Monday, January 05, 2009

The Overweight Runner (and Tips For a Healthy Diet)

That's me.

For most of my life I've been at least a little overweight. I was in decent shape for most of high school, particularly sophomore and junior year. In college I was only in really good shape the summer before senior year, then during some of senior year.

Back in late 2004, I was working for a tech company that had a nice on site gym. For months I told myself I'd check it out, and for months I failed to do so. Then someone I recognized from high school joined the company and went over to sign up, so I went with her. It took four more weeks to get me in there, but once I did start going, I became addicted to showing up right at 6am and working out for an hour or so. This led to outdoor runs of up to 7 miles by late 2005. In 2006 I bounced back after going through a rough stretch, looked pretty good for my wedding, then fell completely out of shape after the summer of 2006.

After a rough 2007 of not doing much in the way of working out, culminating in throwing out my back in late December, I made a commitment to get back in the swing of things. I promised myself I'd start out slow instead of trying to just run a few miles with the inevitable discouragement after failing to get through just a few minutes. So I started going for walks on the tail end of the day, and with more sunlight through the late spring and summer, I started trotting out short runs during those long walking routes (up to 6.2 miles at times). I made sure I stayed patient without getting in the mentality of running a race, just enjoying the fresh air. This approach worked very well.

During the summer, even in the cold New England ocean water, I began looking forward to swimming in the ocean as often as I could (once a week). Mixing up activity with some basketball and weekly swimming greatly helped my desire to stay active.

When the summer faded and it became a bit cooler outside, it was all the more reason to stay outside and run as I wouldn't overheat as quickly. I realized that I was once again running 4-5 miles almost every time I went out for a run, even though my appearance still dictates I have a long way to go before I'm in great shape. With the winter and snow, it's been challenging to stay active short of a gym membership, but I'm still able to get out a couple times a week and maintain the ability to run 4 miles or so until it warms up again in March.

To avoid making this a melodrama fest, the lesson here is that everything is a process and our quick fix society simply doesn't work. As time has passed throughout the past year of finally building up to more intense activities, I've realized the goal is the activity itself, not to look good so I can one day become a model. Our bodies are hard wired to burn calories via more rigorous activity than sitting on a couch and pushing buttons on a remote control.

Exercising, being patient, and building up to a variety of activities also helped me reflect on my diet (ironically, I watch my diet more carefully when I'm practicing a good workout regimen, which means I'm taking in less calories while burning more off).

This is a life philosophy, it's not a trend that you can pick up, lose 25 pounds, then go back to your regular routine of TV and junk food. The more days that pass where I desire a nice, long run, no matter how cold it is outside, or a salad with a variety of veggies instead of a fried this-or-that, the more it shocks me that people would actually want plastic surgery or a pill to reverse their natural weaknesses, as if this is going to help them become better and stronger. We all have temptations, especially in this society, but it's fairly simple to avoid them. Here are some tips on what to eat and some advice on how to avoid what not to eat:



Dark greens, such as Romaine lettuce, spinach, broccoli.

You can make the broccoli and spinach tasty by sauteing it with a little olive oil, garlic (or garlic powder), and adding lemon or some diced onion.

Also, celery, peppers, artichokes, and carrots (great health benefit). Any salad can be made tasty with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Stay away from packaged salad dressings as most include high fructose corn syrup, which is just a bad idea in general.


This includes tomatoes, olives, and anything you can find at the supermarket that qualifies as fruit (preferably organic, though I guess that goes without saying these days).

Some good ideas to mix things up and keep yourself interested in fruit include mango, cantaloupe, bananas, and pears.

Berries and nuts (just not peanuts or cashews), which I guess can be considered a subcategory of fruit, also need to be eaten as they provide a great health benefit. A personal favorite of mine is Triple Berry Juice at Trader Joe's, which is not overly sweet and is 100% natural.


Just eat lots of it. Wild salmon (though it has a relatively high fat content, the Omega-3 benefit is key here) and haddock are easy to prepare, and tuna thrown into a salad of mixed greens makes it all the more tasty. Halibut, octopus, squid, and sashimi are also good for you.


Our bodies are hard wired to process fresh meat. This is a fact that can't be denied; we're omnivores. So treat yourself to some grass-fed beef; if you're a vegetarian, try to eat some fish once in a while.

Note: This is NOT an excuse to eat loads of sausage, cold cuts (always a bad idea when it includes processed/mixed meat and nitrates), burgers from a local burger joint (which include bread, of course), or super-glazed BBQ steak tips. Eat meat as plainly as possible and with the least amount of processing. In other words: go to a butcher for your meat, freeze it till you cook it, and prepare it with only some spices, not heavy gravies or sauces that include sugar and salt and other bad things.


Sugar and salt are to be avoided. Salt just doesn't provide any health benefit; milled cane sugar comes from a grain and is greatly concentrated, which causes all sorts of problems internally after years of ingestion.

Breads and grains are easy ways to get calories, but these are items your body wouldn't be able to process in the raw, so why eat them at all? This is extremely difficult for most, but it is also the Achilles' Heel for most people who try to stay on diets free of unnecessary carbs.

Dairy is something nature only intends for us in infancy. Once we're able to eat solid foods, we should do so, and avoid milk for the rest of our lives. How we ever got to a point of drinking the milk of OTHER mammals after infancy is beyond me, but when you think of the huge industrial and governmental stakes in the industry (and all the money that changes hands), you can see how it's in their best interests to send the message that dairy is okay for you. It's not, and the fact that cow and sheep milk needs to be pasteurized and homogenized for consumption should be enough for you to stay away. In the first link below, you'll find some surprising facts about societies which are most affected by osteoporosis and whether or not dairy truly helps avoid such disorders.


Also check out the below links. Note that I still eat some cheese and occasionally some bread; it's extremely difficult to give these up for good. This is a lifestyle choice one must be willing to accept; it's not a diet you'll find in Oprah magazine. The main idea here is to eat what you would otherwise be able to eat raw in nature (yes, including eggs and meat, which were fine to eat raw for our ancestors). These items are simply unhealthy for you in any quantities, but slowly reducing those quantities and replacing them with roughage is the best path toward a more healthy life. - reasons to stay away from dairy - the Paleo Diet

No comments: