Mondays are the toughest. For you too?
I can’t seem to stop. That’s the problem. It’s not the starting; it’s pushing away from the table.
Do you talk to yourself? Do you ask yourself whether that extra bag of chips, M & M’s or cookie will help or hurt you? Fifteen minutes after eating that amazing piece of cake, do you feel regret? Does your imaginary friend berate your weakness? Does he say things like:“WTF, Mandrola…It’s not like you can climb!”
More and more, eating just the right amount occupies my middle-aged mind. It’s as if I can feel the deceleration of my cells’ metabolism—and yes, cells get slower with birthdays, just like the quads.
Here’s the scenario:
Having pedaled for three hours on Saturday and maybe raced the bike on Sunday (or some other kilo-joule-burning combination therein), I stay hungry for days on end. For the weight-weenie cyclist, such a state spells bad news. While weekend exercise sessions may burn thousands of calories, in the US, and especially in hospitals, it’s easy to erase these deficits. Like most, sometimes I win the Monday fight and sometimes not. And my friends, this is indeed an unremitting fight.
Is this it Mandrola? Surely you have more than weight management is hard.
Regular readers know that I tend to find nutrition and weight management matters overly simple. Sorry for that, I’m not a neuroscientist or epidemiologist—just an AF doc. But just because I tend to the obvious on nutrition, doesn’t mean that I shun nuance. On the contrary, I love to learn the science of what makes us negate the trimming effects of a hard three-hour training ride. What gives?
For educating the exercise minded, few writers do a better job than Gretchen Reynolds from the NYTimes. In her most recent piece, Does Exercise Make You Overeat, Ms. Reynolds summarizes two (human) studies that shed light on the brain’s response to exercise. In the first study, from Cal PolyTech in San Luis Obispo, CA (important reminder here: check the right box on career day—ie, exercise scientist in Southern Ca), researchers showed that healthy young volunteers who exercised vigorously had less activity in the food-desire regions of the brain than did couch potatoes immediately after the workout. (See, you just learned, as did I, that food-desire regions of the brain actually exist.)
The exercise scientists concluded what most of us athletes know: appetite suppresses immediately after exercise. An important caveat here is my assumption that the subjects did not exercise to the point of bonking. For we all know that bonking—severe calorie depletion—induces a hallucinatory state where everything looks like a cookie or a pizza.
The obvious limitation of this study, which was duly noted by Ms. Reynolds and the researchers, was that the brain MRIs were done right after exercise. Your hypothesis would be the same as mine: if looked at hours or a day later, those food-craving areas would be humming. Remember the Monday struggle.
The second study mentioned in the Times piece looked at the post-exercise food cravings of overweight unfit volunteers. In another shocker, the UK researchers found that those who reported having a high ‘liking for sugary foods’ (as measured on a questionnaire) immediately after exercise did not lose weight over the five-week study. In contrast to non-responders, those who responded to the daily 500-calorie workouts—by losing on average 10 pounds—reported less post-workout desire for junk food. In other words, if exercise induces one to desire junk food, there is a high risk that overeating may negate the weight-losing effects of exercise. The burning question is what drives the brains of the non-responders to lose the overeating struggle? Is it genetic, environmental, or even knowable? Can will power be measured?
The take home:
You have seen this confusing picture at local club rides: The same folks who win yearly mileage merit badges bulge out of their lycra kits. It’s the same with the pudgy masters swimmers, only with tougher visuals, as many swimming non-responders still wear Speedos. Aghast!
Folks, you know the take home:
It’s both. To stay trim, and healthy, and young, and as smart researchers like to say, “robust,” one must do both: Exercise regularly and overcome the desire to eat too much.
I’m fighting too.