When I was very little the smells of bacon pressed in a black iron skillet and pancakes cooking filled my grandma’s kitchen the morning after I stayed the night. Her standing freezer was always full of Klondike bars. My grandma always gave money for Mr. Frosty, the neighborhood ice cream truck, when its jingle echoed through the neighborhood. My grandmother was a very kind and loving soul. She could cook. She loved through her dinners and snacks during visits. Food was comfort and reassurance.
At home my mom’s cooking was meat and potatoes and healthy servings all around. Chips and junk food were never in short supply in the pantry. Combined with my acute lack of athleticism, in elementary school I was the kid who wore husky pants. Being young, my weight didn’t seem to matter much. I was never obese, just fat.
Then things like image and social clicks and girls came into the picture along with the puberty and hormones of adolescence. Childhood friendships changed. Much like my pants waist line, I found myself not quite fitting in socially by sixth grade. I started gorging on self-doubt. My peers ostracized me for being the fat nerd with glasses and braces by eighth grade. I went from being nicknamed the smart ass “mouth” in elementary school to behaving like a mouse. Over-eating constantly, and bummed out, I entered my freshman year of high school with the mission to lose weight. My plan was to eat as little as possible. And I did, mostly. I skipped breakfast. I’d eat a bag of vending machine white cheddar popcorn for lunch. I would only eat half portions at dinner. My parents worried. I pleased the family doctor and confused my grandma.
Memory is a tricky thing, but I’m pretty sure I went from about a 180 pound, 5 foot 6 teenager (I never grew much taller, topping out at 5 foot 9 inches) to about 120 pounds in months. At the time I was at the low-end of my healthy height-and-age weight range. Looking back, my parents had a right to worry, even if the doctor didn’t. The doctor didn’t seem to take nutrition into account. I was eating junk in just small enough amounts of it to keep dropping weight. At 119 at 15 years old I scared myself enough that I finally started eating more (though I wouldn’t say ‘regularly’) again. And thus began a life-long yo-yo of eating all the wrong foods, gaining weight, and through sheer will, losing it again. Unfortunately losing the weight in high school, or any period in my life really, never helped me lose the awkwardness I adopted in those late middle-to-early high school years. I was a loner who loved-loved-loved food, over-ate and then hated until I reached college.
In college I found a certain comfort level with myself and food. I packed on the pounds with the introduction of beer and Chinese buffets. I didn’t seem to mind the girth until I married and divorced in graduate school. I remember a point in grad school when I lived near a Whataburger restaurant. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and large fries every Sunday, washed it down with a large coke, and then bicycled three miles slowly around a lake, convincing myself it all balanced out in the end. I continued to put on weight. Finally I hated myself enough to buckle down and again, lost weight, this time with a bit of exercise in the mix. There was the euphoria of feeling better about myself through endorphins. Only the occasional Whataburger with small fries, or single large meal during the day sustained me in this period. Then in 2004, I moved back to where I was from and the weight returned.
In my early 30s I found running after the boredom of joining a gym and finding elliptical machines and weights were not helping me lose weight. Somehow, eventually, I promised myself to run a marathon by 35. I ran my first the day before my 35th birthday. I shed a massive amount of weight in the process, going from about 190 to 148 on race day. I felt good and ran fast. I was so intense though that I put stress fractures on both my tibia. After that I slowed down. I put on 15 pounds in three years. I ran five marathons total since 2010. My eating improved, some.
Whereas I would go through periods of gorging on one meal a day in the past, I regularly eat breakfast, something I never did back in the days of wildly fluctuating weight loss and gain. I plan a small mid-morning snack and pack a lunch that keeps some of my caloric intake in check. I still often fall to pieces at dinner, especially after a run. It’s all mac-and-cheese and bacon cheeseburgers and chili concoctions with french fries as a reward and as a comfort.
Eating completely healthy, being disciplined enough to deny comfort food for a majority of time, much less all the time, seems impossible. A guy who runs 20 plus miles a week should not gain weight, right?
I know through running though, all I can do is continue to set goals. I’ve got two out of three meals a day under control. That’s a plus. I need to tackle dinner. I need to plan one meal a week that I fix that is healthy. I also need to slow down. Everyone who ever eats with me says I “inhale” my food. I can, hopefully, lose a couple of pounds and then maintain. That’s the hope.
I want to end this post with an empty promise. I’m only eating kale! I’m going vegan. No thick cuts of steak again (like I ate tonight)! I’m not buying any more bacon! (I have a horrible love affair with that stuff). All of them would be like empty calories. I’d lie, if I made any of those promises. All I can do (see paragraph above) is take the steps in the right direction, try to plan at least part of my diet and just hope I can transfer my need for comfort and familiarity through food into running a few more miles a week, at least until I can figure this “balance” thing out.