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.