CW: The Monday Struggle…

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.

JMM

4 comments

  1. John-important column you write. I’ll add 2 key components for those who are active and forever “fighting” to avoid negating the beneficial effects of exercise by overeating.

    1- You CAN teach yourself NOT to like sweet foods. I did – and others can too. To do so- you have to first decide that you REALLY want to be slim. Withdrawal from sweets in many ways is similar to smoking cessation. You need to want to quit first. There will be a period of craving- and substitution of something else (low calorie foods like celery, carrots, chewing non-caloric gum, or simply figuring out how to occupy yourself until the craving passes) will,be invaluable for overcoming this period. The first time I ate my cherished sugar frosted flakes after my withdrawal, I practically threw up – it was that oversweet. Once your taste changes to favor healthy foods- you do NOT have to go hungry- because you really can eat a LOT of lower calorie food IF you make good choices.

    2- ANTICIPATE. This is how you make good choices. Choose restaurants where you can get non-fried foods- low calorie salad dressings- tell them not to use butter in cooking- select (or take with you) fresh fruit instead of cakes or ice cream for desert. If meals are not preplanned – then healthy choices won’t be made. It CAN be done – but you have to want it and work for it every day of your life. That said – it DOES become much easier with time.

  2. I lost my 60+ pounds with something I now call portion swapping.

    For example, instead of eating a 12 oz steak with a 3 oz salad, I now eat a 12 oz salad, and a 3 oz steak. Instead of 2 eggs and a small bowl of fiber cereal, I now eat a larger bowl ol fiber cereal and 1 egg. I haven’t really given anything up (except most sugar and empty carbs), but just changed the sizes around.

    I did cut out most sugar, soft drinks, empty carbo-snacks and all alcohol, but I have found sugar free/low or no fat ice cream substitutes for my cravings, and some fairly healthy snack alternatives.

    I make sure I have some sugar free ice cream on hand for all those family gatherings and celebrations, so I don’t have to feel like a miserable martyr sitting in the corner and watching others enjoy their treats. I’ve seen too many people on “diets” do this.

    By making it not either/or, it was far more pleasing and do-able. I found this worked well even after my extended swimming and water aerobics exercises. I found a nice sugar free ice tea was just as refreshing after my swims as a soda would have been before. Granted, I don’t expend mega-calories in my workouts, as you do in your biking, so I don’t have the Monday thing you mention, but I can understand.

    The interesting thing I’ve found over the years is that overeating seems to beget overeating. I used to think it was a matter of “oh well, I’ve blown my diet, may as well keep doing it”, but I now think it is more physical than mental. I really seem to be more hungry the morning after a big dinner or holiday than after a workout day, and more hungry for dinner abter a big lunch. It’s almost as if somehow the body does some recalibrating of some sort. Why? Perhaps it’s because of big blood sugar swings,

    I’m not perfect, and I certainly am not remotely close to the Dean Ornish level, and want to lose a bunch more, but I found by making a few fairly simple alterations, I can make it work and be fun. I admit it is hard at times, but not nearly as bad as the old guilt trip diets from the past.

    And yes, there are many more choices now at restaurants that can be found. However, take a skepticle look at the “diet plates” and so called “lo cal” choices. In many cases, they are neither. A salad with a half cup of full-test ranch dressing preloaded on the salad is far worse than a small steak and plain baked potato, for example. I had to laugh at the diet salad plate offering I saw one time, comprised of tuna salad (with mayo), potato salad, and cole slaw, that was touted as a “salad plate for the weight watchers”. I had a great meal the other night at a national chain with a piece of broiled tuna, a salad (dressing on the side), and a modest helping of cajun rice and beans that I was well satisfied with.

    I can’t wait for summer and the many hours at the outdoor pool. The long swims are as rewarding to me as your biking is to you, I bet. Just no “winning” involved in my type of swimming, except for my own self challenges.

    I’m grinning as I’m self righteously writing this, as this was one of those rush out of the house to work mornings, and I got caught off guard, and just finished a “breakfast” of peanut butter crackers out of the snack machine . . . .for shame on me, but hey, stuff happens, and I’m not going to let any guilt destroy my day.

    Have a good fun, healthy weekend.

  3. Doc, one of wife’s patients always says, and he’s about 80 +/- a few yrs, to maintain the right body weight you need to go bed a little hungry every night!
    He takes no meds, exercises daily & maintains the correct body weight.

    BTW…. Qnexa (?) parent co. Vivus says that 81% of USA will be overweight & 67% obese in 2020…..

    Someone has to file a law suit against the maker of the fork!

Comments are closed.