Fuel

Food & Fuel

Someone once said to me that no amount of training can make up for a crappy diet. Said differently, what we chose to eat (the types of foods, the amount of foods, the timing of foods) significantly impacts our bodies and can outweigh the hard work we put into fitness training if we aren’t paying attention.

i tri man

As you begin your journey into fitness, you will come to realize that in order to be fitter that you must use both exercise and food together. You will not find sustainable results if you focus solely on food or exercise alone. You can place yourself on a restrictive “diet” and put yourself into calorie deficit to hit a weight loss goal, but your body (heart, lungs, muscles) will be no stronger, healthier or in shape by ignoring exercise. Eventually the restrictions will be unsustainable and you will find yourself on the weight gain path again, quite possibly having lost valuable and precious muscle in the process.

You can set off on an intense and extreme exercise plan. But if you continue to eat excessively or non-nutritious foods, you will sabotage your hard physical efforts and fail to achieve the results you desire. You may find yourself scratching your head as to why you are not looking more like you want to with all of your hard efforts.

Fitness is about balance. It is about finding physical activity that you love and enjoy while taking positive steps with your fuel (your food) to nourish your body properly. Neither of these things is something that you can “fix” all at once. They are both a process. They are both a journey. And they go hand in hand.

Healthy Food

It may very well have taken your body years and years to get into the shape it is in today (quite possibly one you are not satisfied with – or better said “out of shape”); you have developed eating habits and acquired tastes for foods that may be less than nutritious, highly processed and significantly contributing to your out of shape state. Food is a powerful substance – often triggering strong emotional responses (memories) or providing comfort when we are experiencing strong emotions. We use food often times as a drug – to make ourselves feel better or feel less. When we are caught in this cycle – it can be very challenging to break the cycle. Learning to be patient with yourself, take small steps to educate yourself on your food motivations and selections, and how you ultimately want to use food will be key on your fitness journey.

At I-Tri Fitness, we refer to food as fuel. It is a necessary part of powering our awesome bodies. We use it for power. We use it to give us energy. We teach that getting stronger and healthier with exercise also requires that we understand more about the fuel we want to use to sustain our engines. Throughout our website we will provide awesome recipe ideas, healthier cooking tips, and some strategies to help you become more aware of what food means to you, how you are using food and how to overcome some of the obstacles that may you may be facing with food.

Remember, fitness (and that includes exercise and fuel) is not about perfection… it is about what we do most of the time. Let’s work together to make what you chose most of the time healthy and nutritious.

White Powder

I am an addict.  It has taken me many years to realize it, to recognize the addictive behavior, to see in myself a weakness for something that I feel I have nearly no control over.

i tri man

My addiction, like many addictions, is for white powder. It is one of the most wildly abused substances in our country.  It has nearly no negative stigma.  We willingly give it to children and delight in watching them consume it.   Entire holidays revolve around handing it out to people who come to our house.

Sugar

Sugar.

Now wait just  a minute, you say.  Sugar is food.

Let’s look at the definition of drug.  A drug is “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”  When we eat sugar, our body detects it in our blood (pancreas) and then releases insulin to help the body remove the sugar from the blood and pull it into the cells of the body.  That is a physiological response.

Let’s also look at the definition of addiction.  From the Free Dictionary “addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance.  It is a progressive syndrome, which means that it increases in severity over time unless it is treated. Substance abuse is characterized by frequent relapse, or return to the abused substance. Substance abusers often make repeated attempts to quit before they are successful.”  Ever tried to not eat dessert?  Ever tried to give up drinking soda or sweat tea?  Did you start strong and then start to notice that you would think about it?  Did your thoughts become so focused on your desire that you get uncomfortable?  Did you feel your body “craving”?  Did you feel yourself trying to resistant and struggling?  Did you know that you didn’t want to eat that cookie or donut or cake but found yourself with it in your mouth anyway?  Well I have.  I’ve found myself surrounded by 20 candy wrappers and stilling chewing the chocolate and feeling wildly out of control and embarrassed. 

I’ve watched myself prowl through the house at night looking for a hit, trying to find anything that would give me my sugar fix.  I’ve thrown things away (half eaten candy bar because I was disgusted with how much candy I had already eaten) and found myself later digging it out of the trash can because “I had to have it”.

Sugar is a very powerful substance.  We are hard wired to like sweets, it was part of our survival strategy thousands and thousands of years ago.  The wild swings in blood sugar that occur when we eat sugar perpetuate the cycle.  When our blood sugar drops, our body reacts thinking we are in trouble and triggers us to “crave”.  Sugar is added to so many foods that we eat today.  I was a food scientist and product formulator in the food industry for nearly 20 years.  We used sugar to make foods more desirable to consumers.  Sugar tastes good.  Remember we are hardwired to seek it out.

There are numerous articles out there with far more details about the impact of sugar on the body.  Some are very scientific and include tons of research.  My intent for writing was not to wade into the details of the effect of sugar on the body, but to point out that if you are attempting to start a journey or have been struggling with your journey for a fitter, healthier lifestyle, your own sugar “addiction” may be getting in your way.  If you don’t recognize it, you can’t change it.  If you won’t admit it, you can’t change it.  Remember, “what gets measured gets fixed.”

