Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 14 Nov 1998 07:24:30 -0500

Down But Not Out

(from RC 248)

You might recognize the pattern. Many runners follow it as I did during my health scares. If a little of something -- running mileage to food supplements -- is good, we think that twice as much must be twice as good. If too much of something -- speedwork to dietary fat -- is bad, then taking none of it must be healthiest of all.

Reacting to a blood-pressure rise, and a doctor's warning that salt was a major culprit and caffeine a minor one, I almost completely eliminated both substances. For a while. Then the same gravitational pull toward moderation that rules my running went to work on my appetite. It pulled me back to the lifelong habit of avoiding almost nothing while not indulging too heavily in anything.

I'm not a vegetarian. I eat all kinds of meat except lamb (which tastes to me the way a sheep smells). But a 16-ounce hunk of steak would last a week in our house, and a Big Mac would feed my wife and me for a couple of days.

I'm not a nutritional extremist in either direction. Taking too much of anything isn't my way, and taking too little is a problem that quickly self-corrects. For instance, I wouldn't cut my fat to the 10-percent limit that Dean Ornish, M.D. (or Nathan Pritikin before him) recommends. This would mean dropping all meats and most other fats from my diet. Iąd constantly hear from my rebelling body. Iąd feel deprived.

But I can get by with about 20-percent fat, which is about half of what the typical American eats. It's also much less than I ate before moderating, and still my cholesterol has dropped from borderline high to normal. The fat model works in other ways. I can cut down in certain ways without cutting out.

I'm a sugar addict, for instance. I didn't try to get off the stuff cold-turkey but did reduce it by, say, adding only one spoonful to my breakfast cereal instead of two. I can eat a sugar-bomb dessert once a day rather than two or three times.

My daily dose of salt is now neither absent nor excessive. My blood pressure has moderated. The lessons in all this are two:

1. Cut down, not out.

2. Eat just about anything, just not too much of it.

Comment on the first guideline: I'm into moderation, not deprivation. When I feel deprived, that could be my body's way of telling me it craves something necessary.

Comment on the second guideline: There are a few specific exceptions here that cause strong reactions (alcohol is one, caffeine less so). But I can, and do, eat and drink almost anything else -- moderately, and occasionally not.

Once in a while I'll go off the wagon and onto a food binge. That's okay too. Some wise person once said, "Practice all things in moderation -- including moderation."

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