Sunday, September 15, 2013

What athletes (do and don't) eat

Just like I used to buy a salty and sweet snack as a kid, when I go to the library I usually take out a balance of educational and junky material: most recently, this included a biography of the Tudors (I am a Shakespearean geek); a book on riding; and a trashy tell-all book by former gymnastics star Dominique Moceanu.

Although I always knew that Bela Karolyi was a complete lunatic, the portrait painted of him in the book surpassed even my expectations. While I always assumed gymnast's food was restricted, I did kind of think that they must have to be given some healthy food to sustain 6-8 hours of training in the gym.  Well, apparently, the kids weren't taught anything about protein or carbohydrates and just were flat-out not allowed to eat quite a bit of the time: one time little Dominique was taken to a place called 'the ranch' for a weekend of training only to discover NO food was provided.  She had bought one tiny sandwich as a snack and had to ration it the entire weekend, along with what she was fed by the other girls who had been smarter to stash cases of food with them.  Oh, and in true Dickensian fashion, Dominique was upbraided for smuggling gum, Twizzlers, and Mentos in a teddy bear at another point.

But after watching an equally trashy made-for-TV movie as a kid about Nadia Comaneci I guess I should have known. I loved that film for that reason, despite being a timid, unathletic kid who couldn't even do a cartwheel.
It's a stark contrast to read about the austere diet of a female gymnast and contrast it with that of training-level Michael Phelps meals of gargantuan  proportions.

Image credit: Michael Phelps Diet Challenge

However, not all endurance athletes eat with such abandon.  I recently read an article on fruitarianism--a movement led by people who eat ONLY fruit. A competitive distance ultra-marathoner is apparently a convert:

"The name explains what it is...I eat almost only fruit." On a typical day, Arnstein will snack on, say, two dozen bananas. Some health experts say fruitarianism can lead to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies...Arnstein, who takes in between 3,000 and 6,000 calories a day, lost 30 pounds soon after starting the diet and now finds it nearly impossible to gain weight. "

 No shit (no pun intended).

I'm a runner but if I ate nothing but fruit I know my muscles and bones would shrivel up into nothingness.

But then again, Dean Karnazes  who ran 50 marathons in 50 days consumes on a run: extra-large Hawaiian pizza...He'll chase the pizza with cheesecake, cinnamon buns, chocolate ├ęclairs, and all-natural cookies. The high-fat pig-out fuels Karnazes' long jaunts, which can burn more than 9,000 calories a day. What he needs is massive amounts of energy, and fat contains roughly twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates. Hence, pizza and ├ęclairs. When he's not in the midst of some record-breaking exploit, Karnazes maintains a monkish diet, eating grilled salmon five nights a week. He strictly avoids processed sugars and fried foods – no cookies or doughnuts. He even tries to steer clear of too much fruit because it contains a lot of sugar. He believes this approach – which nutritionists call a slow-carb diet – has reshaped him, lowering his body fat and building lean muscle. It also makes him look forward to running a race, because he can eat whatever he wants.

Image credit: Tumblr
It's pretty amazing to me how such accomplished athletes can eat such weird and different diets and thrive--or how athletes in body-conscious sports with crazy coaches can eat next to nothing and compete at an elite level (although many gymnast's bodies often break down very quickly after a few years and the fact that ultra-marathoners' bodies seem LESS likely to do so is a tribute in part to the value of consuming enough calories).  I suppose this is all testimony to the durability of the human mind and will. 

Given my total lack of athletic talent, to be even moderately competent at sports I have to be very careful what I eat (granted, I'm not running as much as an ultramarathoner).  I think every person has to listen to their own body yet respect that many athletes seem to do well on a variety of different diets (although my diet is closer to Karnazes' 'normal' diet).

To be honest, even if I could burn that much fuel during exercise, I'm not quite sure if I would want to eat THAT much: I would probably pass out in pain if I ate an entire Hawaiian pizza and eclair in the middle of a run. But I'm also glad I don't have Bela Karolyi in my kitchen, much as I would like to get up the courage to get into a handstand at some point in my life.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sometimes yoga just gets all weird...

