Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forbidden Food

So there's this thing that happens every 28 days or so... you know where I'm going with this.

Except now, since the Hubs and I have decided to take certain measures to prevent the little bit from having a sibling (just yet), that 28 days can be 30, 35, 40, or even 60. Basically, I have no way to gauge when and where I'll be when I suddenly morph from a relatively amicable person into, well, this.

I'd like to say I'm not one of those women who likes to blame everything on PMS. My husband would beg to differ... but I have to say that my bouts of bitchiness are fewer and farther between than other people I've known, who might commit capital punishment-worthy crimes if you so much as look at them wrong.

This past week, though, all I wanted to do was simultaneously gorge myself on brownies and punch every other person in the face. What can I say? I'm a multi-tasker.

Clearly, when my mood is less than spectacular my appetite goes all wonky on me. I know I don't need the crap that I crave, but I find myself eating it anyway. This makes me curious why my knee-jerk reaction to a few crabby days is to eat my emotions. Is it written into a woman's biochemistry that she is only going to want to eat based on her serotonin levels, or has it been ingrained in her by those damn Yoplait commercials that she would die without chocolate? I mean, I know I am a chocolate fiend. But I also love roasted red peppers, asparagus, and most recently, brussel sprouts.

Yes! Brussel sprouts! And they're not even dipped in a chocolate fondue pot!

So after a good bit of Googling (I love how that's a verb now), I've come across a few interesting tidbits that might shed light on our eating habits and weaknesses. First, a synapses of a study conducted in late 2009 on a small group of participants asked to fast for a night and then, when presented with their favorite food items the following morning, suppress their cravings. The doctors conducting the experiment measured participants' brain activity using a PET machine:

In men, this willful inhibition directly affected brain metabolism—the group suppressing their craving had less activation in the limbic and paralimbic regions, which control awareness of hunger and desire for food. The two groups of women, in contrast, had equivalent brain activity. This observation corresponds to the participants’ ex­perience: the men who tried to ignore their craving felt a decreased desire for the food, but the women were tantalized despite their efforts at self-control. Wang also reported that the women’s brains showed a much greater response to their favorite food than men’s did, and he speculates that these findings may help explain why so many women struggle with their weight. -- Diane Welland, Scientific American, May 2010.

So men have more willpower? Why? And, more importantly, do they really have more willpower or is there an element of competition that plays a role in how men behave in studies? I can just picture it, my husband walking in there like, "I'm gonna OWN this experiment! Yeah!!!"

Also, if this study were conducted on a much larger scale, I think the numbers would balance out between women and men as far as who could actively suppress their appetites and who could not. I don't know about you, but I know plenty of guys who go from saying they're not going out to conceding to "just one drink," to "ok, maybe I'll grab a bite while I'm here and one more beer..." to stumbling down to the late-night pizza joint to soak up the nights' indulgences with a large pepperoni.

Perhaps in the moment, women remain more "tantalized" by food than men (that word always sounds so dirty), but that over all, we still all suffer the same challenges when trying to exercise some measure of self-control.

So my next question is, why are we so turned on tantalized by food and why is it SO hard to just say know to cravings?

The answers may lie in our chemistry:

"The hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe, filters sensory data and puts it in short-term or long-term memory. Located on either side of the brain, the insula helps control your social emotions by interpreting your physical state [source: Blakeslee]. Then, the caudate nucleus, within the striatum deep in the center of the brain, helps control the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone also produced during sex, compulsive gambling and drug activity.

This type of dopamine stimulation and chemical reward that we obtain from fulfilling food cravings has been compared to drug addiction because both behaviors follow similar neural pathways. The pleasure and reward that we derive are simply milder versions of those that drug addicts experience when they get high. Neurologically speaking, that fast food joint isn't much different from a person selling drugs." -- Cristen Conger, Understanding Food Cravings, from TLC's "How Stuff Works"

And also in our emotional state:

"Studies on mood have found that our emotional state normally has a greater impact on cravings than hunger [source: Hill]. Diet influences our levels of the hormone serotonin, which regulates our disposition [source: Pressman and Clemens].On top of that, our sensory memories of these foods, which elicit that chemical satisfaction, reinforce the cravings." -- Conger.

