Should We Really ‘Run To Eat’?

“Will run for beer”

Ever hear this saying or something similar before?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Particularly, how I don’t agree with it.

You see, I began exercising on the regular when I set out to lose 30 lbs four years ago. I counted calories to lose weight, so for a long time exercise was purely a way to burn calories. It gave me a little more wiggle room in my daily calorie allotment and made it so I didn’t lose my mind restricting food in order to shed a few pounds.

As the days went on, I fell more and more in love with exercise. I eventually started doing it because I like it, and not just as a way to lose weight. As I transitioned into weight loss maintenance, exercise not only became my most loved hobby, but also a way to splurge on some of my most favourite treats. Run 6 miles? Awesome, now I get to have dessert today. All without putting on a pound.

But now that I’m a little more separated from the situation, I wonder – is it healthy to use exercise as a justification to eat?

If you were to ask me today, my response would sway towards “no.”

Food and exercise are two very different things and serve two very different purposes. But mostly, I think by creating a relationship between the two, one is setting themselves up to have an unhealthy relationship with both.

I have gained at least 10 lbs since beginning chemotherapy, for a number of reasons. I’m not as active as I used to be (read: no 6 milers here), my eating habits have changed (read: digesting a big salad on chemo is tummy torture) and my most favourite excuse – I’m on steroids, I can’t help it! (same goes with the occasional ‘roid rage)

If I weren’t sick and gained 10 lbs I would immediately turn to exercise to start burning it off. Except this time around I really don’t care about the extra weight. Apart from the frustration of having jeans that don’t fit, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Like a life threatening illness. Suddenly, the idea of vanity weight goes out the window.

With that said, I do still mildly exercise every day. But this time it’s not to lose weight or to keep it off. This time it’s for a different reason altogether. I now realize it’s the reason why I should have been exercising all along. For my health. Study after study shows that cancer patients have a higher rate of survival with exercise. When I hop on the recumbent bike, it’s not with the idea of burning off the ice cream I ate earlier, or for some notion of vanity. It’s for my health, my real health, and my longevity.

When I’m all better and back at the gym, I won’t reward myself with a beer after because I’ve got the extra calories to do it. I’ll drink beer whenever I want and exercise because it’s good for me.

Today is chemo day – treatment #6. I’m halfway through!

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Posted on September 28, 2011, in Health and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. Halfway! You are amazing for sharing your story and how it is opening your eyes to life and your own views.

    I don’t eat extra just because I had a good workout. It was a trial and error on my part. When I did I always overestimated and would gain weight. Instead I fit treats into my regular eating instead of eating a bunch when I get a “hard” work out.

    Blessings on today as you start your 6th treatment.

    • Yes! So many people overestimate what they burn while working out and say “oh I worked out today, so I can have this giant 1000 calorie meal of chicken wings and potato skins” when they only burned 500 calories in a spin class. Exercising to eat can work against you in that way too!

  2. Christina aka Mom

    I did not start exercising solely for my “health” till I was 55. I am so happy you have learned this lesson now – enjoy those 30 years that I spent fretting about my tummy size…

  3. Your approach seems so healthy, so balanced….and so SIMPLE! I think along similar lines (I like the fact that running 6 miles makes me extra hungry for extra food, but I don’t do it JUST so I can eat more) – but so many people use it as a justification, which drives me crazy! Eating and exercising are two different events and shouldn’t depend on the other!

  4. I totally get this. The exercise I do now is purely to help my body, not for any other reason. It’s a lot less than what I see a lot of other bloggers and non-bloggers doing, but I’ve found it’s the perfect amount for me. It makes me wonder how necessary all this extra exercise is. Maybe it just depends on the person.

    By the way, I will bake for beer, but you can count out running ; )

  5. It’s sad how most of the times, only something so serious can actually makes us more aware of the things we are doing to our bodies. I did the whole exercising/losing weight thing, because I thought I was on the flabby side. Now, I’ve messed up my hormones and my health, and exercising isn’t healthy for me anymore, resting is. I can’t wait to repair the damage and start biking or running, just because it’s good for me and makes me feel happy, not for some vanity pounds, inches or anything. Certainly not to justify the slice of bread I’ve eaten in the middle of the day.

