Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No exercise = weight gain

Apparently, if you stop training for a marathon, you can't keep eating like you are training for one.

Who knew?

Okay, I knew it, but after I hit my head and had to stop working out, I felt kind of helpless to stop eating. I felt so hungry! And then I gained 5 pounds in a few weeks and I knew I had to cut it out.

I should probably start at the beginning. Which is either back in September or October depending on how you define "beginning."


I spent most of September recovering from my Ironman. And refeeding. I had gotten rather thin right before the race and for the month after I was extra hungry and ate a lot but I wasn't gaining like crazy and I didn't feel out of control.

No, that happened in October.

At that point a few things were going on which resulted in me deciding that a race I was going to put on wouldn't happen this year so the 75 Erin Baker Breakfast Cookies I'd ordered for the goodie bags weren't going to be used and neither were the several bags of Erin Baker Granola I'd ordered for prizes. We started eating them at home and I started going nuts. I was eating nothing but Breakfast Cookies and Granola with Soy "milk" 2, 3, 4, even 5 times a day! Not only was this a lot of calories but it was mostly sugar and about half the protein I normally consume.

Now at this point my weight wasn't going up dramatically, probably because I was running all the time. Plus it was "Fat Free Talk" week and I had made a pledge not to engage in Fat Talk all month. So I didn't want to post a lot of whiny talk on my blog about being three pounds over where I wanted to be and how horrible I was because I had just eaten granola.

But I knew I was out of control and that feeling is more important to me than what my actual weight is on the scale.

At some point, it just stopped though. I'm not sure what the cause was but it's like switched turned off in my brain and I wasn't going crazy eating stuff daily that I really only wanted to eat as an occasional treat.

In fact, I ended up having to order another $300 worth of Erin Baker products (because they were out of the bags I was going to use as goodie bags and my gift certificate was expiring). I was planning to give them away to a food bank but Mr. Mac said he liked the breakfast cookies and Mini-Mac liked one of the flavors of granola so I left them in the cupboard and an amazing things happened.

I stopped feeling compelled to eat them. In fact, I haven't had a breakfast cookie in over a week and it's been even longer since I had some granola. Most of the time I forget they are even there. There's a single serving of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia in the garage fridge as well and every time I think about eating it, I go "eh" and don't. So food is back to being fuel for me most of the time. Thank goodness!

I also started working and with work came more structure and that helped a lot with my eating habits. In fact, the first day of work, I found myself logging on to My Fitness Pal and logging my food even without thinking much about it. I'd thought about logging my food again before, when I felt out of control, but it seemed like such a major pain. But when I'm working, it's a nice break and not a pain at all.

So it's all good right?

Well no. It's better but I'm still not where I need to be.

When I started logging my food, I realized I was still eating every day as if I was training for a marathon. I was logging 500-1000 calories a day more than I was burning! No wonder I gained so much weight in such a short amount of time.

As a result of going back to work and also logging my food, I made some discoveries:


  1. I am a boredom eater.
  2. I don't drink enough if left to my own devices
  3. My appetite didn't reset itself when I cut out exercise
  4. A lot of eating is based on habit, not listening to the body
Let's take these one at a time.

Boredom eating
If you had asked me before my accident if I was a boredom eater, I would have said emphatically NO. I would have said that I eat most of the time in response to hunger and the rest in response to social situations.

But I would have been wrong.

This realization actually came to me the week before I went back to work. I was running errands in preparation for not having free time during the day so I was out of the house all day and I ended up eating about half what I was normally eating. But I was no hungrier. Whoa.

Going back to work has reinforced this even more as it's been a lot easier to cut back now that I don't wander into the kitchen for a little something-something every hour or so and I can go for hours before I even think about food if I'm in the middle of something.

Drinking enough

First of all, for some reason I seem to need a lot more water/fluid than the average person. It's not that anything horrible happens to me if I don't, but if I get 80-100 ounces of fluid a day, everything flows better and my pee is the right color and my blood pressure stays in the normal range. If I don't, my blood pressure goes up and I get a bit constipated.

