Exercise More to Eat More?

07/06/2011 05:56 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011
  • Milt Bedingfield Author, Prescription for Type 2 Diabetes: Exercise. Exercise Physiologist and Certified Diabetes Educator

It's a good thing I can remember things well, because what I am about to tell you happened more than 10 years ago. At the time it happened, I never imagined the occurrence would be so significant. I never imagined I would someday write about it.

Years ago, a lot of my friends were endurance athletes. These guys and girls did things like run marathons, ride their racing bikes 50-100 miles almost every weekend and compete in triathlons. These are events where you swim, bike and run back to back with no rest in between.**

One Christmas, many of us were invited to a holiday party. It was quite a nice party with an abundance of food and plenty to drink. The food was set up on a very large table in the dining room. All of the chairs had been removed to provide easy access to the full assortment of fudge, brownies, cookies, cakes and candies covering the table.

It had come to that time in the evening when I needed some food. Well, I'm not at all sure that I needed food, but I sure did want some. I started weaving my way through the crowd, headed to the dining room, occasionally having to stop to make brief conversation (after all, it was a party). When I finally made it to the dining room I saw one of my close friends on one side of the table and a lady I didn't know standing directly across from him on the other side. I got there in time to see both of them pick up their plastic plates and start surveying the food -- excuse me, desserts -- calling this food anything but desserts would be a lie. Looking back, I don't know why I did it, but I stopped where I was, just inside the doorway, and watched these two, the lady, whom I didn't even know, and my friend, that I knew very well. It's as if I knew something was going to happen and I wanted to see it.

There was something very different about my friend and the lady that I noticed right away; anybody there would have noticed it. When my friend saw something on the table that looked good to him, he wasn't hesitant to pick it up and put it on his plate. The lady across from him was totally different. She would carefully and meticulously scrutinize every dessert she looked at but she wouldn't pick any of them up. She finally picked up a small brownie with icing -- so small, in fact, that I could eat it in two bites without using poor manners. For every four desserts my friend would pick up she would select one.

As for selection time, he was way ahead of her. Selection time is the time it takes to actually select an item -- in this case food -- and put it on your plate after first seeing it.

After a while she could not help but notice that my friend was getting quite a large pile of food on his plate and still reaching for more. Some of the food never made it to the plate but instead went right into his mouth. Temporarily putting her selection of treats on hold, the lady stopped and started staring at my friend. The look she had on her face was close to disbelief. Apparently not oblivious to his surroundings, he looked up, and as best he could while chewing, smiled and pleasantly said "hi." I guess he could sense that she had stopped what she was doing and was watching him. She gave him a 25 percent smile, 30 percent at best. With that, he went back to work, continuing to load his plate, continuing to chew. And then, a few seconds later, the seemingly pleasant lady in the festive outfit apparently could not contain herself any longer.

"You disgust me," she blurted.

My friend, seemingly stunned by her out of the blue comment, had to cover his mouth as he responded. He was in the middle of chewing.

"Excuse me?" he said.

"You disgust me," she said again. This time she spoke as if he had really done something wrong.

"Why do I disgust you, you don't even know me?"

"Look at you, look at all that food you have on your plate and look how thin you are. You can eat whatever you want and never gain a pound. If I eat more than one of these I won't be able to fit in this dress tomorrow. It's not fair."

I could see the look on my friend's face change the instant she said "It's not fair."

"Let me ask you something. What were you doing at 5:30 this morning?" my friend asked the lady.

My friend paused a moment, out of courtesy, before he put the next piece of fudge in his mouth, waiting to see what her answer was going to be.

"Sleeping," she responded.

"I was running ten miles. Don't tell me it's not fair."

With that said, and a good amount of food on his plate, he shrugged his shoulders, laughed a little and walked out of the room. The lady, not quite knowing what to say and realizing I had heard at least part of the conversation, looked at me and asked me, "Did you see the amount of food that guy had on his plate?"

She didn't know he was my close friend, and I didn't particularly feel like discussing what had just occurred, so I just smiled and started gathering my own desserts. Being a wimp, though, and not wanting any confrontation with the already frustrated lady, I kept my food selections to a minimum -- at least until she left the room.

The message of this story is that it's all about making choices and compromises.

My friend certainly did not have to go run ten miles at 5:30 in the morning. In fact, I'm pretty sure that he would have much preferred it if he could have stayed in his warm bed until 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. and derived all of the benefits of running ten miles while still sleeping. But we know that's not possible. He made the decision to go out and run and had his reasons for doing it.

There was no one forcing my friend to go run ten miles the morning of the party, but he did for his own reasons. The downside was that he had to get out of his warm bed before daylight so that he could go out in the cold to run for about 80 minutes. The upside is that he derived all of the many health benefits that go along with running ten miles, PLUS an added benefit, which is the ability to eat a lot more than most people and never gain a pound. Although it is highly doubtful that any of my friends did endurance exercise simply so that they could eat more, it certainly was a nice perk. When people would see my friends and ask them why they did so much exercise, there were always a few that would respond by saying, "so I can eat more."

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with sleeping later and skipping the early morning run or walk, but there are consequences. If you are not going to burn the extra calories you eat by exercising (or exercising enough) and you don't want to put on extra weight, then you better not eat as much.

Still to this day, I can remember a Saturday morning many, many years ago, when I had planned on getting up really early and going for a long run early in the morning before it got too hot. For some reason I didn't get up -- probably laziness. All morning I tried to rationalize reasons why I didn't really need to run that day. Eventually, it would be midday and I had still not convinced myself that I didn't need to run. Then I remembered that there was a brownie mix in the cabinet that I was probably going to want to make that night. I really liked brownies, but I liked the batter that the brownies were made from even more.

Well, that was all it took. I knew I had to run. There was simply no way around it. I couldn't sit in front of the TV and enjoy my brownie batter that night if I didn't get that run in. Unfortunately, by that time it was nearly midday and getting very hot. But a deal is a deal, or at least that's what it turned out being in my head. No long run, no brownies.

As I drank some water and began lacing my shoes, I had another idea. What if I skipped the brownies tonight, then I could more easily justify missing the run?

No, that wouldn't do, I really like brownies.

It was a really difficult run.

The brownies were great.

It's all about choices.