Friday, February 21, 2014

How Running Simplifies Your Relationship with Food

Let’s get this out of the way: talking about food is ridiculous.

Just think about it. I’m going to be talking about what food I eat as a runner and how running changes your relationship with food.


Writing something like this is so strange and new. It’s so uniquely 21st century-first-world-human.

Imagine that someone picks this entry up four thousand years ago (by way of some timey-wimey nonsense). “This is about food?” he or she asks, though probably not in English. “That thing I stuff in my face to not-die? I have it sometimes, it’s pretty nice. It makes hunger go away, and afterwards I can better move myself away from predators, or towards prey. What else is there to say?”

This person may or may not be wearing a toga. I'm a writer, guys, not a historian.

Imagine a dog trying to understand what a complicated relationship human culture has developed with food. “This is about food?” it barks, fumbling with the mouse to scroll down my blog. “I like that stuff. It tastes like happy and then I love you. Do you have food? Look at how big and watery my eyes can get!”

"Just kidding," it continues, "I've actually never had ANY food before EVER."

Don’t get me wrong, though: I don’t think talking or thinking a lot about food is necessarily a bad thing. We’re human; every facet of our existence is wrought with meaning and feelings and corners full of secrets. I love this about us. But running has changed how I see food, and I think part of this stems from simplifying my relationship with what I eat.

I spent a lot of time not exercising before I started to run. Obviously. Back then, the idea of eating good or healthy food was abstract. There was good food like broccoli, but then there was bad food like a microwave burrito constructed from pure sodium. The bad food was tasty and fast, and either way, I wasn’t hungry after I was done eating. Who wants to take the time to boil water?

Pictured: an impossible-to-overcome obstacle

Of course I felt worse after the burrito, and of course my health suffered, but the connection between what I ate and how I felt was too abstract for me. There was too much distance. I could insert a million other reasons for why I felt bad in between food and my mood: work, money, a relationship, Breaking Bad will end someday. Because of this distance, I could safely ignore what I ate.

Insert running.

Not literally. Ew. How would that even work?

Running considerably shortens the distance between what you eat and how you feel. All of a sudden, your food-choices don’t dribble out of you slowly over the course of a day; they’re shot out of you in a huge, wild burst of energy as you run. Again, not literally. But you know what I found out? When you run, you feel what you eat a lot more. 2000 calories of potato chips and cheese whiz feels a lot worse than the same amount in vegetables and chicken breast.

I know. earth-shattering revelation right there.

But there’s knowing the difference between good and bad food in theory, and knowing it through experience. And if you get the experience through running, eating good food will suddenly become much easier. I no longer had to make myself eat well. I ate the food that I knew wasn’t going to make me short of breath or shut-down my muscles halfway through a run. I ate the food that would repair my muscles. I wanted to eat well.

I know that not everyone has the childish attitude towards food that I did prior to running, and some people don’t need running in order to eat like an adult. But I imagine that for some of us, the problem is that abstraction between eating and its affect on our bodies. Run, and you will feel everything you eat course through you. Run, and you will come to appreciate WHY good food is good, not just that it has so much of this vitamin or this much fiber.

Basically, running will simplify your relationship with food in a good way. It will cut out some of the weird psychological tricks we have to use to eat well.

I’m going to devote some more entries to food. Specifically, I’ll feature a commentary on certain recipes that are great for runners. Look out for it!

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