Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from the Ride: Tales of Intuitive Eating, Anxiety and Mindlessness.

Tell me this isn't great?
Let me preface this post by saying that I’m no exercise fanatic. I like to work out—it makes me feel good—but if I don’t get the chance to, I’m not bent out of shape.  I’ve never been much of an athlete. No need for tears, but in elementary school I recall being one of the last ones chosen for teams. I’m over it now, though, really. It was not until my diagnosis of MS, Multiple Sclerosis that I began to regularly bike ride although I’d done my share of hiking. This past weekend marks my 10-year anniversary riding this 2-day fundraising ride, a total of 156 miles from Boston, Massachusetts to the tip of Cape Cod—Provincetown.

During the ride thoughts of blogging never entered my mind. But afterwards, I was struck by several observations that I just had to share.

Intuitive eating? Not quite

As you’re well aware, I’m a big advocate of intuitive eating. But the truth is, intuitive doesn’t always work. Case in point: I’d ridden 15 miles to the first rest stop, soaking wet from the rain, with an elevated heart rate. Was I hungry? Not at all. Did I need to eat? Perhaps. By the next rest stop, now more than a couple of hours from the start of the ride, I still wasn’t hungry. Perhaps it’s because of the volume of fluid I was drinking in an effort to stay well hydrated. Perhaps it was the adrenaline driving me, revving me forward, preventing me from being aware of my body’s need for fuel.

Just arrived at the lunch stop
Nonetheless, intellectually I knew I needed to eat. I knew that my body was using up energy and needed replenishing. And so I made myself eat. I had little interest in the sports bars nor in the cookies at the rest stops, but I ate them. And they successfully fueled me until the lunch stop just an hour later. Then I fed myself a sandwich and multiple bags of chips, along with assorted other snacks. Oh, and more Gatorade.

This is how it went for each of the two days. There were times I did get hungry—generally after I had cooled off and my heart rate had dropped. But for the most part, I had to just do it, to simply eat because I knew I needed to, to keep me safe while doing an activity that needed fueling. And even without exercise, we need to eat to fuel ourselves throughout the day.

Intuitive eating returns

By late Sunday night, I returned home, and at 9:30 PM, after consuming more complete meals and smaller snacks than I can even recall, I was starving! So what’s a girl to do? I ordered Chinese food—the sodium-rich cuisine was just what I felt like— and I enjoyed every bit. This was intuitive! Yet had I, like so many of you, been stuck with the misinformation that eating after a certain hour was bad, or that I had already eaten my umpteenth meal and shouldn’t be hungry, I would have failed to meet my body’s needs.

My husband, who also rode, was also quite intrigued by the regulation of his food intake. He asked me how much I thought we had each consumed and I did a very rough estimate of our intake—trying very hard to remember all we had eaten. Then he asked how much I thought we had burned. So I did some equally estimated calculations for our expenditure.

And what did I find? Each of us had consumed within 10-15 calories of our estimated need! It was astounding! This combination of eating at regular intervals—just because I knew I should—together with eating whenever I got hungry worked like a dream. Our high activity is really beside the point. The key thing is that you burn calories 24/7—and certainly more if you are moving or exercising. And it’s critical to both respect your hunger when it is present, and use your sensibility (or the wisdom of a professional who’s working to keep you on target)—because anxiety, exercise, distraction, fluids, fiber and volume of food can stand in your way from eating enough.

Other lessons from the ride

Anticipatory anxiety

Yes, it's raining!
I hate the thought of biking in the rain. It scares me. They threatened precipitation for Saturday, but that did little to reduce my fear of having to ride in bad weather. About 45 minutes before we started pedaling, the rain started. Steady rain. The ride was not called off. The teams were called, one by one, to head out to the road. And so I did. 

Yes, my eyes were stinging from my hair gel dripping into them, and I was getting covered with grit and spray from the bike in front of me, but you know what? The reality was much better than my fears. Would I choose to ride in pouring rain? No! But having had to do it, truth is, it’s really not too bad. I survived, as did everyone of the 2000 or so riders that rode. And after a couple of hours, the sun came out, and I dried off. And by the end of the 156 miles, I was so thrilled I didn’t allow my anxiety to stop me from achieving my goal. See where I’m going with this?

Sometimes the solution is right in front of you!

Ok, this brilliance I’ll share—just don’t think any less of me, please!

At the finish, not yet hungry, but quite tired!
I had a headache all Saturday morning, a painful, aching headache. I didn’t get it—I was drinking plenty and eating regularly, so go figure. Then lunchtime came, and I pulled off my bike gloves, and my helmet and ate. And the headache disappeared. Yet when I returned to the road, the pain returned.  Thoughts of stroke and aneurysm crossed my mind—really! But by the next rest stop I figured it out.

The indentation on my forehead told me that I had mindlessly secured the darn helmet way too tight!  Yes, sometime the solutions are really right in front of you. And sometimes, your symptoms have nothing to do with how much you had eaten! (Just being honest!)

Yes, that’s what I learned from my ride last weekend. Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking (unless, of course, you respond to my inability to appropriately fasten a bike helmet!)


  1. My problem is that I am so afraid to listen to my hunger cues because I am afraid that I will never stop eating. I got the ok (hesitantly) from my RD to train for a marathon as long as I don't loose weight, keep my heart rate up and keep my period regular. I find some days I am starving but because I followed my food plan, I shouldn't eat anymore.

    1. If you are starving in spite of following your meal plan, then the meal plan is inadequate! Speak to your RD and be honest, or you will continue to struggle.

  2. I'm very new to this whole intuitive eating thing and am really just hearing about it for the first time. I recently have lost 45 pounds by counting calories and am now to the point where I don't want to count any more so I'm trying to listen to my body and use what I've learned over the past 6 months to get by on my own. I'm having a hard time trusting myself and am terrified of gaining the weight back but I know that I can not keep calorie counting forever. It's posts like these that encourage me tremendously. Thank you!

  3. You rock! And I really want that t-shirt!!
    Congratulations on your tremendous effort - very inspirational (and not really laughing at the helmet story...)

  4. Intuitive eating is something I dream of doing one day! My problem begins with the words 'eat when you're hungry'. I have no clue what hunger feels like as I have spent the last 16 years letting my head decide what to eat without input from my body. At the moment I eat by a meal plan which is helpful for now but also rigid and would seem counter intuitive eating. How would someone in the earlier stages of recovery from anorexia begin intuitive eating. I know enough to know that I cannot trust my head and am not tuned into my body enough to hear what it's saying.

  5. This sounds like a fun ride and I love the tshirt. I've been riding a lot lately and realized how much I love riding.

  6. I loved your comments that the solution is right in front of you. So true! I've been burned by intuitive eating too many times. But my answer was right in front of my mind, a seed planted in my mind of excluding wheat from my diet suggested by a counselor 10 years ago ( non weight related). Finally.

    Congrats on your ride!

  7. I love the idea of intuitive eating. After being tortured by numbers and calories for so long, the idea of "no rules" is incredibly appealing. As you mention in this post, you didn't feel hungry, but knew your body needed food, so you ate anyway. I completely understand this, yet am unable to do it myself. I know I should be eating at certain points in the day, and the only reason I don't feel hungry is because I've supressed that feeling for so long. But I just can't bear to eat when I don't feel hungry. It goes against everything I've trained myself to do. I understand the concept of intuitive eating- I suppose my question would be this: how do you take the first step towards eating intuitively?
    I just recently discovered your blog and am enjoying catching up- very through provoking. I'm planning to subscribe after I submit this comment!