically. Bob was amused contemplating the oddball stuff you come across in small towns – a giant fiberglass Indian standing guard over a defunct business, a collection of vintage  riding lawn mowers lined up in some old fart’s yard – but I was having trouble staying in the moment, fretting about how, without smartphones, we were driving blind, possibly missing much more interesting things that we didn’t know existed.

Determined to have a more structured exploration on Day Two, I got on my laptop and found a 4-mile mapmyrun route that took me along the Wabash River. Conveniently, I’d pass the local donut shop twice, heading out and coming back. But with only a single dollar bill in my possession, I knew I couldn’t go overboard.

I was curious how this Wabash River Greenway would compare to the one I usually run along the same river 40 miles east in Bluffton. I was also anticipating that donut. But before long I found myself at the river without ever having spotted the donut shop. Hmm. Maybe it wasn’t quite where I thought it was. Oh well, I’d just track it down on the way back. If I had to run a bit out of my way to find it, that would just make for a better run.

This section of rivergreenway was in a more industrial part of town, opposite the city water treatment plant. But the river itself was wider and more interesting than what I was used to. I was curious to see what the bridge on this route looked like. The answer was: a hilly one. Not only did the bridge cross the river at an upward angle, but the road on the other side climbed a much steeper, longer hill than any on our “hill training route” back home. I made myself jog all the way up, remembering to lean forward and take short steps.

I wasn’t entirely sure of the route on the other side of the river, so here’s where I allowed myself to explore. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting, just some neighborhoods that had seen better days. But it’s always nice to give your eyeballs something new to see, even if it’s not necessarily scenic.

Finally I swung around and headed back, glad this time to be hitting the bridge on the downhill. I wondered if I should take the same streets back, presuming I simply overlooked the donut shop, or take a different street, in case I misjudged which road it was on. In the end, I did both. But the donut shop was nowhere to be found. Disappointed,  I headed back to the hotel, where I later learned the donut shop had gone out of business.

In the long run, missing breakfast that morning turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’d just been talking with a local dietitian for a “travel diet tips” column about how important it is to plan your eating schedule when you’re on vacation. But Bob and I hadn’t yet discussed our dining plans; he was still asleep when I headed out for my run. If I’d gotten an unscheduled donut, that would’ve used up my “fun” calories for the day.

Instead, we wound up having lunch at a funky cajun place in the neighboring town of Peru. When I asked the bartender if had anything “halfway local” on tap, it turned out that he’d just received a delivery of a new regional brew – via bicycle.

 

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Riders representing Goshen Brewing Company on their 170-mile journey to Indy. 

 

He told us what he knew of the expedition of Keg Bike 1, a customized cargo bike with a built-in bar that stopped by during a 170-mile journey to an Indianapolis craft brew festival. Then when we got back home I tracked down the owner of the Goshen Brewing Company who instigated the trip, as well as the guy at Winona Bike Works who dreamed up that beast of a vehicle. It was quite the adventure tale, which you can read about here in today’s Adventures in Food and Fitness column. They also made a short video which you can check out here.

And I never would’ve heard any of it, or met a bunch of interesting people along the way, if I’d had that donut.

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Marathon-level mental toughness: Not there yet

With eight weeks to go before my first outdoor marathon, the inaugural Fort4Fitness race Oct. 1 in Fort Wayne,  my sister and I headed out for a 10-miler yesterday. It turned out to be good training for a marathon, but not in the way I imagined.

Because we’d be running during the hottest part of the afternoon, we originally planned to run 15 laps at the relatively shady local 4-H park, where we could grab drinks from a cooler in the car as needed. When there turned out to be a huge crowd at the park for some kind of outdoor event, we decided to run along the River Greenway out through the State Park instead. But how would we stay hydrated? I spent the first two miles on my cell phone, trying to find somebody at home who could stash some water someway along the way.

After finally making those arrangements, a new problem developed: I’d forgotten to wear compression shorts and now my legs were chafing, badly. I got back on the phone and asked if Ben and Colleen could grab me a pair and drop those off with the water.

There was nothing to do now but run – with frequent adjustments to pull down my shorts in a fruitless effort to protect my increasingly raw skin.

I was angry with myself for such a stupid oversight that was getting in the way of what felt like might otherwise be a pretty motivating run. We hadn’t done a 10-miler in months, and Traci, at least, was feeling pretty good. I decided that the best possible spin to put on my situation was to work on mental toughness. You never know what unanticipated source of pain or discomfort might develop during a marathon, and when that happens, it doesn’t really matter if the damage is self-inflicted stupidity or just rotten luck. Either way, you’ve got to deal with it.

I continued my ridiculous pattern of adjusting my shorts every few strides and tried not to talk about the increasing pain. Traci picked up the lull in conversation and steered us onto topics that had nothing to do with running. I really wanted to make it to the 7-mile mark, where we’d presumably find the water and compression shorts I’d ordered up. But at mile 6, I suddenly found myself walking without actually making a conscious decision to do so.

“I’m sorry,” I told my sister. “Go on.”

But she didn’t. The heat was getting to her. We decided to walk to the water drop.

Though the kids had dropped off a welcome supply of both water and Powerade, somebody had grabbed a pair of swim bottoms instead of my compression shorts. We jogged a couple more stretches, then settled into a fast walk the rest of the way with brisk, long strides that seemed to reduce my chafing.

I was disappointed I didn’t tough it out the whole way, but in retrospect it was probably a smart call.  I might have felt like I’d won a mental battle if I could’ve endured the pain a few more miles, but tearing up the skin on my thighs would’ve messed up my runs for several days. Luckily, I’ll have many opportunities over the next eight weeks to work on my mental toughness.

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A kid’s point of view: Shattering my PR at Swiss Days 5K

By Colleen, age 13

I have a love/hate relationship with the annual Berne Swiss Days Race. On the one hand, it is part of my heritage as something my grandfather helped start 40-odd years ago. However, this race has always made me feel stressed out and pressured. I had only done the mile-long kids’ fun run for a few years, but even then I dreaded it. Last year, which would have been my first time doing the 5K version, a softball tournament conflicted and prevented my participation.

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For some reason we didn’t get any photos taken at the race. Here I am during my recent school trip to NYC. It was amazing!

I signed up this year after much consideration. Based on past 5K attempts, I expected a subpar time of mid-50 minutes. However, at the start of the summer I began using a running app called Running For Weight Loss. It guides you through a run walk program that progresses gradually. Instead of fretting about my race strategy (like Mom and Aunt Traci were doing before the race, because they hadn’t done much training), I decided to just start another day of the workout and let my time sort itself out.

 

My result? I blew away my previous PR by ten minutes with a time of 45 minutes! I was ecstatic! For the first time in all my running endeavors, I truly felt I had gotten results and gotten faster! Maybe next month I’ll do another 5K and see if I can shatter my record again.

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The paradox that helped make me fat

So it turns out I really hate dietary clutter. For someone who used to eat all day long, who once couldn’t imagine being able to possibly keep track of every little thing that went in my mouth on any given day, this is an astonishing discovery.

But after 6 ½ years of tracking my eating and trying all kinds of dietary experiments, I can definitely say that I feel much more calm after a day when I can easily visualize what I’ve had to eat rather than consult a written document.

Specifically, what this means is that I prefer to eat fewer types of food OR fewer times during any given day. And what seems to work best is if I mix up that pattern. Sometimes I like eating two or three satisfying meals that form an appealing picture in my memory banks, unsullied by a bunch of random bites of even healthy food.

Other days, if I’m feeling like I want to EAT but am less concerned about quality, I’ll let myself eat when and as much as I like, but only from a very limited menu. Potato day, leftover from my experiments with the Martian Potato Diet, is really useful in this regard. I may eat frequently, or eat more quantity, but at the end of the day when I think about what I’ve had to eat, it’s simple: a pile of potatoes.

Tracking is still useful and important, because as I learned during my recent no-snacking vacation experiment, just because I’m eating only at mealtime doesn’t mean I’m not consuming too many calories. But those days when I’d proudly see how much I could eat for the fewest amount of Weight Watchers points, when a daily entry in my food notebook would be almost illegible because of all the scribbles? That no longer feels like a good thing. It makes me feel crowded.

And here’s the really weird thing: I kind of suspect that in the old days, even on a day during which I’d eaten a lot – which was probably like every single day – if at the end of the day I couldn’t easily visualize what I’d consumed, if it was just a hazy, blurry picture of random consumption, then maybe my mind didn’t register it as being a satisfactory experience, and therefore I was left feeling needy and dissatisfied. And in those days, especially, those were feelings I equated with hunger.

This isn’t to say I’ve suddenly gotten better at eating, or that I’ve finally taken off a few pounds I’ve been trying to lose for what feels like months now. It’s more of a psychological discovery, a pattern that should prove useful now that I can perceive it.

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The thrill of finding an open track

When I dropped Colleen off at her travel softball tournament Sunday morning, I was wearing flip-flops. Then I noticed the track next to the softball diamond was open. A couple of walkers were going round and round. A dad and daughter were doing a cool-down. A jogger was adding a set of bleachers to every lap.

