The better you eat, the better you run

  • This was printed in July of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the eighth installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

“What do you eat?” and “Are you on a diet?” are questions I often get when non-running

friends see my new training-for-a-marathon body.

I always say no, I’m not on a diet, because when I hear the word “diet” I think of weight

loss pills, shakes, cleanses, no-carb, low-fat shenanigans. My diet, in its true definition of

what I consume on a daily basis, is just healthy fuel for my body — and some treats to

keep my mind and soul happy.

My running friends and I, who may burn more than 1,000 calories during an average run,

joke, “That’s the benefit of being a distance runner, we can order the appetizer and the

entrée — and the dessert.”

I’m not a dietician or nutritionist, but I know how to eat healthfully — it’s all about

changing your mindset about food. Food is fuel for your body – you can’t put crappy fuel

into it and expect it to perform well.

Over the years I’ve “outlawed” some foods and beverages because there is just no reason

to put them in my body, or my kids’ bodies. Soda is one of the outlaws. In the same way

that most non-smokers look at a cigarette and associate it with cancer, I look at a soda

and think “diabetes.” I look at diet soda and think “cancer.” I look at Kool-Aid and think

“diabetes” and “artificial.”

Those word associations are powerful. I’m not going to pop open a can of cola, hand it

over to my 3-year-old, and say, “Here, drink some diabetes.”

My daughter saw an advertisement for watermelon flavored Kool-Aid in a magazine I

was reading and thought it looked yummy. I told her I’d make her some, and I puréed

some watermelon with water and served it to her. It was more delicious and more

nutritious than any mixture of artificial flavoring, artificial color, and sugar.

It’s that easy to make healthier choices and put better fuel into your body.

Cheetos and other artificial processed snacks with too much sodium, too many artificial

colors and flavors, and too many ingredients that I can’t pronounce are also outlawed at

my house.

Instead we snack on fruits and vegetables, whole grain crackers, and cheese. We dip them

in yogurt dressings and hummus.

My family’s dinner plates probably look different that many other family’s plates — they

are heaped with fruits and vegetables.

We eat a leafy green salad with various healthy toppings – albeit not-so-healthy dressings

– at least five nights a week. Sometimes I change it up with a fruit salad. Those salads

take up half of the plate. A quarter of the plate contains some sort of protein, usually fish

or chicken but sometimes other meats or beans. The last quarter of the plate holds a

starch, usually rice or pasta. I buy as many whole wheat and whole grain products as I

can.

(If I’m “carbing-up” for a race or long run, I add an extra serving of rice or pasta or bread

to my plate.)

Sure, we’ll eat a nice juicy burger with a side of fries dipped in ranch. But that burger

patty will contain beef along with finely chopped carrots and celery, and it’ll sit atop a

whole-wheat bun, loaded with mushrooms, onions, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. The

“fries” are baked. The ranch dressing, well, it’s good for the soul. And right next to that

burger will be a huge romaine salad. Nutritious and delicious!

That being said, I’m not going to deny a craving. If I want some spicy boneless buffalo

chicken wings, I’m going to have them. Ice cream? Sure. And I’ve never, ever said ‘no’

to a brownie. I don’t worry about those treats because I’m a runner, I’ll burn them off

eventually.

Even if you’re not a runner, I hope this column inspires a few – or even just one – healthy

dietary change in your life. Say ‘no’ to soda. Add a salad to your dinner. Try it every day

for one week and see how different your body feels.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Jazlyn’s favorite show, Dora the Explorer:

“The better you eat, the better you feel. It’s better to eat a healthy meal.”

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