Finding the balance between healthy eating and junk food

“You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.” A friend once told me, and those words have never rung truer to my ears than now. Some of the liberty I once used to take in eating even while exercising was what worked against me for a very long time.

Now, as I see myself progress through the Mill Race Marathon program, I am making conscious efforts to make healthier choices in my food intake, as well. Being a foodie, it’s a challenge to say the least. However, with a plethora of information available online, I am now constantly educating myself and experimenting with healthier options.

Before, when breakfast would be pouring out a big bowl of sugar-full, chocolatey rich cereal, I now eat either a bowl of oatmeal with fruits and nut butter or an omelet with whole wheat bread. When before at a grocery store, I would never give a second glance to the nutrition list, I now also look at the ingredients, and as the internet puts it, look for ingredients I can pronounce and understand and isn’t more than a mouthful of letters (all those chemicals, I tell ya).

But instead of eliminating and denying myself the food I love (hello junk food), I am striving to balance it out by allowing selected cheat meals, following the 80 percent clean and 20 percent cheat rule.

My Achilles heel is the weekend though. I tend to follow a relatively strict regimen through the week (there are, of course, some slip ups here and there), but weekends are when I end up letting loose a little too much. Perhaps it’s the ecstasy of burning so many calories on my long runs that by the time Sunday evening rolls around, I look back and realize I have cheated myself through the entire weekend.

I have many a times tried to use the app My Fitness Pal to log in my meals, but it’s just so tedious that I always just give up on it. Perhaps I will start a food journal instead.

But even with the positive changes I had made in the last few months, I ended up hitting a major roadblock in the last Tuesday track session. I was just not able to run. I had no energy in my legs and felt way too tired.

A talk with coach Alex Contreras made me realize I may have been concentrating too much on my protein intake and not so much on carbs — healthy carbs that are necessary and play an important role in energy levels needed for runs.

With that knowledge, I have shifted my focus on that. Being a vegetarian (except for eggs, so really I am an eggitarian?), it’s a little hard but I eat more whole carbs like quinoa, legumes and vegetables for my lunches and dinner these days. A couple of hours before a running session, I have also now started to eat a whole wheat bread and/or a banana, and that I feel is starting to make a difference.

My goal with this race endeavor is to lose some weight and gain strength. Being consistent with my diet and not giving into impulsive indulges are the main culprits to some of the woes I am experiencing in not achieving much headway in that direction, but it’s also something I am working (or quite literally running) toward, so I will get there eventually too.

On the running front itself, the 10th week into the program, other than that one difficult session, the last two weeks have been steadier. Our last long run was seven miles. Although, I am not yet able to run all the way through that distance, still, I have made a promise to myself to continue working toward that goal, even after the race.

I do feel that my progress through the program has been slower, but I constantly also remind myself that this isn’t for some rush to Olympics gold, but just my quest to lead a more active lifestyle and that I have come a long way already from being a couch potato that I once was.

On my long runs, I talk myself into running continuously to the first water station at least, where I hydrate myself with a quick cup of water and some candy. Initially hesitant to try, I concede now that the candy helps me immensely push through the rest of the run. For the next mile or so after that, I end up doing a walk-run combo, but just as the sugar kicks in, I finish the route off by running the last few miles with added energy.

My goal now for the next few weeks will be to diligently work toward increasing my speed (I have become too comfortable and haven’t improved much on that). I also haven’t yet paced myself as I wanted to concentrate on just being able to run, no matter the pace.

But before that, I will have to mentally prep myself and tell myself to not be disappointed at the pace rate — akin to the feeling I get every time I step on the weighing scale somehow always expecting a miracle to materialize — only to feel dismayed. But really, it’s the clothes and how they fit that do the initial talking, right?

For now, I will keep calm and carry on.

Ritika Shah is a first-time runner in an organized race. From that perspective, she will write a column every other week leading up to the Sept. 24 Mill Race Marathon’s half marathon. She can be reached at [email protected]