I challenge you to take one week and record the amount of sugar that you are consuming.   For this exercise, don’t count the sugar that is coming from any whole pieces of fresh fruit.  If you are eating canned fruit, fruit cocktails, drinking fruit juice – count that as added sugar.  Look for sugar in your beverages, anything that is prepackaged including bread, pasta, cereal, sandwich meat, hotdogs, chips, granola mix, breakfast bars and drinks, coffee, crackers, snacks, chewing gum, hard candy, chocolate.

If you come back with a number that is greater than 25 grams of added sugar per day then you may need to consider that sugar is derailing your hard efforts to live a healthier and fitter lifestyle.

i tri man

** None of the information on this site is intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor.  Always seek the input of your medical provider regarding changes in diet and physical activity levels.

Our Long Lost Friend…Hunger

A few days ago, I recall a commute to work from about 5 years ago.  It was a normal drive to work, 45 minutes of think time.  Sometimes I listened to the radio, sometimes I rode in silence.  Sometimes I called people.  On this morning, it was me and my thoughts cruising into work.  I remember this drive specifically because it ultimately changed the way I eat.  As I drove, this thought bounced into my head:

“When was the last time my stomach growled?”

i tri man

I kept driving in silence, thinking about this.  It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had experienced the sensation of a growling stomach.  As I kept driving, I realized that it had in fact been many YEARS since I had truly felt hungry…you know that deep uncomfortable physical sensation of really needing food.  It had been so long that I was unable to remember what it physically felt like to be hungry.  As I rode in my car, carrying extra weight, feeling out of shape and very bad about myself, my new revelation about my lack of connection with my body and it’s needs bounced around in my mind.

I ate.  I ate frequently.  I ate because I FELT like I needed to eat…. mentally.  I ate because eating felt good, food tasted good, because I was craving a flavor, feeling stressed or bored and eating distracted me.  I did not eat because I truly needed fuel.  Food was something more than just nourishment for my body.  Food was very much a part of my emotional life, and I used it to help me manage my feelings.

This was a huge wake up call for me.  But despite the fact that this new information had come to me, old habits die hard.  I continued on my emotional eating train for many more weeks, but the truth that I didn’t need to be eating kept tapping on my shoulder, reminding me that this wasn’t part of any solution that was going to get me feeling better about myself.  Like a giant gorilla hanging on me, every time I stuffed things into my mouth, I could hear that ape jumping around

“But you’re not really hungry.  This is why you are gaining weight.  You don’t need that.” 

Man, I hated that monkey.

Hungry Monkey

Eventually, I grew weary of the mental battle between myself and the ape and decided to get back in touch with my hunger.  I would wake up tomorrow and purposefully not eat breakfast and possibly lunch until I heard my stomach growl, until I felt the physical sensation of hunger.  I would pay attention to what I was thinking and feeling, but until I heard the sound, no food.  Now, you may be thinking that this sounds extreme.  Perhaps it is.  But it was what I needed to do to get back in touch with my body.

The experiment was a great lesson for me, helping me to understand how far out of touch with my hunger that I was.  When I finally heard my stomach growl, I was already experiencing the long forgotten sensation of hunger.  It is a physical sensation, deep in  your core, a hollow and uncomfortable feeling.  It is unmistakable.  My stomach finally roared like a hungry bear.

Hungry Bear

When I was experiencing hunger, my thoughts were not my normal cravings thoughts, my thoughts were very much focused on my discomfort.  On that day, prior to experiencing that sensation, mentally I had many feelings about eating, many thoughts about eating, and many cravings for food.  I repeated this experiment for several days, at different times, making sure that I was in fact hungry before I ate.  The volume of thoughts and cravings I had about food when I wasn’t truly hungry was astounding.

If I was listening only to my thoughts and cravings as the criteria for eating, it was no surprise that I was eating more than I needed and thus gaining weight.  I also recognized the pattern that after eating something high in sugar or highly processed (snack foods, sweets, fast foods) that within an hour to two hours, I was thinking about food and eating again.    The quality of my food (or lack of quality) was leading to blood sugar swings that were contributing to my cravings.

Being out of touch with true hunger and subjecting ourselves to extremes in blood sugar as a result of less than healthy food choices is a common component to undesired weight gain.  It is a vicious cycle.  It feeds on itself.  You feel bad for being unfit.  Your emotions get overwhelming.  You think of food, something that would taste good, make you feel better.  You eat the food (donuts, chips, ice cream, French fries, etc..) and then you feel full and your emotions are at bay for a moment.  But then fairly quickly you feel bad about what you ate, and start mentally beating yourself up and telling yourself what a horrible person you are for having eaten like that.  Meanwhile, your blood sugar has skyrocketed and your body dumps a ton of insulin out into your blood do deal with the sugar.  And in about 2 hours your blood sugar plummets and you start craving food again.  And this time, it’s worse because not only are you craving food because your blood sugar has bottomed out, but you are mentally stressed because you have been beating yourself up over the last meal or snack.  Your emotions are even higher or more uncomfortable and you need to soothe yourself even more than you did before.  And so the cycle keeps playing, over and over.

This cycle isn’t relate to hunger.

This cycle can be broken.  You can shake the monkey… and find your inner bear.  Get in touch with your real hunger again and start the process of learning to eat only when you are hungry today.

i tri man

** None of the information on this site is intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor.  Always seek the input of your medical provider regarding changes in diet and physical activity levels.