This week's subject prompt was "weight loss or maintenance during distance training."
Interesting topic. Let's go back a few years ago in history.
I was definitely guilty of gaining weight while I was training for the Chicago Marathon in 2012. I thought that putting in the double-digit training runs every weekend gave me a free pass to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in any quantity that I wanted. Combine this with one of my worst fears, which was bonking due to improper fueling. These perceptions were a terrible combination. My philosophy basically boiled down to, "When in doubt, eat more!"
After challenging runs, it was a common practice for me to order in a deep dish pizza, proclaim that I could eat the entire thing by myself, then do my very best to make it happen. I was very liberal with carb-loading both before and after the long runs. I did nothing to hold myself back from desserts, Gatorade, chocolate milk, energy gels, candy, the list goes on and on. You name it, I ate it.
I never weighed myself while I was marathon training. However, my clothes became noticeably tighter. At the time, I should have gone up a dress size. Instead, I selectively chose to wear only stretchy clothes or my looser articles of clothing. Call it the proverbial burying my head into the sand. I didn't really change my eating habits after the marathon was over, either.
I finally got to a point about seven or eight months after the marathon that I just couldn't stand myself anymore. I stepped on the scale one day and was horrified to realize that I was almost 15 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day. It was my highest weight ever.
My company, with all of its amazing benefits, offers free membership to Weight Watchers. So I signed on up.
The first few weeks were hell. I basically got smacked in the head with the realization of how bad my eating habits were. But after the initial shock died down, I learned the importance and magnitude of a healthy way of life, as opposed to dieting.
Over time, I got into the habit of food journaling. I started keeping myself accountable for what I ate. I began implementing changes to keep the healthy habits as easy as possible to maintain. For example, I always have healthy snacks on hand for when I'm on the go (almonds are a favorite since they're portable, don't smush easily, and are very shelf-stable). I try to never let myself get too hungry so that it's easier to maintain control. I try to stay well hydrated so that I'm less likely to confuse thirst with hunger.
It took me a little over a year to drop 22 pounds. I've maintained my weight, with very minimal fluctuation, for well over six months now. I am proud to say that I'm now at my lowest weight since high school.
The Weight Watchers program definitely helped me to understand why I gained so much weight during marathon training in 2012. Without going into all the intricacies of the program, in summary all foods, beverages, and activities/exercises are assigned a point value. You are given a daily allotment of points to consume, and you can earn additional points for working out.
When I sat down to do the math on my points, I was really shocked at how much effort it took to earn activity points and how easy it was to consume points. Often, all the extra points that I earned from my long run were pretty much cancelled out by just the GU, Gatorade, and some moderate post-run refueling. That's all. In short, I was completely overestimating the amount of calories that I was burning during my training. Looking back, I'm honestly surprised that I didn't gain more weight than I actually did.
I've heard it said from several friends that "You can't out-exercise a bad diet." I completely agree with this. I find it requires much less effort to maintain a healthy diet than it is to eat poorly or too much and then try to work it off.
To this day, I still try to journal everything that I eat. Every week, I still go to Weight Watchers meetings to get weighed in. When I am doing double-digit training runs, I will allow myself some reasonable post-run recovery food. Beyond that, I try my best to maintain the same eating habits that I would if I weren't training.
Nobody said that it would be easy. I have my really good days and my really bad days. I still crave chocolate and ice cream and deep dish pizza and salty/fried snacks. I still fight myself from going overboard anytime I'm at a buffet, and I still wish I could order every dessert on the menu. But the difference now is that I've learned how to enjoy things in moderation. And in the end, the effort has definitely been worth the results.