I pulled my New Balance Fresh Foams from the trunk. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so I didn’t want to get drenched in sweat before settling in with the other parents at the ballpark. But I could at least get in a brisk walk before the game.

“Do they open this track to the public this time every week?” I asked a pair of older men who were finishing up their walk.

“I don’t know that they ever close it,” one of them told me. He said he uses the track two or three times a week, usually on weeknights or Sunday morning.

The track at our local high school stays padlocked unless a team is practicing, apparently due to vandalism concerns. But I didn’t see any signs of difficulty here.

A friend of ours who studies biostatistics at the University of Michigan says that communities that provide fitness trails have healthier populations. That seems like a no-brainer. Removing obstacles to exercise means it probably happens more often, right?

For a long time before I lost weight I kept thinking I would start jogging or biking or even walking “if only” we didn’t live on such a busy road, or if the abandoned railroad behind our house was a walkable path instead of a patchwork of often inaccessible private property.

All during my nine-month weight-loss campaign, I drove somewhere else to exercise. Now that I’ve built up some endurance, the highway no longer seems like such a daunting barrier because I know I can get off it onto quiet country roads fairly quickly.

Still, as I walked a few laps at the New Haven High School track Sunday morning, I kept imagining how cool it would be to have regular access to our local school’s track just a mile from our home. I could jog or bike there for speed workouts. Maybe a small community of runners would form around track time. Heck, maybe we could start a local running club.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning this to one of the other parents at the ballgame, whom I’d forgotten is currently living through the process of having their front yard taken over by city workers building an expansion of Bluffton’s River Greenway. I’m pretty excited by this, because it will make riding my bike into town a little easier and eventually might stretch a few miles north toward our part of the county. But talking to Jamie reminded me that changes in public infrastructure are never easy, that there’s always a downside or some risk to innovation.

Reading this article on school policies toward public track use in Washington state reminded me that in addition to vandalism, schools must consider liability issues. And just recently I was irritated to notice that someone left the gate to the Norwell baseball field open, remembering how it got vandalized a couple of years ago. We had to take the senior banners down after every game this spring because of the potential threat of drive-by spray painters.

I’m not going to lead some campaign to open our local track, but I’m at least going to find out when it might already be open for summer workouts. An extra jogger on an outside lane likely wouldn’t get in anybody’s way.

I’m also going to add the New Haven track to my list of places where I could work out when I’m away from home. But the main thing that comes out of this for me is that I’m always going to make sure I have a pair of shoes and a change of clothes in the trunk, so that I can take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to run.

 

 

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Eliminating vacation munching

I’m not one to simply relax on vacation. On this trip, in addition to getting in some good hikes, I wanted to work on something I’ve never been able to master: Not eating between meals.

During past family vacations that’s been a huge problem. At our house I tend to avoid buying sweets and snack food, and I’m careful not to leave overly tempting foods setting out in plain view. But when we get together in the Smoky Mountains with my side of the family, there’s always a ton of decadent goodies on the kitchen counter. .

After snacking like crazy during our whirlwind visit to see our oldest daughter in South Carolina, I resolved to do better once we got to Tennessee. I fasted all day before our evening arrival, then enjoyed a guilt-free pulled pork sandwich with southern green beans and spicy coleslaw at Bennett’s Barbecue in Gatlinburg.

Thinking I might be onto something, the next day I decided to allow myself two memorable restaurant meals, provided I ate nothing the rest of the day. I had an omelet and pancakes at the Log Cabin after our morning 4 ½ mile hike to Alum Cave Bluffs, and a wedge salad with grilled shrimp during an early dinner at the Cherokee Grill.

This pretty much became my routine all week. I’d have a banana with peanut butter before our morning hike, eat a tasty late breakfast, then hold off until dinner, knowing each meal on vacation tends to be memorable, whether it’s at a restaurant or not.

With each passing day my “no snacking” project gained momentum, especially since I mentioned it to others to help hold myself accountable. Given my “abstainer” tendencies, it was much easier to simply not snack in the first place rather than nibble on something with the misguided idea that I could then shut the eating impulse down. All week I marveled at how much crap my relatives were shoving into their mouths, knowing I’d likely be doing the exact same thing if I let myself take that first slippery-slope bite. Instead of feeling deprived, I felt superior.  It was just a mind game, but it worked.

As I suspected, this wound up being a nonscale victory. I didn’t weigh any less upon our return, because I was getting plenty of calories from larger-than-usual meals. But it gave me confidence to know I’m capable of not snacking between meals. (In the past, even during my 90-pound weight loss, I snacked constantly but on low-cal foods.)

I like the way it felt to not give in the nervous impulse to chew on something. No doubt the calm feelings I experienced during a  couple of fasting experiments this spring were a big help here. This feels like a skill I can build on by planning tasty but lower calorie meals that are worth waiting for.