What's important to know about the chemical and emotional connected behind food cravings is that they are nearly completely independent from actual hunger or the body's nutritional needs. There is the occasional case where a vegetarian suddenly develops a craving for red meat and discovers that she is anemic and deficient in B vitamins, but for the most part our cravings are for things we know we can live without: Fries, cookies, chips, burgers, brownies...

If the chemicals coursing through our veins and our finicky brains have rendered us completely unable to curb our cravings, where does that leave us (besides hunkered down in a corner in fetal position until someone comes to the rescue with a spoon and a jar of Nutella)?

I say, the first step, just like with any drug or other undesirable habit, is to own the craving. Acknowledge that it is there and make a conscious effort to get to the root of the craving and determine if it is something you truly need. I can tell you, I might eat ice cream day and night if I didn't constantly tell myself, "You don't need that now... or now.... not now, either." It sucks because ideally, I just wouldn't want the ice cream. But I do. So I talk to myself the same way I would explain to my 2-year-old why she can't have an entire bag of gummy bears.

Regardless of whether anyone else would admit to this, I think we all have a toddler stomping its little feet up in our brains. It's the voice that goes "More, more MORE!" and doesn't settle down until sitting in a sundae the size of a bathtub. And, like kids, this voice knows no shame. Ever see a little kid feel bad about the junk food he just scarfed down? It's always the parent who suffers, knowing the impending crash that always comes after the sugar rush. Well we have to be the parents to our childish, toddler brains. Deal with the fact that you just should not have that whole box of cookies right now, maybe even throw a temper tantrum to get it out of your system, then go work out!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Confessions of a Jitterbug.

A friend of mine is giving up caffeine. May the Powers that Be bless her in her attempt because my nerves go into a tizzy at just the thought of such deprivation.

I went nearly a month without Excedrin (or the OTC equivallent thereof) because I had just kept forgetting to pick up more every time we went grocery shopping. I didn't mind because I've been in maintenance mode with my running since Thanksgiving. The second I started so much as to think about uping my mileage to prepare for a Half-Marathon trail race at the end of February, I started to drag. Only after picking up that little green miracle bottle of caffein-y, NSAID-y goodness did everything - from my brain down to my dorsi-flexors - seem to perk back up.

This does have me thinking a little about drugs, dependence, and performance. Studies have shown that a dose or two of caffeine might aid performance and recovery, so to that end I really don't worry that I enjoy my morning cup of joe and my post-workout dose of Excedrin (especially when I have to work at night). What I do wonder, however, is if I can get to that happy, feel-good, go-ahead-and-triple-seat-me-I-just-ran-10-miles-and-I-feel-fine place WITHOUT it.

I fear, the answer would be no. I have yet to even consider conducting such an experiment as my friend is doing right now, assuming that it would end with me drowning in a heap of perceived inadequacies and unfinished laundry. I know that along with helping me run harder and recover, my drug of choice is often the only thing that makes the difference between a productive day and a day when negotiating with a toddler the terms by which she may watch an episode of "Little Einsteins" renders me physically and mentally unable to complete any other task.

I'd be intrigued to find out what amount of self-medication is considered OK when taking into account the demands on a running, working mom. I honestly want to believe (and sincerely hope) that there really is nothing wrong with a couple white pills, or a nightly cocktail, or a Starbucks habit (as expensive as that may be). I take comfort in my routines and rituals and knowing that in a pinch, when my body screams at the thought of ironing my work shirt, let alone actually dragging my feet across the threshold of the restaurant, I have my one little thing that might make it all better. For 4 hours, anyway.