I walked into a Friday night yoga class and saw what I often see when I stroll in--a tall, thin blonde woman with a belly ring doing a handstand while the instructor says "good job" and "nice." Kind of like a yoga coach!

It had been a long day so I lay down on my mat to rest up before we began to practice.  One of the nice things about yoga is that if you lay down with your eyes closed, it is technically considered a pose, so people don't bother you (unlike NJ Transit or airplanes, for example).  But soon I felt someone tap my shoulder.  I opened my eyes and saw the blonde woman standing above me.

"I wanted to invite you to something, Mary," she said, "but I don't have your email address."  She gave me a piece of folded paper.

I don't know why, but my first thought was "oh, a party for yoga people."  A party! Like I am seven years old!

Clearly I had been reading too much Hyperbole and a Half, though, because after she left when I opened up the paper it said: "Join K.G.'s Enlightenment Workshop to transform your life from mediocre to brilliant.  Achieve all you desire: abundance, great well-being, optimism, creativity, a career you love, meaningful relationships, improved intuitive ability. K.G. presents an ongoing dialogue between us and the energy realm where questions posed to non-physical sources are answered on a continual basis, creating a growing volume of information.  This pathway allows for continuing communication between the two realms thus enabling the human realm to expand in awareness." 

The workshop was being given at the yoga student's house and was $35 for admission.

My mom once attended a Tupperware party (only to be polite, she hated Tupperware) and I was invited to a 'handcrafted jewelry' party by one of my neighbors. She made it clear that feathers, beads, and lots of jade were involved. I didn't attend and I worried because my neighbor was a bit cool to me for several weeks afterward.

After practicing, another student tapped me on the shoulder as I rolled up my mat.  I hadn't seen this woman in a long time.  She is one of those waif-like creatures who weighs about 15 pounds less than me, I'd estimate, yet can easily bike 40 miles a day before heading off to work in a manner that makes my 6-7 miles running seem wimpy. She has struggled with tremendous physical challenges that would break the average person--knee surgery, a terrible biking accident, back pain--and bounced back in half the anticipated recovery time, thanks to her dedication to rehabilitating her body.

She can also do pretty much every advanced yoga posture in Light on Yoga.  One of the teachers is always like, "X is PERFECT" whenever she does something (even though supposedly there is no perfect in yoga, only practice) and references her for all of his information on Buddhism and philosophy.  But I only have a M.T.S in Religion from HDS from a million years ago so whatever.

We greeted each other and somehow the conversation turned to food.  When she heard that I was eating meat again (it had been a long time since we spoke), her little face crumpled like a prune.  She held her thin hands to her bony chest in a very worried way.  "Meat!" she gasped. She took a good look at me and I guess she was looking for some visible signs of ill health and disease from eating salmon and chicken. But I guess she couldn't find them because then her face relaxed.  "What is your blood type?"

"O."  I said. She explained to me that Type Os are the hunter-gatherer types and can eat meat.  "But I'm Type A positive!  I remember when we all got our blood types tested in school, everyone joked that I even got straight As as a blood type.  Type A blood types shouldn't eat meat," she said, since according to the blood type diet Type A dates back to the beginnings of agriculture and thus should be vegetarians.

I'd heard about the blood type diet before. While it has pretty much been scientifically debunked at least it allowed us to end the conversation in a friendly way (I guess I am just a less evolved hunter-gatherer type, that's all).  

Which I have come to realize, partially from doing yoga, is really the most important thing: not arguing.  And I can't criticize, since blood type or not, she is doing something that is working for her although it didn't seem to work for me.

Sometimes you just have to breathe and let things go, even in yoga.  Well, unless your yoga is Yoga Booty Ballet, because then I will judge the hell out of you.

Image credit:

Friday, September 6, 2013

What type of college eater were you?

My eating in college was a metaphor for my life: chaotic, undisciplined, largely solitary, with occasional flashes of insight. I discovered some new foods like falafel, New England pizza, turtle pie, and spicy fries.  But college also involved excessive amounts of carbohydrates eaten in lieu of regular meals. Of course, I wasn't the only unhealthy eater in college--in fact, I would go so far to say that ANYONE who says they ate normally in college is a liar, at least if they went the conventional, residential undergraduate route.

