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The edge of hunger

January 19, 2009

In late summer of 2005, I put myself on a diet and lost about 8-10 pounds. By the end of the year, I was getting really fast.

In 2006, I kept the weight off and had several excellent races.

In 2007, I gained some of the weight back and had fewer excellent races.

In 2008, I gained some more of the weight back and had no excellent races.

While none of this proves anything, it suggests that my optimal racing weight is lower than my current weight. As 2009 gets underway, I’m renewing my efforts to push my weight back down below 72 kilograms (~160 pounds, for you nonscientists).

My dietary strategy is not unique, just a hybrid of ideas I’ve heard and tried over the years:

1. Don’t eat unless you’re hungry. Such a simple rule. So easy to violate. So important to follow.

2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Among their many other virtues, they’re low in calories because they consist mostly of water and fiber. This guideline is hard for me because I despise most fruits, but I add berries to my cereal every morning and have a big salad every afternoon.

3. Don’t finish a dish just for the sake of finishing it off. Save the rest for when you’re actually hungry again.

4. Allow yourself occasional small portions of your favorite unhealthy foods. It’s probably best to enjoy them once in a while as a “special treat.” The alternative is, for many of us, an unsustainable form of self-deprivation.

5. Minimize consumption of high-calorie beverages. I’ve been drinking diet soda since 2005, but I was recently surprised to discover how many calories I had been adding to my tea in the form of honey.

6. Don’t pig out at dinner. I don’t believe in tiny breakfasts or lunches because those leave me ravenous and cause me to eat more later on. A dinner, however, should (from a dieting standpoint) provide just enough fuel for you to get to bed and sleep through the night without feeling hungry. We often eat more than that.

12 comments

  1. good topic greg. i find eating frequent, smaller meals helps me feel satiated through the day. however that often violates #1. when i wait until i'm 'hungry' it's often too late for me and i go nuts and over eat. more frequent meals keeps my and mood even through the day as well.


  2. Greg,Might I suggest that you take it one step further and skip the soda altogether? That stuff is really bad for you (especially the "diet" kind)


  3. Excellent post (again). As Wetmore said, the best runners often look like skeletons with condoms pulled over their heads.


  4. Based on my experience extra weight costs me 2.25 seconds per mile per pound ……ceteris paribus


  5. **I apologize in advance for the length, but this is a topic I feel strongly about. I also want to note that none of my remarks are directed at George. I appreciate your post for opening this topic to further discussion.**While I have enormous respect for Wetmore, that quote, likely made at least somewhat in jest, bothers me. (Many of his athletes have had serious eating disorders and/or have had their seasons/careers cut short due to injuries. Though the longer he coaches, the more this seems to be improving.)What is shoved down the throats (pardon the pun) of too many distance runners is that one must be skinny to be fast. It is true that the less weight one carries, the faster (at least in theory) one will run. However, there are many men and women who are very fast yet do not meet the "skinny distance runner" mold.Case in point, at the Hartford Marathon in 2006 the lady who either won or finished 2nd (in 2:38 or 2:39) was quite large. She was not the typical skinny distance runner by any means, but she sure was fast! Sure, you could argue that if she lost some weight she'd be even faster and you'd probably be right, but maybe she wouldn't be healthy if she lost weight and, thus, wouldn't end up being faster.It is important to realize that everyone has a different weight that is healthy for them and that merely being skinny/skinnier will not necessarily make you fast/faster. It's not worth it to be skinny if it's going to harm your health and if you get to that point, you won't be able to sustain being a good runner for long anyway. What's more important is to be at a healthy weight for you which allows your body to recover quickly, be strong, and resilient to injuries.I believe that is what Greg is striving for – a healthy weight that allows for both strong performances and staying healthy. Being sensible about what you eat is important and will help you attain a healthy, strong, resilient body.Trisha


  6. The problem, as it has been since humans starting accumulating food surpluses, is that running long distances and eating large amounts of food at one time were once both part of the survival existence that made up daily life. So these activities are still hardwired, but they are often not in balance. My philosophy is to just keep running and let the weight fluctuate (with the seasons, through emotional highs and lows, etc.). I think if one tries to adjust weight through lots of eating modification strategies and rules, then the joy of eating is lost, and it affects the joy of running as well. You are a Dad now, Greg, don't try to get down to a "peak" weight so that your times will be optimal. Just keep rolling with the changes of life, keep running, and enjoy eating.


