On the 4th Day of Christmas, Running Gave to Me: Food Curiosity

Pictured are Nutmeg, Tumeric, and Paprika with my reusable Salty Running Camp bag
Pictured are Nutmeg, Turmeric, and Paprika with my reusable Salty Running Camp bag. The spicy Saltines have increased my awareness of the array of spices available, too!

Running gave me an interest in food but not in the form of a trendy t-shirt that says something like, “I run to eat cake.” Sure, cake is good and I’ll never pass up a piece, especially if it’s chocolate, but I don’t run to eat it. I’d much rather eat to run.

My eating habits weren’t always this refined. I grew up on Spaghettios and Doritos and the weekly Sunday dinner at Grandma’s. Like many busy households, we sacrificed quality for convenience. But if I had not started out with such eating habits, I may not have known just how good some whole foods taste and how good they can make one feel.

I have running to thank for that enlightenment!

In high school during the late 90s, low-fat living was all the rage. As soon as I started running, I took an interest in weekly carbo loads via pasta dinners with a salad thrown in there for good measure. Sure, it was a simple recipe, but following the instructions on the box and producing something via the stove versus the microwave was energizing.

When I went to college, I learned even more from my roommate, a fellow runner whose tastes were more advanced than mine. She taught me about whole grains, olive oil, roasting vegetables, and making sure to get good nutrition in after a run. She certainly helped enhance my taste buds.

After graduating, my food choices seemed to return to convenience over health. I also struggled with some emotional eating behaviors to soothe lingering depression and anxiety. It wasn’t until I learned about mindfulness that my interest in food for health came back. And if I hadn’t started running, I probably wouldn’t have discovered mindfulness, for I learned many of the skills on my runs. The gratitude is two fold.

With mindfulness, I’ve been able to see how eating certain foods affects my mood as well as my stomach. I’ve been able to separate actual guilt from just eating a bit too much and as a result, not be so judgmental of my choices. Most importantly, I developed an interest in weekly cooking, where following more advanced recipes helps strengthen my attention levels while also fueling my body for running.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-12-16-44-pmI’ve always wondered if there is an activity out there that can satisfy me as much as running and I think I found it with cooking. After following a recipe, using my hands to execute it, standing on my feet, and then enjoying the fruits of my labor, I sit down satisfied, as if I had gone out for a run. I try to cook a new recipe at least once a week to not only experience this pleasure but to continue to learn. Insert shameless plug for Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky’s book, Run Fast. Eat Slow. This book is great for those wanting to learn more about whole foods cooking as well as using delicious food to help performance.

I must admit that I’m not the greatest of cooks and my boyfriend James would say I’m not spicy enough, although I do love my ginger (ha!). Nonetheless, running led me to discover what it means to eat to live and run. I see my body as a machine that thrives on good fuel. Creating the fuel myself makes the process even better.

Has running helped you appreciate healthy food and cooking?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. I love this and can so relate! I think we all go through the food phases in life, but running really forced me to look at food as fuel- and that was a game-changer for my health, my appetite for real foods, and my running.

  2. I think we had very similar eating habits growing up! Spaghettios was my favorite “food”, that and twinkies 😉 I went to college and while I bought white bread, my roommates were buying all sorts of whole wheat/multi grain breads; as I ate boxed macaroni, they were cooking up a homemade chili. I learned a lot! I love to cook when I have time now too, and oh! I love Run Fast Eat Slow! I made the Marathon Lasagna and it weighed over 12 lbs 🙂

  3. I can relate too! Running helped me with food in two ways. Like you, it was another impetus for me to explore food beyond the crap I grew up, but it also helped me realize food was fuel and not only the awful thing that could make me fat. I had raging disordered eating problems freshman and sophomore year of high school. I’d try to eat as little as possible and exercise as much as possible. Joining the track team and discovering I was pretty good at it and immediately cared about my performance, which then flipped the food is fuel switch in my brain.

    1. Yep – I think back in our day (ha, we sound old) it was more of an expectation to be a thin runner but nowadays it’s nice to see more promotion of food as fuel and that a little muscle is ok.

  4. Run Fast East Slow is a great book, not only because the recipes are delicious, but it gives permission to eat well. I want to give a copy to every person I know who drink shakes all day long.

    1. Haha! After I just ordered a tub of Muscle Milk (which I still occasionally like) my copy of Run Fast arrived and I instantly fell in love with the smoothies and chocolate teff cookies! Now I have a large tub of protein powder sitting atop the fridge.

  5. I love love love this, and the food as fuel mindset. The Run Fast Eat Slow lasagna is excellent, by the way, and you’ll have leftovers for days 😀

    I grew up in a culture/ household where the norm was mom or grandma going to the market every day or at least every other day for fresh fish, meat, and produce, so I have a deep distrust of most processed food. I feel like it’s getting harder to live that way, though, because we all lead busy lives. Someone needs to write a cookbook for runners during peak week – when running is already taking up a large chunk of your time, yet fueling properly is more critical than ever, what do you eat and how the heck do you cook it fast?!