Eating for exercise

I spend a lot of time thinking about, and experimenting with, food.

Not to make it taste good. If I have you over to my place and I’m in charge of making food I’ll probably be panicking a little.

But I’m very interested in figuring out how to make the healthiest food I can while keeping it from becoming too unpalatable (so I guess that’s sort of like thinking about how to make it taste good). I love to find ways to make a food that is packed with healthy nutrients and is palatable enough that I can eat it regularly, and I’m constantly trying different ways of getting to that goal.

The reason why I first started doing this (and in large part why I continue to do it) is because in my late teens and early twenties I became quite obese, and ever since, I have been trying to find my way back to a healthier weight. I have tried many many things, and researched and learned a lot. On the weight goal I’ve made a lot of progress and even, in more successful seasons, probably walk down the street and pass as “normal” weight or body composition, but I’m still a long way off from the more ideal weight range I continue to shoot for. My hope now is that in a few years when my children are older, I might be able to find more time to spend exercising, which could help get me further along toward my goals.

And that brings me to my reason for writing today. I don’t get to exercise nearly as much as I’d love to today, but I do still fit it in when I can, and lately I’ve been reflecting with some amazement on how different it feels to exercise now than it used to. I used to get real chest pain from just a little bit of running around, so that I couldn’t imagine exercise without it. I can remember that feeling even as a teenager in gym class. I assumed that’s what exercise felt like for everyone because I’d never really known exercise as anything different.

And losing weight, by itself, didn’t really change that for me very much. I enjoyed lifting weights during much of my weight loss journey because of how minimally aerobic fitness entered into it. But I can remember having lost a lot of weight and wanting to improve my running and still hitting up against the same wall, the same chest pain.

Now, I can go for a long, easy run, for a couple hours, in a way I never could before, and I feel not just decent or okay but amazing while I do it. I really think it comes in large part from the latest change in the way I eat. About four years ago I switched to a way of eating that has worked really well for me. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to eat here but simply wanted to take a moment to feel grateful for what has worked for me, and to share in case anyone else is interested.

Basically, the rule of thumb I’ve adopted (inspired mainly by a book I’ve mentioned here before, How Not to Die by Michael Greger), is to increase fibre and decrease saturated fat intake. If a food isn’t contributing to your fibre intake, then eat less of it (eg processed foods like refined flour or refined starch or refined sugar or oil, or animal products). If a food is contributing to your saturated fat intake, then eat less of it (eg coconut oil or palm oil or most animal products). At the other end of the spectrum, the healthiest things to eat are berries, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and legumes, so I try to eat more of those—although there are plenty of other perfectly healthy things to eat beyond these four as well, of course.

It’s hard for me to express how much more effortless exercise has gotten for me since I started eating that way. Thinking about it makes me feel grateful and astonished, both at once.

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