Thursday, February 14, 2008


Over the last five years i've dedicated an inordinate amount of time to getting and staying fit. As a result, i'm not only in really good shape, but i'm quite thin compared to my peer group. I work out enough that i can get away with the occasional transgression, liking eating a bag of tortilla chips or a bacon cheeseburger. One of the side effects of obsessive fitness though is that you become preoccupied with what you eat. Even when i'm definitely hungry i find myself debating the necessity of calories or contemplating relative nutritional value. Put another way, now that i eat less i spend a lot more time thinking about eating.

Eating sensibly seems to be natural for some people, but it goes against my upbringing. In my family, food was solace and celebration. Of course, most cultures use a good feast to mark a special event, but i think there was a particularly dangerous emotional link in my family. My grandmother made the most wonderful pies in the history of pie-making, but as a Type II diabetic she also basically ate herself to death. I sometimes think that family members on my dad's side of the family (myself included) lack that protein that signals to your brain that you are full (leptin?). I rarely leave the table feeling "full"; Thankgiving dinner is probably the only time when i actually eat to the point of satiety.

To compensate for that i have to think about what i eat more than many people. I have to play games with myself, like going to lunch 15 minutes early if i finish some task at work. I make sure that i have fresh fruit around at all times so that i don't have an excuse to get a bag of M+M's. I tend to eat small but frequently, and i usually try to satisfy my cravings by having a glass of water or a diet soda before succumbing to more caloric options. For a treat i leave dark-chocolate Hershey's kisses in my freezer, because that way you can't really eat a whole bunch of them at once. I don't "diet" in the normal sense of the world since my workout schedule allows me plenty of calories, but i try to follow one simple rule: only eat when i'm hungry.

I sometimes hear people say that they got so busy or so focused that they forgot to eat lunch. That's inconceivable to me. Sometimes i am so preoccupied with food that i think of work as just a way to pass time between meals, even though i am capable of tremendous focus while programming or writing. Most people that i know casually would probably be surprised by that, since outwardly i appear to have greater-than-average willpower (e.g., i can avoid the "free food" in the work kitchen). But this is a behavior i didn't learn until my late 30s. It's an aspect of training, just like getting up to run or diligently doing my stretching to keep my hip joints flexible. In a moment of weakness or depression, i could still easily eat a whole pie.

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