    I’ll keep you in my thoughts this week, I hope it will be a good one, and not ruined by chemo ;)

  6. You lost me at beer…as soon as I saw it, I started thinking about all that pumpkin beer I’ve been hoarding because it is seasonal. And then I wondered how early is too early for a beer…
    Mmmm…beer…seasonal pumpkin beer…

    Seriously though- YES! HEALTH! Exercise (which is a word I cannot spell by the way) helps me sleep, it helps me be able to carry my heavy suitcase down the crazy front steps of my apartment, it helps rejuvenate me, it helps relieve stress, it makes me feel strong, and it makes me feel healthy. Sure, I eat more than I would if I didn’t exercise, but more often than not, I find myself eating to exercise instead of exercising to eat! (and maybe this comment has finally helped me learn how to spell that word)

    As much as I get caught up in my running goals sometimes- ultimately I know I’m doing it for fun and for health. And hey- a little goal setting is healthy too. :)

    Half way!! Yay!

  7. I love your posts like this, Susan. It’s different than most of what this blogging community is all about and this is exactly why it’s a great reality check.

    Good luck today with your treatment!

  8. Excellant Post! I agree you should exercise for health. Since I lost 30lbs, I don’t have asthma anymore, or at least barely. I feel better and have more energy and I don’t really get sick anymore. I will agree that exercise to eat more was one of the reasons I started to exercise. If I ate allot I would exercise more. It became an obessive behaviour. I am not learning to eat ion moderation, don’t cut out all the bad food, just make healthier choices and exercise because it’s good for you!

  9. I would not fret too much about a 10lb weight gain on chemo; I have lupus and gained almost 30lb when put on steroids. My Doctor told me that this was a good thing; it was going to keep me alive. All too often the people he sees who don’t win their fight are those who have super low body fat percentages. He honestly believes that people should be healthy and exercise but having a few extra pounds can keep you alive.

    • I totally agree. Given my situation, a few extra pounds is a GOOD thing. I have a little extra wiggle room in case I get really sick and can’t eat. It can be a real problem when someone gets sick and can’t retain food, and are already too thin on top of that.

  10. YAY for being halfway!

    And I totally agree with you on this, I used to think like that too, sometimes I still do, but usually I eat the healthiest on days I work out hard.

  11. congrats on being halfway through- that’s awesome! i’m praying for you! i think that exercising for food isn’t a healthy mindset to have. food is necessary, and exercise is beneficial. it’s no good when you confuse those two, and feel that exercise is necessary so you can have the benefit of food. they’re both staples in a healthy lifestyle, but the amount of one shouldn’t be correlated with the amount of the other.

  12. Hi Susan,
    I’m on Weight Watchers and when you exercise, you are rewarded with “activity points”. At first you want to exercise so you can eat more points without cheating … but I realized the smart folks at WW are slowly getting you into the groove of exercising because it’s good for you, not just so you can eat more. That’s the point I’m at now. I used to say “I run so I can drink”, but now I just run when I want to, and drink (in moderation) when I want to. Thanks for the great post.

  13. Congrats on being half way done with chemo….I thought we were at the same point in our treatments, I also have Hodgkins and I just completed treatment #4 number 5 is next week. When I found your blog I was so happy I thought we were at the same point in treatment, but you are a head of me. You have a good outlook on this and I am happy for you, I am currently dealing with emotional and mental problems do to my diagnosis, but your blog encourages me. Thank you

  14. Admittedly, I kind of have this habit of eating more if I’ve exercised. I “ballpark” everything, so I usually estimate that I burn about 400 calories per session (I work out for an hour a day, usually), so I allow myself to have a couple of extra snacks. Or if I’m especially worn out/tired, I’ll eat a little more than that. I kind of just go with the flow… I don’t think it’s a bad thing to motivate yourself to exercise that way — most of the time, you won’t want to dive into a heavy meal after feeling high/good after exercising.

  15. I always had the opposite issue. If I had exercised I wouldn’t want anything high calorie because I’d “ruin” my healthy day. Yet on days I didn’t workout I’d eat the junk with nothing to offset it. All or nothing mentality over here! lol

  16. Agree… I HATE shirts that say “I run so I can eat” WTF?

  17. i don’t exercise more than a walk a day, but it’s only to clear my mind. if i do get back in the gym eventually, it will be only for psychological reasons. or because i need to get strong for a role, not b/c i want to eat more.

  18. i’ve never been this type of person and I sure hope I don’t get into that state of mind. Running is a gift. If we can run, we should enjoy it as a privilege. Not an excuse to burn more calories. When we want to indulge in some good food, we should, its not a reward but a pleasure! like you said, life has more things that are important. Live, Love, Laugh!

  19. Great post. I’ve really struggled with finding balance too. For the first three months of chemo, I actually upped my running and was averageing 20+ miles a week and ran three 10K races. I am still technically training for a half marathon in December, but since amping up my chemo regimen for the second half of my therapy, I simply don’t have the stamina I did before. So I’ve had to lower my expectations quite a bit.

