Food Tripping

We all have those tumultuous relationships that bring us joy, guilt, pleasure, and anxiety. Sweethearts, parents, bosses… I will confess that I have one with food. It’s emotional and chemical. Many of us have been conditioned to enjoy food as a reward for a job well done, or to soothe ourselves with it after a tough day. I deserve this treat. Certain foods activate the pleasure centers of our brains, and once those sensations wear off, feelings of guilt and self-loathing sometimes follow, which can lead to even more eating… A study found that rats that were constantly fed a high-calorie, high fat diet displayed decreased stimulation in their pleasure centers, began to overeat compulsively, and eventually became obese.

I never had a full-on eating disordered, but I have definitely struggled with disordered eating. I loved to eat, especially junk food. I wanted to be thinner. Since these desires are at odds, erratic behavior ensued. Periods of severe restriction alternated with binges. The day after a heavy indulgence, I was convinced my thighs felt bigger. If I didn’t hate vomiting so much. I might have become bulimic. It has been a long process for me to eat a consistent, healthy diet. I am now able to think of food as nourishment and fuel most of the time while still allowing for the occasional treat. My palate has changed, and I enjoy food that’s healthful. Give me fruits, veggies, whole grains and good fats. My regular foods. Acceptable restaurants. Dietary détente.

Last weekend I took a road trip to the San Francisco Marathon (I ran the half) with my husband and two runner friends. Between the driving and the time spent in the city itself, it was five days away from home. Lots of time sitting in a car. Stopping when it was convenient and grabbing what what was available. Going easy on the water to avoid too many pit stops. Boredom munching. I didn’t go crazy, but it was a definite deviation from the norm.

Two nights before the race, we attended a complimentary Thai dinner, courtesy of my friend Keith who is an ambassador for the race. There was a buffet, and being a vegetarian, I was very limited in my choices. I ended up having a couple of spring rolls, which I de-skinned, and some Pad Thai, where I tried to go heavy on the veggies and light on the noodles. There were a lot more noodles than veggies, though, and I didn’t want to be a hog. As I was eating, I kept thinking about the oil, the refined rice noodles, and the sugar in the sauce. It made it kind of hard for me to enjoy the food, which was good, but not outstanding (I think it’s more a reflection on my affection for Pad Thai than the restaurant itself). I also had two of the mini cupcakes for dessert. While I do indulge sometimes, my general rule is that if I am going to eat something that’s somewhat unhealthy, it had better be amazing. I had the same feelings about the veggie pizza sub the night before the race and some cheesy mushrooms (the menu said stuffed mushrooms, but they were delivered swimming in a big, melty basin) that I had at a Mexican restaurant on the trip back. Good, but worth the calories?

I started thinking about how my issues with food haven’t gone away. When I go on trips, I usually enjoy having “treat” food for a few days, then long to get back to my regular eating routine. I no longer enjoy the food, I don’t feel like myself, and start to worry about gaining weight. Also, even though I stay active when I travel, it’s usually to a lesser degree than normal. Part of me thinks that I should just relax and enjoy myself. I don’t travel that often, and I believe that what you do day in and day out far outweighs the blips here and there. On the other hand, some people come back from trips several pounds heavier, and as we all know, weight is much harder to take off than to put on. Is either view completely right or wrong? I certainly don’t want to be a person who misses out on life’s experiences because I’m completely preoccupied with what I’m eating. I’m curious to know how others eat and think while on vacation.

I was up three pounds the day after the trip. A week later, I’m back to normal or maybe plus one. Even during normal life, weight fluctuates, so it’s hard to tell. The trip and race were incredible, though, and I will focus on that in an upcoming post.

6 thoughts on “Food Tripping

  1. This is a very honest and interesting post Michelle. You are so busy and active, your body needs the calories so I am sure the Thai buffet or any other occasional ‘treat’ would not make the slightest bit of impact on your athletic performance! I think being wholly virtuous all of the time isn’t good for us anyway… 😉

    If we want to perform at our best yes we need to live a good, clean lifestyle, but even Olympic athletes are known to splurge from time to time (I read in a Runners’ World article at the London Olympics athlete’s village there was a complimentary food court for the athletes and the McDonalds stall was one of the busier ones..!)

    • Indeed there is a balance. I think life is about trying to find it. I’ve come to the realization that I will never be/look totally perfect because it’s not worth the restriction, and I can live with that. Changes in routine can be challenging sometimes, though.

  2. UGG! I just got home yesterday from a week away and did the same thing. I indulged myself-way more than I do at home. BUT I did not totally indulge myself, i did use SOME restraint. I was active the whole time, but not as active as had I been home. I came back 2 lbs heavier. I HOPE they are gone tomorrow!!! I don’t have an answer, but I do know I feel better the way I eat day to day so I have no interest indulging everyday in real life. Great post!!

  3. I so agree with this entire post. Coming off a 60 pound weight loss, I feel like I am constantly stuck between “good” and “bad” – it took a long time to not feel guilty about a treat every so often. It really is about allowing yourself the indulgence, but knowing when to say no. I also spend time criticizing my body so I try to focus on the things my body can DO versus how it looks in the mirror- your body my friend, does INCREDIBLE things! Give yourself that credit 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing 🙂 I completely agree with focusing on what the body can do for inspiration.

      I sometimes wonder if there is a woman in this world who is 100% happy with her body. I’m about 95%, and I have learned to focus on that 95% rather than obsess about the 5% too much.

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