The Different Types of College Eaters

The Freshman Fifteen-er

Flickr: TheSpaceQueen87
This person was slim or normal weight in high school and never had to count calories because he was undergoing a growth spurt and/or played sports.  His parents also were probably subtly healthy but not crazy-healthy eaters, the kind of people who would serve green beans with meatloaf instead of mac & cheese and insist on family mealtime four nights a week. When presented with tasty food in the past, this college eater would simply eat it until it was gone.  This strategy worked until the student came to college and was presented with an unlimited buffet. For the first month, the freshman fifteen-er can't believe the luck of having hot pancakes with butter and syrup every morning, fries at every meal, and an unlimited toppings sundae bar. Then, suddenly he can't button his jeans.  Spends the rest of the year trying to cut back and wearing a baggy sweatshirt.

The jock

This is the one type of eater who is ecstatic about the unlimited cafeteria food and worries he won't get enough calories.  He gets up much earlier than his friends for practice and hammers down an egg and bacon biscuit from the fast food joint on campus that opens at 6am before he rows for crew or goes running. Then he heads to the dining hall and eats a full breakfast. You can always spot the jock at every meal because he is the only student who actually gets glasses of milk to drink with his food.  He also has a stock of protein bars and shakes in his dorm room, because his muscle mass might atrophy if he skips lunch.

The OCD student

Pasta, cake, and coke: it is what's for dinner but the Sweet & Low in coffee makes it all okay
Much like the OCD kid in elementary school, this person eats the same thing.  Every. Single. Day.  Only it is worse because it is college, which means EVERY meal is the same routine. Colleges, with their infinite wisdom, offer predictable meal alternatives to the main course for picky eaters and this person ALWAYS takes one of those options.  I knew someone in college who ate a bowl of nondescript cereal (I think Cheerios) for breakfast, a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and a plate of pasta for dinner ALL freshman year. I guess the school pasta sauce had some veggies in it to prevent scurvy.

The junk food junkie

I'm not sure you have enough ketchup for your onion rings, there...
JFJ never got to eat much junk food growing up, except on the sly.  Now the restrictive parents are gone. Can easily be spotted as the student with a pile of curly fries for a meal and two desserts in the cafeteria line.

The artist

Not sure there are enough carbs here
She gazes at the multicolored array of juices and sodas and her inner Julia Child is inspired.  After mixing 7-Up and grapefruit juice and throwing in some Mountain Dew as well, suddenly she becomes a 'school cafeteria artist.'  Mixing cereals with chocolate milk (or orange juice) is next.  Then she gets even more creative, using the fro-yo bar to top her French toast or she puts leftover breakfast granola on her pudding or slathers salad dressing on plain pasta to make her own 'pasta salad.'  She tries all the food hacks listed here. She makes grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches using the conveyor belt toaster. At first, you admire her creativity but after a certain point it just kind of gets gross.

The thief

This person has more Tupperware than a 1950s housewife. Technically, you aren't supposed to take any food from the school cafeteria, but most people will grab the occasional apple, banana, or orange to snack on between classes. Others, however, more out of an urge to get their parents' money's worth out of the price of the meal plan than hunger, will go much further.  They begin with taking containers of cereal from the cereal bar. Then bread, crackers, dried fruits and nuts.  The Rubbermaid carafes of milk for said cereal follow (which can be kept cold on a windowsill). Even salad components like cheese cubes and nuts are fair game. The only thing that the thief doesn't steal is meat or hot food.  Oddly enough, this person, despite all the stocking up, still goes to regular meals...though his attitude would seem to suggest an attempt to only darken the door of the cafeteria on a weekly basis.

The best heist I ever saw took place my freshman year when a group of kids on my dorm room floor stole an entire industrial drum-sized container of ice cream for the birthday party of a friend. We were all so impressed but it was still pretty crappy ice cream. But we were stickin' it to the MoConn Man (the name of the school cafeteria) so that made it all worth it.