  7. Hi Greg,I hope the diet is going well.I have found George's 2.5 seconds per pound formula to be really accurate for me, as well. With that in mind and with your diet as a call to action, I am going to drop 20 pounds in the next three months and get myself going. I did it three years ago with great success, though eventually the wheels fell off (hamstring thing) and I got slothful and chubby once again.As to diet tricks, I follow a diet very similar to what you outline, with a couple of things added. First, I have a big bowl of air-popped popcorn (my daughters call it "fat-free salt-free fun-free) every day at about 3:30PM and it really helps me get through the witching hour.Two, whenever I find myself reaching for a snack, I get a glass of water first and then walk away for five minutes. If, after five minutes, I still want the snack, I'll get it. But almost always, the urge has passed and I've moved on to something else.Three, when I sit down to a meal (the regular three a day), I put about half of what I crave on my plate and then eat it pretty slowly. Then I get up and leave. The urge to have more is strong for a few minutes, but it generally passes. If not, I do the water/walk away thing again and see how I feel.I jokingly call it my anorexia diet, but I'm really not too hard on myself. I have a goal weight and when I get there, I'm done. Meanwhile, my runs just get better and better and that's the real motivator. Plus, I start to look and feel a whole lot better. And when I get that weak, dragging-around feeling, I just tell myself that it's the fat burning (like hitting the wall) and that is the whole point.Anyhow, good luck! Ten pounds should be a snap!


  8. Sorry, it was Al that has the 2.25 second formula. And yes, Trisha, too thin isn't a good thing. I run great at 130, poorly at 128. Just gotta know your own body.


  9. Bob: I like the wait-5-minutes rule. I do something similar, which I should have included in my original list.


  10. Greg: No mention of fiber and protein? I think they help a lot with satiety. (Of course, fruit and vegetables should mean high fiber.) I've had good luck with lowfat dairy. I know this is a controversial arena, and not an option for the lactose intolerant. But it works for me, quite well. Also, I don't pig out on pasta and rice the way I used to. I eat steamed veggies and veggies and more veggies, with quinoa and bulgur wheat. When I lost 10-15 pounds several years ago, I got quite a bit faster despite being in my late 50s (then). Good luck with your "diet." Nancy Clark recently told me: "Fuel up during the day, diet at night." Makes a lot of sense. But, man, it's tough not to eat at night. I rarely succeed.


  11. I had 2 surgeries in 2006, which kept me off running. I gained quite a bit of weight. Getting back into it was very difficult. I lost the weight I gained. The best method for me was always starting out with a balanced breakfast, and eating at least (5) smaller meals(this includes breakfast).Francesca Tibbs


  12. Greg and company: many good comments about optimal body weight control. As someone who ballooned up to 205 pounds from my college body weight of 170 when I had two children under the age of 4, I have had great interest in these topics. The simple solution for weight loss and maintenance for me was to return to aerobic exercising (cycling in my case) and substituting high caloric items for ones with less calories(usually fruit/veggies). Those two items, along with weighing myself each day for feedback, helped me to get back to 170 pounds in 7 months and to stay there (+ or – 5 pounds) for the next 8 years and counting. The weighing yourself routine used to be frowned upon until recent work has shown that > 90% of people who have maintained substantial weight loss for more than 2 years weighed themselves each day. I have other devices (tanita scale) to measure my body composition, which are fun, but my tape measure for my waist circumference is my lowest tech albeit most valuable measure for health and fitness, given new scientific work. Many of the other concepts mentioned in your blog are also good ammunition in the fight against weight gain/overeating, which is of course rampant in most developed countries in the world today.



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