I suppose that you have to know that you can live without it, too. I did go without my happy pills for a month, after all. What's one more workout?

Just don't try to take away my coffee, if you enjoy having all 10 of your fingers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tuesday Night Spin - 2 days late

I didn't put together anything too new this week. I did a variation of the 3-set workout, incorporating drills, hills, and sprints. I included beats per minute this time (bpm) so if you have a monitor on your bike, you can get an idea about how fast you should be pedaling. The general rule is to keep your speed in the 60-120bpm range because below 60 you're just mashing the pedals and could break the bike and over 120, you are no longer gaining any benefits from pedaling faster. It's better to stay at 120 with a few gears on your bike than to be flying away at 150 with no resistance. It's like pedaling down a hill- it just doesn't do anything!

After a rough weekend of coping mentally with my mom not feeling well and losing tips, I needed a cathartic play list. Lots of rock. Lots of noise. A little Flo Rida (it always puts a smile on my face because I just imagine Alexis bouncing around, trying to sing along). As I told my class, when life is challenging and things seem overwhelming, it's far better to seek a reprieve from our daily demands at the gym than just sinking into our sofas, losing ourselves in "reality" TV or worse, heading to the bar to self-medicate.

I'm all for a good cocktail, don't get me wrong. I'm just far less likely to overindulge if I make sure I work out my anger on the bike or the road than if I take my emotions straight to the bar (or kitchen.... chocolate has a tendency to call my name in times of stress.)

So here's my cathartic playlist. It's my basic spin formula, with a few more sprints for the added endorphins. And as much as this workout is for me, with only 50 minutes to work hard the most important thing for me is that I get hearts pumping, give options to make adjustments to really maximize one's efforts, and put a few smiles on peoples' faces. That's where Bon Jovi comes into play.

Fast n' Furious Spin

1. warm up, flat road, alternate focusing on just the right leg then just the left (leaving both feet on the pedal). strong pace, aprox 100bpm. "The Power is One" The Go! Team
2. add a gear, alternating all 3 riding positions 2X; pos 1 verse, 2 bridge, 3 on the chorus. Keep it at 100bpm. "Know Your Enemy" Green Day
3. endurance run, 70% effort with bursts of 80% effort (try to increase cadence by 10 bpm). 15s on, 30 recover. 30s on, 45 recover, 45s. on, 30 recover, then add a gear and go back down the ladder. For the last minute of the song, do a few 10s bursts with recover @ 90% effort. "Breath" Prodigy
4. add another gear, pos 1 seated climb for the verse, pos 3 and pick it up on the chorus, adding a gear and leaving it on each time. don't dip below 60 bpm."In the End" Linkin Park
5. flat road +1 gear, sprints. take it all the way up to 120 bpm on each chorus. "Beat It" Michael Jackson performed by Fall Out Boy
6. jumps, 8/4/2-count, light to medium resistance, about 80 bpm. "Jump" Flo Rida
7. runs on a hill, medium resistance to start, add another gear half-way through. pos 1 for the verse (75-80 bpm), pick up and run in pos 3 (100bpm) for the chorus. "Arlandria" Foo Fighters
8. climb to the max, starting at medium resistance. pos 1 verse, pos 2 for the bridge, add a gear and take it up to 3 on the chorus. leave it on and repeat until you can't maintain 60 bpm and/or pedal smoothly. "Livin on a Prayer" Bon Jovi
9. recovery runs, flat road, 60% recovery, 75% pickups. "Hysteria" Muse
10. standing runs with light resistance (+2 gears from your flat road). Take it up to 3 on each chorus and push hard to get up over 100 bpm. "Like a Pill" Pink
11. seated climb to the max, starting at medium resistance. add a gear every minute until you have to stand/ slow down below 60bmp/ can't pedal smoothly. "Clint Eastwood" Gorillaz
12. sprints. don't hold back- last chance to let it all out! "All My Life" Foo Fighters
13. flat recovery - "Run to the Water" Live
14. stretches - "Be Like That" 3 Doors Down

Monday, January 16, 2012

"take two of these and call me in the morning..."

