Sunday, June 15, 2014

Putting away the scale

I used to love weighing myself after a summer long run. If I had a light breakfast and didn't hydrate, I'd instantly lose a few extra pounds. It was a nice bonus to being a long distance runner.

Today, that scale is tucked away in a closet and I can't really remember the last time I used it. And although me, like you, obsess over this, I really couldn't care less to weigh myself.

What a long way I've come.

I have a hate-hate relationship with weight loss success stories. The last decade, with reality TV shows turning the healthier you into a neatly packaged network schedule, along with the racks of magazines that tout ways to lose the extra pounds, I've realized we're always looking for an easy, short term solution to too big a problem.

When the spotlight goes away, or when everyone stops noticing, many sneak back into habits. We read stats about those who inevitably gain back weight.

What we don't have enough is how to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the long run. That, unfortunately, doesn't make for good TV -- the struggles, grabbing a pint of icecream on a stressful evening or the big bag of chips that keeps on mysteriously shrinking over the course of an evening.

I'm not alone in that struggle, but at some point over this past year, I've just put the scale away.

These aren't easy things to say, but 10 years ago, I was overweight, clearly so. As  it usually does, a milestone birthday and looking at a snapshot of myself helped me realize I had to do something about it. I took up exercising, I started to watch what I ate. I dropped the weight, I started running and soon enough, I was a marathoner. Success story, right?

The road from couch to exercise to marathoner with a stunning weight loss only begins that journey. For those of us who lean on eating for comfort, usually because of stress, anxiety or depression, or all of the above, you never quite shake the feeling.

As a runner, I've always known that exercise has been a key ingredient in shaping the better me. Embracing running, and even becoming a runner, you know you're guaranteed to start 'working off those calories.'

Through periods of stress, I've realized that no matter how many miles I'd run, I'd always find ways to consume those calories right away. My first marathon, like many I gained weight instead of losing it. For many years, as I was doing three to five marathons a year, I just reconciled the fact that I could never figure things out.

Then something changed -- my whole approach morphed, evolved, jolted into a new way -- I FINALLY practiced mindful eating and meal planning. And I put away the scale.

What does this mean?

In simple terms, instead of dieting, I committed myself to eat certain foods and banned others.

Instead of buying such 'diet foods' as baked crackers and artificial sweeteners, I committed to fill my basket with greens and fruits before tackling processed foods. I shopped from the outside into the grocery store.

Instead of shopping sometimes and buying takeout/delivery the days I got too busy, I committed to making 95% of my meals, relying on eating out as only when I'm out with friends.

Instead of cheat days where I consume EVERYTHING, I enjoy all food I eat, always being mindful. My burger is delicious enough to satisfy me so I don't need fries. And if I do have fries, I'm having damned good fries, but not five times a week.

Instead of spending a tonne of money on 'eating out,' I ate in, bought a Vitamix with the 'savings' and improved the quality of my every-day cooking. 

Instead of indulging in every treat that comes across my eyesight (especially at work) I think of whether I can eat said treats and while I never deprive myself, I only indulge when it makes sense.

Instead of eating bland calorie-free food, I enjoy my slices of bacon, can consume food fats in my favourite cashew nuts and whole avocados.

Instead of leaning on our sugar- and fructose-based diet, I cut sugar entirely and started to figure out what a world looks like without sweeteners -- coffee, for example, really became something amazing once I stopped.

Instead of thinking the work is over once I make a goal weight, I realize all of the above needs to form new habits: habits that may make me drink my salads in a smoothie six mornings a week, but ones that make me eat purposefully and with the joy of food I've always had.

Sure, I've come to terms with a few things -- like I don't need carbs to form the majority of my calories, or that my salt cravings don't need to satisfied with chips, or my love of pizza does not mean that I need to have it ALL of the time and all of it at one time. But it's helped me manage my consumption of food. I realized that mindful eating means planning. I carry a canvas bag with me most days of the week so I can go shopping. My fridge is filled to the brim with veggies, protein and fruit. I bring lunch to work every day. 

I recently talked to Dylan Wykes, a Canadian Olympian marathoner, about eating like an athlete. A few years ago, I interviewed him about being a vegetarian (and was blown away by the commitment and thoughtfulness given to diet). He told me he was no longer vegetarian, and that he wanted to change his diet to also suit his needs. He evolved his habits but never fell off course -- he needed to eat properly to train properly. The two could not be separated.

Food is fuel, runners know. Diet food is not fuel, it's a way to avoid consuming the calories you need to work out, to recover and to propel you to the next workout. Food should fuel you in a way that your gas tank is retopped out, not with empty nutrition, empty calories.

One things I've stopped doing too, by the way, is watch too much TV. I've realized what a passive activity that is, and how my idle hands were more likely to want to dip into a bowl of snacks if I was plopped on my couch.

So though it's been more of a decade I've been balancing a healthy lifestyle, a runner's lifestyle, I think only in the past year I've figured it out for myself. Sure, from the outside, it may look like all I do is drink smoothies, but as I've said, there's so much going on. 

I'm sure a year from now, I may have a different story to tell. That kale is not a superfood, or that a veggie heavy diet can't get me to be the athlete I want to be. But I think the lesson I've learned the past year is that if you don't work on being a full athlete -- that is, both the fitness and the food -- you are bound to fall victim to the many conveniences that modern cuisine has offered to us. High calories with little nutrition for a mostly sedentary population that can't use the energy fast enough. We can battle the bulge with exercise, but I believe working mindfully through both food and fitness can give you the balance.

So back to me. When I look back at the the past year, I realized that in 365 days, you can make measurable change. The changes you can go through is much like making a summit -- each step is one toward your goal, some steps are harder than others. It's really the culmination of all those steps that lead toward that awe struck view from the top.

Though it took me about two months to figure out how my running, strength training and diet would make me a happier runner and more healthy in general, it's taken a full year to realize how much work it would be to keep it up. I was in great race shape last August to October, but my real victory was the new way I viewed food and fitness took me through my off months, through Christmas, and through the past marathon season where I trained the hardest I've ever trained. Then the weeks after the marathon came and went and I realized I never looked at the scale in eight weeks. I had put it away.

So when I look at pictures of myself, I see the athlete in me revived. While I was never dormant for the last stage of my running life, I had let so many things slip. The biggest lesson in putting away the scale was that there were other ways to measure a healthy life. The scale was just expressing the result of a healthy lifestyle, not the point of it, and surely not how to get to one.

Top left, May 2013 at Goodlife full. Top right, August 2013 at Midsummer's 30K. Bottom left, Oct. 2013, Chicago. Bottom right, May 2014 at Goodlife. Centre in June, 2014 at Sulphur Springs.


Robin said...

Great post!!! for so many reasons.

Mike @ FitFriend said...

That's some fine blogging Kenny, there's so many great quotes in there! It's great to see progress in action :)