Over the last six years, RedWineRunner has tracked many aspects of my journey towards becoming a runner (and my recent apparent journey away from it), but one thing I have rarely touched upon is my diet. Some bloggers make what they eat a huge focus of their content, but I’ve never really felt like this was something which I wanted to share with my readers. What you eat is very personal, and what you eat when you’re training for multiple ultramarathons becomes in turns random, horrifying, and very specific to the individual. To that end, I never really wanted to get into that discussion in a public forum and inadvertently encourage even more of the uninvited scrutiny which sometimes landed in my inbox regarding my training. Today however, I’ve written a post about some diet and weight stuff which is a real change from the norm. It’s a bit of an essay, but I’ll try and add in some gifs to lighten the mood from time to time. Read on for a bit of back story, and my experiences in using an online nutrition programme.
High Mileage = Hungry
Over the last few years I’ve benefited from a useful side-effect of consistent high mileage, which was that I never had to worry about my weight. I know I could have spent a lot more of my time paying greater attention to what I was fueling my miles with, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter as my running improved continuously and my body stayed the same happy size. Delving into sports nutrition is a complex science and ultimately, a life choice. As far as I see it, if you want to reap the full benefit from the changes you make, you can’t really go half in. Of course there are aspects of balance, but when I do something I tend to want to completely immerse myself in it. In recent years that lifestyle has been ‘ultramarathon dustbin’: What’s that? You can’t outrun a bad diet? Aye ok pal; watch me.
What happened next of course has sold a lot of books – I stopped most of the running but didn’t stop the eating, and consequently got a bit fat. Then I decided I didn’t want to be fat any more, so began looking for a solution.
The slightly longer story is of course that I trained for and completed my 2015 goal race, then quite rightly took a period of recovery which neatly aligned with the last three months of my MSc. I was at home alone writing up my thesis, submitted it and then went travelling for a bit. Hoorah! Holiday time! Then I came back to earth with a bump and stayed crumpled into the ground during the entire 8 months I was unemployed, whilst living my isolated life in a small village. You’d have thought with all that time on my hands I would have been taking advantage of the opportunity to get in the shape on my life and become a full-time fitness blogger or something, but that’s not quite how long term unemployment works for most people, I’m afraid. I was lonely and very sad, often not coming into contact with anyone other than Kynon for days at a time. Exercise only helps to lighten the mood if you’re capable of actually getting out of bed in the first place, you see…
Chapter Two of the tale saw me move to Edinburgh in June for a job (yay!) without Kynon (boo) and try and figure out a new peripatetic lifestyle between Edinburgh during the week and Stonehaven at the weekends, a two and a half hour train journey with my husband and cat stuck at the wrong end of it (boooo). Despite walking a 6 mile round-trip to work most days and doing a couple of runs a week, there was no magic return to svelte fitness. Whilst this was a definite step in the right direction, oddly it was no replacement for my previous consistent high mileage routine. The only real consistencies seen to this day are consistently high cortisol levels and consistently high alcohol and calorie consumption at the weekends – easily enough problems to de-rail the healthiest of Monday-Thursdays.
Towards the end of the summer I also found myself in the snowballing situation of:
I ran less so I got larger <=> being larger makes it difficult and unenjoyable to run, so I run less <=> because I run less I stay larger <=> LARGE.
I also had one of those lightbulb moments when I was looking at my holiday pictures, where I saw a picture of me taken from behind unawares and didn’t actually recognise the back side of myself because I was so huge. That was good; it was a classic un-ignoreable sign that I was really ready to make some changes to my diet because that was the only option I had left to alter the above cycle into:
I eat sensibly to become lighter <=> being lighter makes it easier to run <=> I run more and l’m lighter and faster <=> happy
SPOILER ALERT: It’s nearly December, I’m still huge, and I’ve only ran 12 miles in November.
Let’s get to the point, shall we?
I decided I needed some guidance with my eating and was willing to pay for it. I knew what worked for me before because I never needed to think about eating and I’d never eaten specifically for long-term weight-loss before. I figured I had become desperate enough to place a monetary value on this, so paid £28 to join an Online Nutrition Programme which I had heard others talking about positively online.
There are obviously a lot of snake oil salesmen out there on the internet but this company and their ethos really seemed to suit me – the sample plan available to view looked exciting and satisfying, and there were options to sub out meals if life got in the way of the plan. A specifically vegetarian plan was available and all meals were supplied with recipes a week in advance. They are health-focused and advocate lifestyle change that you can stick with rather than drastic alterations and I liked their focus on fat loss over weight. At £28 for four weeks it seemed a reasonable starter investment, and I decided that even if I didn’t want to stick with a monthly £28 subscription, I would have a month’s worth of meals for reference.
Sounds great, right? So what on earth went wrong?
