Going hungry, sticking a fork in my trainer, and exercising the willpower muscle
Tuesday morning I wanted to kick my trainer in the teeth…if I didn’t have short legs and not enough flexibility or strength to kick that high.
I was angry because I took his suggestion from our session on Monday to do my morning cardio on an empty stomach because it’s supposed to burn fat. There are a lot of websites backing that claim, particularly at the level of cardio I’m doing (just hiking with the King).
Okay, I wasn’t so much angry as I was hungry, and I imagined if I ran into him at that moment, I might stick a fork in him and have raw trainer for breakfast.But as I came back from my walk and had my morning obsession of steel cut oats with yogurt and raisins (really, it’s divine), rational brain took over.
When, exactly, was the last time I actually went hungry? I don’t mean just delaying breakfast until after cardio, but being so hungry that it went beyond anger and humor to that dull ache and pain of my body desperate for food?College. As soon as I thought of the question, it answered itself. I remember fasting for almost 48 hours for a charity event. Before that, a few 24 hour fasts here and there for charity and I think a few times for church.My brother made a joke (and he was joking, he is very proud of me) in the comments of yesterday’s post that he’s tired of me being on this exercise kick, because he enjoyed having company since he’s let himself go soft. And I got to thinking about just how soft I’ve gotten. I’m not talking about my Pooh Bear belly, but my mind and my discipline. I’ve spent so many years allowing myself to finally have those things I felt deprived of when I was younger that there is no longer any connection to what I have vs. what I’ve earned.If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve been really working hard when it comes to my writing. I’ve written about disciplining myself to make writing a job, putting in hours of reading and writing a day. But I still have a lot to learn when it comes to self-discipline, and this lifestyle change I want to make (eating, moving and living more healthfully) requires that same kind of discipline.I’m not saying I won’t slip up, because given the right mood and opportunity, I will still mouth-rape a bowl of Cap’n Crunch Berries faster than you can check your pulse. But the point is I haven’t really tried to exercise my willpower. But a strange thing has happened since I’ve been here in California. For some reason, it’s been easier not to have a lot of food slips. I was already starting to guess why, when my assumption was backed up by something I found on NPR about a book titled Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. In our house in Pennsylvania, we have sweets everywhere: in the cupboards, in the refrigerator, in the pantry, in candy dishes, in the car. There are virtually no nooks or crannies without treats of some kind.I found quickly in this house I’m sitting that the owners do not keep sweets anywhere. Even the dog has more snacks than the people do. The researchers in Willpower found the following: “Just putting food where you can see it next to you depletes your willpower, whereas putting it away in a drawer or putting it across the room makes it easier for you because you’re not actively resisting the temptation.”
According to the researchers, putting the sweets in front of you and resisting them is wasting your energy: “You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day, so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies.”
It makes sense. Why should mental energy be any different from energy in the rest of our body? You can’t get fit by exercising yourself to death. To build muscle and avoid injury, you should only work the muscles about 3 times a week or every other weekday. Even cardio you can do daily but if you do it nonstop, you’re going to burn through your fuel to keep going.
Damn it! I once had a counselor who always found a way to work “Everything in moderation” into almost every session. I wanted to stick a fork in her almost as much as I wanted to stick a fork in my trainer yesterday morning when I was hungry.
But she’s right, and he’s right, and it’s amazing how many times a book can be written about different subjects and come up with the same conclusion that balance or moderation is the key to healthful living.
It’s a hard lesson to learn and I’m betting it will be the rest of my life still trying to learn it, but I’m going to try anyway, starting by getting used to a little morning hunger.