The critic

This person's mother was a great cook and so he spends the entire meal time complaining about the food and saying how it isn't as good as what he ate at home, or just looking silently horrified at other people's meals. He is likely from a European family that valued food or a non-Western food culture, which makes lurid cafeteria food appear even more alien to his eyes. This also means that the junky staples that get other kids through the day like French fries don't appeal to him.  He eats lots of rice or pasta (depending on his ethnicity) and lives for the care packages his grandmother sends him so he doesn't starve.

 Missing in action

After the first week of orientation, this person often lapses into a totally nocturnal schedule. She might show up for coffee at breakfast (or lunch) if she is so unfortunate as to have morning classes but is usually too tired to eat.  She keeps bags of junk food in the dorm like Oreos and Pop Tarts and orders in pizza or hoagies.  Her parents cry when they see the food bill she runs up and the fact that the meal plan they purchased has gone totally to waste.

The anorexic

The anorexic often eats alone, usually some sort of meal cobbled together from the salad bar that can be calorie-controlled like celery and cottage cheese.  Maybe a container of fat free yogurt, if available. The fact that she can't be sure if the cottage cheese is fat free and the absence of controlled portions worries her.  Usually this only lasts for one semester and then she discovers beer which leads to drunk, compensation binge eating rather than drunk sex like most of her classmates.

The frat boy

Knows all of the inexpensive food joints to eat at around campus not because he is cheap, but to allow more money in the beer budget.

The special diet

Vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, allergic. Regardless of what this kid's obsession of choice might be, he is really, really annoying about it and talks about it all the time because 'how' he eats is such a crucial part of his identity as a teen or young adult.  Don't worry.  This phase will pass.

One note: no one, and I mean, no one goes low-carb in college. Maybe low-calorie.  Alcohol contains carbs as does pizza and vending machine food.  So no one does low-carb.

The foodie

This type is relatively new and did not exist when I was in college. This person critiques his or her cafeteria food, lobbies for more healthy and vegan options, dines out around campus at interesting ethnic restaurants, and has a food blog which showcases pictures of food. They are barely twenty years old and don't own a toaster but can talk with great authority about the locavore movement, the secret menu at In-And-Out, and why you should use room temperature butter when baking.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What was/is your school lunch profile?

What was/is your school lunch profile--or your child's?

1. The OCD

Flickr: Cross Duck
This kid eats the same lunch every day for years, probably peanut butter, some kind of a fruit or vegetable (apple or carrot sticks), and juice or milk.  Maybe a cookie, although the kid probably isn't much of an eater.  Always eats it in the same way, which may mean eating down to the crusts, rolling the crusts into balls, and then folding up the tinfoil or plastic of the sandwich into a specific shape and stuffing it into the drink carton.  Mom worries that the kid is malnourished although is secretly also relieved that she doesn't have to put too much thought into what her child consumes every day.

2. The Princess Lunch

Flickr: Carol Brown
Little heart-shaped sandwiches, grapes with the stems removed, teeny crackers and cookies, and a love note from mom. Maybe a toy. And of course a pink lunch box. The actual foods themselves are pretty ordinary (for example, mom may have made adorable sandwich 'rolls' with bologna and American cheese) but the overall aesthetic says "I have no problem at all instilling unhealthy gender stereotypes in my child.  Even lunch must say she is an uber-girl."

3. The Bento

Flickr: Pretty daisies
Slightly more exotic, the true bento mama-san rises every morning to sculpt rice into intricate shapes for her child or, at very least, uses more Westernized substances to fill one of those cute little Japanese boxes.  The ingredients tend to be more wholesome or more exotic than the Princess Lunch and indicate some frustrated artistic or competitive tendencies on the part of the parent.

4. The Functional Lunch

Flickr: bradlauster
The lunch box is cute but the lunch is uninspired.  More varied than the OCD, lunch consists of the same kind of sandwich on the same kind of bread day after day.  One day is tuna (with never enough mayo for fear of spoilage). The next day, turkey and Swiss cheese.  Then ham and Swiss cheese.  Then peanut butter and grape jelly.  Apple or banana.  Repeat.  Repeat. To make it 'healthy' it will be stuffed with iceberg lettuce hunks and flabby tomatoes, leaving the bread slightly wet and icy. This lunch says: "food is supposed to fill you up and be nutritious, it is not something that should be fun or entertaining or yummy at all."  Full disclosure: this was how my 'brought' lunches were until I shifted to...