A few things weighing heavy on my mind this past week:

*The terrible news about Sherry Arnold is heartbreaking. What an unspeakably awful thing for any family to go through. I think of her and her family every day.

*It didn't occur to me until after the fact that I lost my tip money on my Dad's birthday. Another message from the Universe? Maybe. But it made me sad that I got so upset about it when it was clearly a day that I maybe should have been home, enjoying and appreciating my family.

*My mom got sick and checked herself into the hospital late last week. She's been doing alright so far except for pain from a bought of diverticulitis. There are no ruptures but she's indicated to me that she's been left with the impression that surgery might still be required. From what she's told me, the doctors aren't handling her case with any real sense of urgency, which I guess is good but it still has me a bit worried...

... and angry.

I'm not mad at her, specifically, just annoyed that no one has been in there to talk to her yet about her diet prior to this incident and how it needs to change from this point forward.* I'm angry that my mother was admitted with a complication that, compounded by other issues, killed my father.

Apparently, my mind's way of processing the information that my mom was sick had me running in my sleep. I ran so hard in my dream (I'm sure I was doing a track workout) that I woke up and swore my feet and calves were sore. That afternoon, I decided I really did need to do some intervals; to break a hard sweat and free my mind. I worked out as hard as I physically could after my dad passed away. I guess this is how I handle stress.

My run made me feel a little better, but I was still frustrated with the medical attention (or lack of it, it seemed) that my mom was receiving. Aren't they supposed to intervene and give us information to make better decisions? Why are doctors so afraid to really push a patient to make diet and lifestyle changes? They'll prescribe Lipitor by the pound, it seems, but won't address a patient's daily sausage egg & cheese habit. Type II diabetes? Here's some insulin, maybe you should drink less soda. A patient admitted to the hospital for pancreatitis is back out drinking within 24 hours of being released.

Where are the doctor's who will scare us straight? Isn't that their job?

I am not all about living forever. I'm about living well as long as we're alive.

Sherry's story reminds us that we don't know when our number will be up. Some will interpret this as a reason to forgo exercise and just eat and drink whatever they please because, hey, we all die sometime, anyway.

The flip side of that, however, is to consider how we actually want to feel while we are still here on earth. Do we want to struggle every time we take the stairs? Do we want to start every morning with a 12-pill drug cocktail? Do we really enjoy that even the simplest of tasks - playing "tag" with our kids or carrying in a couple arm-loads of groceries from the car - are so taxing that we have to sit for 20 minutes afterwards to recover??

I guess the main point to this long-winded, melancholy post is that just because life is short doesn't mean that what we do to or for our bodies doesn't matter. The converse is true:

We need to make every day count. Make the most of your body so your body can make the most of every waking moment. Don't wait for something to go wrong to make a change! Your quality of life starts with YOU, TODAY. Don't waste it.

(*1/17 - she's been released with an order to avoid chocolate and to introduce things back into her diet slowly. Nothing else has been said to her as of yet.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Finders Keepers?

What a week.

The Mart in Atlanta is in full swing. From 1/11 through 2/6, an additional 100,000 people or so are here to buy and sell, buy and sell, and buy and sell. It seems exhausting, so I can understand that people are hungry. Like, going on a two-hour wait by 7:00PM, yelling at us because we're not giving them two tables when their group of eight easily fits at one, telling the manager he can't do anything to make them happy because how dare we deliver their steaks before every last person is done with their salad (not like we have 292 other people to feed), "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T TAKE RESERVATIONS?!?!" kind of hungry. Or, hangry, I should say.

The great thing about this month is the amount of caffeine I can justifiably consume stuff I can plan to get myself for my birthday in a few weeks.