    One thing I will say – I am convinced that regular cardio activity has helped me maintain my ANA thus far. I am on the most cytotoxic regimen there is for cloon cancer, and I have managed to avoid needing growth factor supplementation after 8 of 12 cycles. I suspect that chemo for a hematalogical cancer is much more immunosuppressive, but gosh – that regular activity is going to pay off for you, I am sure.

    Not to mention, it helps manage side effects so much – at least for me.

    And oh – steroids. How I loathe thee. Yes, they help me not puke, but I am so so so hungry on them!!!

    It’s all temporary though, right? We can do this :)

    • I know! I find with the steroids I feel neither full nor hungry, so I just eateateat. I’m not sure the difference in our treatments either, but I know whatever I’m on totally blasts all blood counts. I do find that exercise helps with the side effects A LOT. It helps me push through fatigue, helps digestion, and eases the bone pain from the neupogen shots. I can totally feel the difference when I go a couple days without exercise.

  20. Oh, and congratulations on being half way done!!! Just thing – cycle #7 is lucky #7, 8 means you are 2/3 done; 9 means you are 3/4 done, and then the last three, two, one… and it’s finished!

  21. I agree with you. I think all of us have used exercise to splurge at some point (consciously or not) and it can so easily spiral into a binge/guilt habit, which is so unhealthy mentally that it sort of unravels the healthy part of exercise! Maybe the saying should be, “Am Running Toward That Beer”, because if there’s beer in the distance I definitely want to be there- and quick!

  22. I actually had a similar thought because one of my bondi bands says “will run for margaritas” and “will run for cupcakes”. I just think its funny but it hit me that am I sending out a message to have to earn food?? Because you know I don’t stand by that!

  23. I was having a similar conversation with myself yesterday, and again this morning; yes, I talk to myself – often. ;-)

    I’ve been celebrating a prolonged birthday for the past several days, which has included decadent dessert that I don’t normally have. At the same time, I’ve increased my activity at the gym from 32 minutes on the treadmill Saturday, to 42 minutes Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, then today to 52 minutes.

    On Sunday and Monday, it was about burning extra calories so I’d still show a weight loss – 3 pounds at Monday night weigh-in! – when I stepped on the scale.

    Yesterday, it was about the fact that I’d done 42 minutes two days in a row and felt really good about it; was equating it with health and well-being and less with chocolate ice cream cake.

    Today, it was purely about the satisfaction of being able to walk for 52 minutes without my knees complaining loudly, and having the stamina to do it. Today was entirely about me; not about last night’s pot de creme.

    The tide is turning and I’m grateful for it.

  24. I agree. I think it’s easy to get into that mindset, though, even if it’s not right.

  25. Such a great post. Food is fuel. We eat because we need it and/or want it!! I love this. Although I do have a head band saying “will run for icecream” but i will also sit on my butt for icecream haah

  26. Thanks for this post! There are way too many unhealthy views on both exercise and eating. They are both gifts to be enjoyed. Having a healthy balance between the two and keeping them separated from each other is important.
    Again thanks…loved the post :)

  27. All downhill from here, kiddo!!! You’re on the home stretch!!

  28. That mindset caused some half-marathon training weight gain for me. And I’m honestly still in that mode a little bit, because I’m doing the counting thing and if I don’t work out, well eating 1600 calories seems so hard but 1800 seems manageable. But…is this WORKING for me? Not really. But while the calorie burn sometimes lights a fire when I don’t feel like working out, I totally agree with what you’re saying and I *mostly* exercise for the awesome way it makes me feel.

  29. I have a headband that says “I Run so I can eat” but I got it because I thought it was funny. :)

    I started working out to lose 100 pounds and in that process I grew to love it. I loved how I felt, it improved my moods and energy level and I just FELT healthier. THAT’S why I work out now. I workout to feel good and maintain my weight loss. I do tend to eat a little more on days I run hard or workout hard but that’s okay by me. I’m not trying to lose weight.

    I do see a lot of people thinking fitness means they can eat anything and as much of it as they want. And that’s why they aren’t losing weight. They have to create a deficit. Period. When I was trying to lose 100 pounds I did not eat the calories I burned working out. I ate under 2,000 calories a day no matter what activity I did. Now? It’s much different in maintenance mode. I workout like normal and sometimes I do eat a little bit more but only once in awhile.

    • Yes, exercising to lose weight and exercising to maintain weight are two different beasts. And I think it’s harder to lose weight on a heavy exercise regimen because it makes you feel more hungry and increases your chances of overeating. That’s how people gain weight while marathon training!