5. The Throw-Away Lunch

Screw the starving kids in Africa/China/The Island of Lost Toys.  This lunch indicates a total communication disconnect between mom and kid.  Usually, the lunch is too drab to trade, so it ends up getting thrown out and the kid uses pocket change to buy an ice cream sandwich (hey, it is a sandwich, so it must be good for you, right)?  This was me for many years, but fortunately my elementary school had many order-out options and my mother eventually discovered the wonders of kaiser rolls and mayo on turkey sandwiches, fun-sized bags of potato chips, granola bars, and even desserts.

6. The Bad-Ass Dad Lunch

Flickr: Peter
There is always one kid who lives with his dad--alone--which means he gets to come to school with stuff like bagels, cream cheese, and lox (leftover from breakfast), cold leftover pizza, or stinky leftovers in a Tupperware tin (guy food like meatballs and garlic bread). There is always a can of coke in silver paper.  Never a lunch box, always a lunch bag.  One kid like this in my grammar school often bought onion and cream cheese on a bagel and made me feel kind of sad because when I offered my box of raisins (my hated 'healthy snack') for free, he always took them and ate them because he said he loved raisins and never got them at home.

7. The Totally Non-Parented Lunch

The parent of this child allows him or her to pack lunch completely unsupervised, which means that lunch often consists of a bag of corn chips (not necessarily a fun-size container), a Snickers bar, and maybe a little packet of fruit gummis.  Not necessarily a bad or a progressive parent, just based on the philosophy that "as long as the kid is eating something, it is all good."

8. The Un-apologetically Fat Kid (or Football Player's) Lunch

Flickr: Pabo76
Meatball or salami and provolone cheese hero sandwiches...or simply enough money to buy two lunches and several containers of milk from the cafeteria.  Usually no dessert, but at least twice enough food to make sure the child grows up 'big and strong.'  Or at least big.

9. The Neurotic Anorexic Mom's Lunch

Ms. Shepley
A very pretty lunch in a clear, nondescript container or bag (remember, food shouldn't be something you care about) containing fat-free string cheese, celery, a tiny apple, and maybe some sugar-free Jell-O or pudding.  The lunch requires minimal contact with mom's hands and while healthy eating is a good is important to remember that your six-year-old child is SUPPOSED to be gaining weight.

10. The Neurotic Dieting Teenage Girl's Lunch

Usually involves not eating anything at all and just a haughty stare at her friends while they consume food.  Sometimes she will gladly eat anything you can't finish because that doesn't count as eating.

11. The Carb-o-Holic

Usually a girl (okay, me, in high school), her lunch will be completely devoid of protein and consist of ice cream as the 'main' and some form of snack cupcake or salty treat as the 'side.' Then she'll fall asleep in geometry class and confirm all stereotypes that women can't do math in the eyes of the sexist teacher.

12. The Creative

Flickr: amanky
As a kid, I was always jealous of students who brought Spaghetti-O in their thermos (a processed food my partially Italian-American mother declared verboten).  Or salads with little bottles of dressing and bacon bits.  Or cereal in a container and a banana, so the kid could have 'breakfast for lunch.'

13. The Fad Eater

Flickr: amanky

The trend-setter--the first kid to bring that new kind of Tastycake to school, or hard-boiled eggs, cold pop tarts, an odd flavor of Snapple or Combos. 

14. The Sharer

Flickr: Scarlatti2004
I remember one girl bringing a whole Entenmann's golden chocolate cake to the lunch table for her birthday, to share with all of us.  That was just the best. lunch. ever.

15. The Ethnic Lunch

Flickr: flakyredhead
This kid comes from a recently-arrived non-Caucasian family that has no concept of what a 'typical' American kid's lunch is supposed to look like. The kid becomes emotionally scarred because of the teasing he receives by racist, peanut-butter sandwich-toting white kids but grows up to write a best-selling memoir about his life in the food industry and has the last laugh.