Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality check: Original plan not working

The idea came from a positive, well-intentioned place. I’ve always been the type of person who acts on impulse, who really hates to have to monitor anything too closely — my checkbook, the calories I’m consuming, whether I’m due for an oil change ... you know, all the important things that require monitoring?
So, after a year last year of writing down everything I ate and analyzing it, I was looking for a simpler way to live that would promote a healthy heart, a healthy weight and support my running habit.
I had been running since the beginning of February, and really just concentrating on that and not worrying about how I ate. I started to think the way I have advised NUMEROUS readers not to: “Well, if I’m exercising this rigorously, then I needn’t worry about having two hamburgers instead of just one.”
I re-learned a couple of months in that is just foolish. I had to remind myself that a half-hour run burns a little more than 400 calories. A second burger? Wipes out the deficit. So as I’m snacking away in addition, even on healthy foods likes nuts and fruits, the weight started to come back on.
That’s when “My Just Do It Summer” was born. I still didn’t want to have to go back to writing down every calorie. I mean, it sucks to live that way! It really does! Right? So I decided to give the all-natural food eating a try.
Pretty much everyone I know who invests in the organic, all-natural lifestyle looks healthy and amazing. So I figured that the food would be better fuel for my running and make me feel better. And when you’re eating whole grains, doesn’t every commercial also let you know that you’ll lose weight?
Didn’t work. And so like almost every good theory that has been tested, adjustments have had to be made.
I’ve laid out some of my results so far, and at the end, I’ve included a few changes that I’ve already incorporated and results I’ve seen from that. Hopefully, the new path — albeit an annoying one — will have better end results.

Many people think of a natural food diet as consisting of whole grains, proteins, fruits and veggies and other healthy stuff. And it does! It also allows for full-fat cheeses, butter, olive oil and fatty meats, among other things, and it doesn’t account at all for portion sizes.
What I was eating always looked so healthy. Before I didn’t usually eat breakfast, but I was frequently having a couple of slices of whole grain toast with strawberry jam and maybe some butter. Right there, that was 360 calories. You have a couple of eggs with that? It’s 480.
An 80/20 burger on a whole grain bun with cheddar cheese and sweet potato fries? 650 calories.
Nuts for a snack in the afternoon? 250 calories.
That’s up to 1,380 calories all before dinner.
Long story short, I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t gaining much, but even a little bit is a concern when you’ve worked so hard to lose it.

A number of variables contributed to the fact that running while eating “natural” hasn’t been any easier than when I didn’t worry as much about sugar, white flour and preservatives (etc.).
For one, as I mentioned above, I was putting on weight rather than taking it off. I have mentioned numerous times that running isn’t about fatness, it’s about conditioning. And that’s very much true. Unless you are significantly overweight or have injuries, pretty much anyone can run. You just have to build stamina.
But running is so much easier when you’re slimmer. There’s less impact on the knees and hips and your legs don’t fatigue so easily. So the added energy I may have had from my healthier diet was offset by the weight.
Plus (and I hadn’t considered this variable), the weather has been problematic. I’m heat-sensitive, anyway, so with an early humid summer setting in, I’m finding it increasingly difficult and rare to have “a good run,” meaning one where you feel like you could keep going and going. In fact, I’ve decreased mileage, and I haven’t been going more than three times a week.
It’s also possible that the kinds of calories you consume — whether quality or empty — don’t have an impact on energy when it comes to running. Natural foods may well be making my body happier — meaning organ function, cholesterol, etc. — but it’s possible a person doesn’t consciously feel the affects of that in regard to exercise and everyday activity.
Like I said, this diet was an experiment to see if those side effects would occur. I didn’t say I believed they would or would not. And all I’m saying now is that I haven’t noticed a change.

What I was most surprised by was the array of food choices. I worried there wouldn’t be enough to choose from and that label-reading would be a huge drag.
But natural foods are everywhere. There are plenty of bread choices in every story — even whole grain hot-dog buns! Easy to prepare canned veggies often work. You can find soups, salads, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, pastas, grains — pretty much anything you’re craving, except for many snacky items, can be found in a natural, non-preservative form.
So I have no complaints about variety.

Given the weight increase, I needed to incorporate calorie-restriction back into the program. I had to start monitoring portions and choosing not only natural foods, but lean ones.
So even though an 80-20 burger is allowed, I go for the 93/7. Even though French toast can be on the menu, I use berries instead of syrup and only take one piece.
I’ve signed back onto, and since June 1st I’ve been keeping track of everything once again. I’m still opting for natural foods whenever possible, because I do think that less processed foods are better for the body, even if I can’t feel the effects.
I’ve also cut out beverages that are highly caloric, such as fruit juices. They’re obviously very good for a person, but it’s excess calories I don’t need.
I’ve also brought back diet pop. I know that’s a no-no with a natural diet, but when counting calories, it feels like a “treat” (which is so sad.) My whole family actually loves to go get “fountain pops” from Kwik Trip. That’s our idea of a fun morning errand. Haha.

Weight loss. In 20 days, I’ve already dropped a few pounds. I’ve noticed that it already feels better on the legs when running.
But I also noticed, due to the smaller number of calories being consumed, that I’m really lacking energy some days. It’s hard to run without those energy stores. So I’ve been trying hard to strike a balance, but it seems like one helpful diet element provides a negative in some other way. I’m struggling, to be honest, to decide what’s more important and what adjustments to make.

So I’m continuing with the new plan to make good food choices but also to keep track of the calories. It’s just how it has to be, even though I wish it wasn’t.
I’m reminded of what my personal trainer told me the first couple of weeks we worked together in January 2011. I was shocked when she said that even she will always have to write down what she eats because being thin and healthy doesn’t come easily or naturally to her either.
I need to remember that.
I’m also going to keep opting for good, quality foods whenever possible. And I’m going to keep posting recipes for those foods at
Hopefully I’ll have better results with this new approach. I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.


  1. Jeffrey Friedman spoke at the Gustavus Nobel conference in 2010. His presentation was life-changing for me. He says weight is nearly as heritable as height. Do you know any child who was able to change his or her height by "trying harder"? He says we are in control of about 20-25 pounds, so his advice is to eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise for general health, and just "get over it and get on with your life" as far as your weight is concerned. These videos are well worth the time invested to watch. (Nobel 46 Gustavus) (Silverstein Lecture hosted by Northwestern University's Center for Genetic Medicine in 2010)

  2. Dr. Friedman made another memorable comment. He said that over the long term, for most individuals, biology trumps motivation. That is the reason most dieters fail to keep off the weight they lose. The hormone leptin regulates energy intake AND expenditure, what you eat and what you burn.

  3. Miss your updates!

  4. Still running or did u put all your weight back on?