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After a 4-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail, the kids crawled up on the monument at Newfound Gap to enjoy the view.  With all the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Appalachian Trail is often overlooked because it doesn’t necessarily lead to a scenic view like a mountaintop or a waterfall. On this trip we met some folks who were hiking the trail from one end of the park to the other over a five-day period. Sounds like fun!

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An awkward moment on the trail

So we’re hiking to Grotto Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park when my sister-in-law Dawn spots something in the bushes about 20 feet above us.

“What is that up there – a piece of trash?”

“Hey, it’s moving! Think it’s a bear?”

Next thing you know, seven or eight of us are peering intently into the brush, abuzz with speculation. Until it occurs to us that the activity up above is … somebody taking a crap in the woods.

Even worse, it turns out that just around the bend is one half of a couple we met earlier on the trail. They told us they were their way up to Mount LeConte, elevation 6,594 feet. They planned to spend the night at the summit and climb down on Wednesday.

Now the guy carrying the big pack is not only acting like we’ve never met, he’s trying very hard to pretend we’re not there.

His wife is nowhere to be seen.

As it turned out, we did see a couple of bears on Tuesday’s hike: A mother with three cubs just before we got to the trailhead, and a lone adult just below the trail, not far from the false alarm.

Presumably the black bears we spotted are much more experienced at taking a crap in the woods.

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The kids dry off under Grotto Falls after everybody got soaked in a brief rainstorm.

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Hiking tip helps in river incident

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Explorers on the Rock Island: Max, Ben, Riley, Colleen, Jessica, me and Rowan. 

The gap between the rocks was too wide.

 

I knew I could leap across, but I couldn’t tell if the rock I’d be landing on was slippery. Though my son and his long-legged male cousins had taken this route, I turned back. There is always another way across the Pigeon River in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, if you’re patient enough to find it.

Besides, the theme for the day was “three points of contact,” a tip from Rowan’s friend Jessica, who learned it in a hiking class in college. Earlier in the day, when the boys ventured off the familiar trail to Laurel Falls to explore what appeared to be a workable route into the gorge below, I used this method to follow along, always keeping at least three limbs in contact with a solid surface, so that if one gave way the other two would help provide balance.

Leaping across those river rocks definitely didn’t fit my new rules of operation, so I looked for another route that did, and eventually I found one. There’s almost nothing as satisfying as problem solving on the river rocks, and I joined Rowan, Colleen and Jessica on a rock island on the far side of the river to celebrate our perseverance.

Only trouble was, dusk was approaching fast. “Can we please get off this river before a bear comes along?” I said about half a dozen times. Nobody moved.

“Aw mom, we just want to chill for a while,” Colleen said.

“I want to see a bear,” said Jessica, an environmental science major who wouldn’t mind working in a national park some day.

They’d just started to rise from their perch when it began to rain – hard.

Suddenly all our ideas about getting around on this river – honed over decades, in my case –  vaporized. Now every rock was slippery.

We crawled on hands and knees over a few boulders before abandoning that plan and plunging into the river, shoes and all.

“Hang onto the rocks as you go!” I shouted. “Remember, three points of contact!”

We could feel the bottom with our feet, but were wary of blundering into a drop-off. Rowan did step into a hole, but it wasn’t deep enough to pull her under.

A few minutes later we were on the river bank, soaked but laughing. My nephew Riley handed me an umbrella, which I declined. What was the point in trying to avoid the rain now?

“That was awesome!” said Rowan. Scrambling over these river rocks was something she’s done since she was a toddler, and it was at her insistence that we fit this in before she heads back to South Carolina today.

Even I had to admit this unexpected adventure was kind of fun. But as a parent, I wouldn’t mind a little less drama from here on out.

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Earlier in the day at Laurel Falls: Grandpa, Rowan and Colleen; Brian, Jessica, me, Max, Riley and Ben. (With Aunt Dawn behind the camera). 

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An offbeat low-cal, low-fat travel snack

DSCN1282Before heading off to visit Rowan and Loki at their new digs in South Carolina, then meet up with grandparents and cousins in Gatlinburg, Tenn., we picked up a giant bag of fortune cookies at Gordon’s Food Service.

It’s kind of hard to plow through too many fortune cookies at a time. Contemplating the fortune inside each cookie slows down your munching momentum. But even if you did, the damage wouldn’t be excessive: Each cookie has just 27 calories and .25 grams of fat.

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Rowan and Loki on the balcony of their apartment in Summerville, S.C., near Charleston. They’re 45 minutes from the beach and about 60 seconds from a trail network along the Ashley River.

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