      • I DEFINITELY ate more when I was training for Hood to Coast last year! I had an insatiable hunger all the time BUT I think I also used it as an excuse to “eat whatever I want” because “I ran 7 miles.” Right right right. I could have eaten BETTER (like more protein, etc) instead of eating whatever I wanted.

  30. Great post, and congratulations on being halfway done!
    I have a hard time disconnecting exercise from what I eat, not that the two should be totally disconnected. I totally agree that exercising because it makes us feel good, not so we can eat, is the healthy way to go. Sometimes not exercising is the healthy choice.

    • Yes, I often think that being more active spread out over the course of the day is a lot more beneficial than killing ourselves for only and hour at the gym everyday. But a lot of people, like 9-5 desk workers, don’t have the luxury of having the spare time to be more active like that.

  31. COMPLETELY AGREE! And that approach honestly just offsets the calories anyway, so what’s the point if you are just always breaking even, ya know? I work out because it makes me feel good and healthy and strong. I eat for fuel and sometimes because it tastes good ;-) But they are separate in my mind. Eating. Working out. Separate reasons for both. Great post, yet again! good luck at chemo today!

  32. I love thoughtful posts like this, I 100% agree with you. I’m just starting to realize how good my body feels when I exercise, and how much better my mind seems to work.
    I’ve been following you for a while, I promise it’s not as creepy as it sounds. When I saw that you sent Java Moose coffee to Janetha bells went off. I was so excited to come across a fellow NB blogger, a very successful NB blogger at that!
    I can’t wait to read more of your story, you’re so brave! Thanks for all the inspiration :)

  33. I was JUST thinking about the same thing!

    Its silly to use exercise as a justification to eat. We need to eat just to function. Exercise is like a “treat”.

    And to be perfectly honest with you, I weigh less during my bouts of less exercise. Weird, and probably muscle loss….but I think I’m just naturally hungrier when I exercise.

    I don’t “run for beer”. I run to beer if its far ;)

    PS shooting you an email soon about chemo

  34. This is such a wise message. I used to joke with people that I just exercised because I loved to eat. My love for exercise has shifted, thankfully, to be for the purpose of keeping my body strong and working smoothly. I’m also trying to appreciate my body every day for what it is, and stop thinking so much about what I want it to be/what it is not. Thank you for your words :)

  35. Thoughtful post, in college I remember thinking “big party tonight, guess I’ll do an extra long run” so that I could…uhh…enjoy myself more that night. But I also had days where I had a great run and wouldn’t want to eat/drink anything unhealthy because I didn’t want to “ruin” my hard work. It’s interesting too how the more active a person is, the better dietary choices he/she tends to make overall – I think the more active you are the more likely you are to make a healthy food choice over an unhealthy one, maybe not all the time but most of the time. I wonder how it is that we became so obsessed with exercise vs. food. I think both are to be enjoyed! Now that I’m back in school on top of working I’m finding it harder to make time for exercise, so now when I’m driving to work and I see someone running I don’t think “I should be doing that” I think “I wish I were doing that” :/

    Congratulations on #6!

  36. I exercise to live. I have chronic kidney disease, and because my kidneys don’t function properly, I have high blood pressure. However, running has kept my blood pressure under control. If I wasn’t a runner I might have been going in kidney failure by now. But as you have discovered, sometimes it take a grim diagnosis to get a new perspective on life. I know most women my age (in their early 30’s) exercise so they can eat more – I think these women should consider themselves lucky they don’t have bigger health issues to worry about.

  37. I agree with you that you really shouldn’t combine the two. You should do BOTH things (eat and exercise) for health and wellness purposes, but once you combine the two, you can quickly get into sticky territories.

    Half way through darlin. You are getting there.

    My boyfriend has testicular cancer and he just found out that he has 4 more weeks of chemo. I never understood (I had heard, but it didn’t really sink in) how taxing chemo can be.

  38. The one thing I don’t like about people saying the run for eating is that it almost seems like punishment then reward. I think the exercise should be its own reward. I love biking so, so much – and I also love incorporating the treats that we have along the ride (cupcakes). I am less likely to indulge without the biking, but then again, not all of the calories that I consume “extra” have to be cookies, desserts, cakes or whatever. It could just be a bigger dinner, more fruit, a larger potato, etc.

  39. I think it is very dangerous to exercise to eat. It might start out innocent enough, but down the road could lead to trouble. I did it for years and eventually made myself quite miserable and endangered myself quite seriously. It can lead to an EDNOS. It also f’s with your brain and body.

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