However, my body doesn't necessarily give me clear signals about this need.

I have figured out over the years that when I start craving things like ice cream and chocolate, that generally means I'm actually thirsty. But what I figured out recently is that sometimes my body gives me vague "you need something" signals and that I always interpreted "something" as something solid but sometimes it means I need fluid.

The ironic thing is that I've always had no issues with nutrition while racing because I just listen to my body. And it always tells me what I want. But not so much in real life I guess. Or maybe I don't listen as well when I'm not racing.

I have figured out that if I have these vague "need something" feelings, I need to check to see if my mouth is dry. If it's even slightly dry, I now drink something. When I do this, I feel better and I don't feel hungry as soon as I'm done drinking so I guess that's my "drink something" sign after all.

Appetite Not Resetting

While every winter I tend to gain a bit of weight because I'm not working out as much, for the most part my appetite has reset itself. Or at least I remember it that way. If I was eating 2000-3000 calories a day during the summer, I would be eating 1600-2000 during the winter.

But that didn't happen this year. Well, not automatically anyway.

Once I started logging my food and realizing how much I was eating, I deliberately cut back. Sure, I was hungry at bed time for a few days but pretty soon my appetite reset itself to a level closer to my activity level. Did I just naturally do this last year and the year before and not remember it or did my appetite reset itself with no work on my part? I don't know. I'll have to pay more attention next year and see.

Eating by Habit

This whole thing with my appetite led me to a rediscovery of something I rediscover on a regular basis: A lot of our eating is based on habit.

It's lunch time so we eat even if we aren't that hungry because we just had a mid-morning snack. I bring three cheese sticks to work and I eat them for an afternoon snack even if I'm really only hungry for two. But my habit was to bring three so three is what I ate.

I remember a time when I first got to my goal weight and wanted to stop losing when I was eating about 1600 calories a day and still losing and thinking how will I ever be able to eat more?! But now I'm burning 1600 calories a day and having a hard time eating that little and lot of it is that I just got used to eating every 1-2 hours and eating a certain quantity of food and it's not that I'm all that hungry for it.

So I've taken to cutting back and seeing what happens.

In the cheese stick case, I found I was satisfied with two and didn't need three. But sometimes I find I've cut back too much and an hour after I eat, I'm hungry again.

So I'm still experimenting, but I have gotten myself down to 1600-1800 calories most days and I'm perfectly happy with that. My body isn't telling me I'm starving and I don't feel like I'm on a diet or depriving myself.

On the other hand, I'm only burning 1500-1700 calories a day so there is still a disconnect. But it's a lot less than it used to be.

Plus, I don't feel out of control with my eating like I did both in October and November. My weight seems to have stabilized and I'm not gaining any more. I also know that soon I will be back to working out and then it will be a lot easier to burn what I'm eating.

So I think everything is going to be okay in the long run but right now I'm not happy with how I look or how my clothes are fitting me and I definitely don't want to get any bigger. In fact, now that I've stopped the gain and am back in control of my eating, I want to start thinking about losing.

I doubt I could go back eating 800 calories a day or even 1200 and I'm not sure I want to go on any sort of formal diet. In fact, when I finally saw Dr. Awesome for my three-year checkup, he said he wanted to see me in late January and he wanted me to be under 120 and I said No.

Mainly because I don't think I could get under 120 without losing muscles and I worked pretty hard to get them so I don't want to lose them. But also because I have sworn off dieting.

My plan is to do what I normally do... as my workouts pick up once winter is over and it gets nice outside, I have always just naturally lost the winter weight. Maybe I will have to give myself some extra help this year but that's okay. Watching what I eat and not indulging so much is fine with me. Counting points or eating special food is not.

Finally, I have to say this path to intuitive eating is a hard one. Every time I think I've got it nailed, something happens to smack me upside the head. It's disappointing and I've come to realize that maybe I will never be 100% an intuitive eater but I do think I've come a long way and I do think further improvement is possible.
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