1. It was nowhere near as bespoke as I expected
After completing an extensive questionnaire upon signing up, where I detailed my lifestyle and goals, I was excited for my first weekly plan to arrive in my inbox. I was disappointed to see that it was clearly a generic plan designed for a non-active person with exercise tips such as ‘Why not try jogging today?’. I am also quite aware that I am no nutritionist, but the portioning was seemingly tiny for a reasonably active person. There was also a ban on snacks – not eating between my teeny lunch at 1pm and getting in from running at 8pm seemed unrealistic and challenging. I logged back into my account to send an email to query this, and saw that all my information had been wiped from the questionnaire apart from the first lines of every box. Aha! A technical error! They just didn’t know about my lifestyle and goals…!
Well, not quite. Something that isn’t mentioned on the website is that the basic monthly plan is not suitable for runners or people who are already active – of course, this could all be fixed for me if I signed up for the next level up, which was the same price weekly as I paid for my month. The website error was never addressed. I started to feel pretty stupid for signing up.
2. Many of the choices just didn’t make sense to me
When I asked if it would be ok to have my usual pre-run snack – such as a handful of almonds or dried apricots, or a banana, or some oatcakes with peanut butter; a sugar-filled processed cereal bar was suggested instead. You could have up to four cups of tea with one sugar a day, but no strong coffee. The bare bones of one meal was stated to be “No carbs, beans, or pulses”, but then the suggested recipe was for a bean-based soup – I’m guessing this was a grammatical error, but that is not helpful information on a plan that I am paying for.
3. I didn’t like the extra advice packed up with the plan
There was a half A4 of advice and little tips and tricks for mind-setting each week, but some of the advice clashed hugely with my general approach to a happy life. A lot of it was quite sensible, but some pearls of wisdom were seriously WTF. Is falling foul of this why I’ve put on weight? I don’t know, but if losing weight means I need to think in these ways, then I think I’d rather be fat and happy: If you can’t overcome a craving, have it instead of a meal or offset it with exercise <- I feel this is enabling a really unhealthy relationship with food. Eat your dinner on a side plate to make it look bigger <- Sorry, but I don’t want to be an orthorexic Healthy Living Bloggers/Instagrammer… Empty your house of all food that isn’t on your plan at the start <- No. I refuse to waste food when others go hungry. Become a person who doesn’t think about food in between meals and treat food only as fuel for the body <- This would give me a very sad life.
There was also a Facebook group which I just couldn’t get on board with. I could see that a lot of people gained a lot of support and advice from it, but I didn’t enjoy reading the weekly weigh-in threads and the constant navel-gazing (sometimes literally). I also did not enjoy reading people slagging off their friends and family’s choices (no matter how daft) behind the door of the closed group, or people sharing tweets or articles which did not agree with the programme and encouraging dog-piling. I just found it all to be the kind of dialogue which I really don’t want to be a part of; that is not how I build myself up.
4. In the end, my life is so messed up right now that it just wasn’t sustainable
I probably could have made it work, even if I did ignore all the odd advice and daft online conversation, the meal ideas and recipes themselves were good and I think if I doubled some of the portions on run/gym days and added healthy snacks, then it would lay a good foundation. However, here are some more excuses:
– I just didn’t have the time or energy to cook different meals each night – the way I get around this now I live and cook like a single person again, is to make huge pots of healthy food and freeze portions for quick, healthy meals I don’t have to think about.
– I’m lodging in someone else’s house during the week and I have to fit my cooking around their cooking too, as well as cope without my own cooking implements and not make a mess.
– I found it very expensive – my weekly food costs doubled when I bought everything for the plan, which is not something I could easily absorb. Batch cooking works for more than one reason for me – I can make 6 portions of lentil dhal for about £2.50. That would get me two avocados, or one bottle of unhomogenised milk for my weekly meal plan and that’s it. The plan claimed to save money by planning ahead, but maybe these people have never been truly broke.
– I found I wasted food – Living between two houses meant I was left with lots of unused ingredients in the fridge over the weekend when I would be in Stonehaven. Taking a half full litre carton of Greek yogurt and a half empty bottle of your fancy milk along with a selection of half used vegetables in a carrier bag on a packed rush hour train is never going to end well. The alternative is to buy smaller packets which are less economical, buy more stuff in Stonehaven (which won’t get finished), or just leave it in the fridge until Monday and cross my fingers.
So how do I wrap this up?
The long and short of it was in the TL;dr at the top – it’s the end of November and my jeans are still tight and I’m still bigger and slower that I would like. I thought that by handing control over my diet to someone else, it would take the stress out of healthy weightloss, but it turned out the opposite was true. I don’t think diet plans are for me right now, and I can’t afford the cost of a one-on-one nutritionist. I’ll do my best to stick with what I know, and just keep clinging on to hope of improvement. The key areas I need to fix are keeping my snacks whole foods and unsugary, not going wild on food at the weekend, and trying to cut back on the booze. With Christmas coming up, this will be a hoot!
However, I do feel I am making progress somewhere. I’ve joined a gym again and am on week three of consistent training which is a baby step, but one step further than I’ve gone for some time. It is as clear to me as it will be is to those that can read between the lines here, that there are wider issues affecting the trajectory of straight-forward progress, but as long as I keep trying again every time I fail, then I’m not actually failing. I’ll get there.
Have you ever tried an online nutrition plan?
Will you attempt to balance healthy living with the festive season, or enjoy a couple of weeks of indulgence?