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Eating and Exercise

I’ve been thinking recently about the difficulty I sometimes experience balancing eating and exercise. It’s something I run into every year when I do serious hiking at Baxter State Park, and I know someone else who’s running into this a bit as part of doing the Couch to 5k program.

The problem, at least for me, is that if I start exercising more than my usual amounts, I find that I’m eating more for three possible reasons:

  • I need to, since I’m expending more energy

  • I feel like I should, since I’m expending more energy

  • I see something yummy that I want to eat because, well, it’s yummy, and I feel justified in doing so because I’ve been exercising and expending more energy, so I can afford it, right?

It also doesn’t help that I’m often around people who say things like, “Load up now - you’ll need it later.”

Except it doesn’t quite work that way for me, since my body is rather annoyingly efficient about energy usage. Even if I’m preparing for a big hike, if I eat a lot beforehand, more than I need at that time, I just feel miserable and overfull and low energy, more inclined to take a nap than to go out and tackle mountains.

After I’ve hiked for a while, though, I do start needing to eat more, having that empty spacey feeling that is a bit dangerous when you’re climbing over rocks and worrying about tripping on tree roots. I know then that I need to eat something to give me a boost, but the question is, how much?

At those times it’s really easy to say, “I’m hiking a mountain - I can eat whatever I want,” or “I really should eat more since I’m doing all this exercise.” And for some people, this seems to be the case. Sadly, it’s not for me. I still need to pay attention to what my body truly needs. I’ve learned the hard way that in these times it’s much better for me to eat just a little at a time and then see how I feel. If I overeat, again, I become somewhat uncomfortable and disinclined to start moving again.

Plus, eating too much can have the somewhat bizarre result of making me feel hungrier. I still don’t know why this is, but I remember a few years ago, I had a big supper the night before, much more than I needed, and then a big breakfast, and then I couldn’t stop eating on the trail, to the point that I wondered if I would run out of food. By the time I stopped, I was far past full and regretted it.

This past year I finally felt like I got the right balance. As a result, I was more focused and energized and generally enjoyed it more. I experienced normal hunger, and while I did eat more than usual, it was because I needed it, and I didn’t eat as much as I might have.

For anyone else in a similar situation, my suggestion would be to go cautiously and pay close attention to why you feel like eating more. Of course it’s certainly a valid choice to eat something because you feel like you’re entitled to it after exercising, but just remember that if your goal is to lose weight, making that choice might make your goal more difficult.

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