Don’t get the idea this post has anything to do with nutrition. Not that nutrition isn’t important, but I think all things being equal, calories are calories, vitamins are vitamins, and trace elements are trace elements. Get too few or too many of any of them and you’ll feel less than optimal and compromise your health. Trying to micro-manage the issue, like most things in life, is tiresome. In particular I don’t want to hear things like I will live 30 seconds longer each time I eat a beet instead of an ice cream bar. I will actually give you 30 seconds to get out of eating a beet; you can even keep the ice cream bar.
All things are not equal of course. If you eat twenty ice cream bars a day and somehow manage to exercise enough to burn off the excess calories from the ice cream and the other food you’ll need to get the nutritional elements you’re missing there’s still a good chance you’ll end up with diabetes; and in my case I know for a fact that if I eat lots of, not sugar and fat per se, but “junk food”, I’ll feel terrible, even if I exercise off the calories – and the older I get, the truer it is.
And that takes me into my real topic, how what you eat affects the way you feel. It’s one that I’ve been involuntarily researching for a little over fifty years; let’s jump into the third person and back to about 1963 and look in on a fifteen year old boy shortly before supper. Incredibly, even though it is before supper, he’s doing his homework. What could the matter be? Maybe it’s raining outside or …; I actually can’t think of any other reason, and that one wouldn’t have done it, so why I was doing my homework before supper will forever be lost to history.
We seem to be back in the first person, so why fight it. Anyway, there I was, and this is even more incredible, I was enjoying my homework. To be fair, it was geometry, so I got to draw stuff with compasses and straight edges and make little tic marks, but still, it was homework.
That’s actually the most important part of the story. I was interested in what I was doing. The before supper part, while extremely weird, is only important because of the timing.
So I was engrossed in what I was doing when my mother called me to supper. The exact menu for that meal is also lost to the ages, but it undoubtedly included meat, bread, and potatoes with either peas or green beans. The meat would be beef (commonly hamburgers, my personal favorite at that and most ages), fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried calves liver, fried chicken liver, or rarely, a real treat, fried catfish livers; both of the latter two being deeply breaded so the crust was nice and crispy. Sometimes deeply breaded fried catfish.
Occasionally we had the despised creamed eggs on toast – despised because there was no real meat, only bacon, which only counts with eggs, hash browns and lots and lots of biscuits. As an aside, I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious creamed eggs on toast sounds to me now – the creamy sauce with the chopped-up hard boiled eggs, the yolks powdered to sprinkle on top. I’d take it even without the bacon.
Ok, I think I got a little distracted there. For dessert it would be pie, cake, or chocolate chip cookies with ice cream. It might not surprise you to learn I always had seconds of everything, including dessert – chocolate chip cookies until my father made me stop – which was always on the one I intended to stop on anyway – I’m sure he did it just to irritate me; the chances I didn’t have seconds on this night are literally so miniscule as to not be worth considering.
After supper I was anxious to get back to my geometry homework. I want to go all eighties right now so bad and say NOT!!!, but I can’t say for sure whether or not I literally got up from the supper table looking forward to my homework; I don’t even remember whether my sister and I had to do the supper dishes.
What I do remember is that when I got to my desk I was not even remotely interested in geometry or doing homework of any sort. Now true, my real families, like Donna Reed, My Three Sons, or even, God forbid, the Real McCoy’s – not that I had anything against them, but who wants to live in a shack – were on the TV, at least if it was Thursday night, and even if it wasn’t, there pretty much wasn’t a time slot, even with only three channels, that didn’t have something on that I would prefer watching to doing homework or most anything else. It had been like that since 1953, both the best and worst year of my life up to the long ago here and now of 1963. The year I fell in love with television at first sight and the first year of the hated school which cut deeply into my watching time. Morning game shows and afternoon reruns weren’t going to watch themselves. Actually I think reruns in 1953 would be an anachronism but something was on. The only thing I can remember for sure in the afternoons was a show of taped musical segments by artists like Liberace, Brenda Lee, and Snookie Lanson.
That ramble may seem irrelevant, but I want you to get an idea of where my priorities lay, right down to how much I remember, in spite of that lapse about afternoon shows when I was six, about television between then up to and including high school and college. Even with that slacker attitude, on that particular night before supper I was interested in my geometry homework to a degree that would have outweighed all the TV families past and present. But after I ate a big meal I could care less.
When I realized this I immediately changed my ways and started eating reasonably at every meal – NOT!!! I thought to myself, and I literally remember this, at least enough to paraphrase “Huh, I bet if I ate lighter meals I would be less lethargic. Too bad there’s no way to do that.”
Over the years, that same observation came to me many times, and sometimes I actually tried to do something about it, like resolving to never eat until I was full, or to have one or two mouthfuls at a time at frequent intervals during the day; the idea being to only run on a half tank so the lethargy is never triggered.
Sometimes I’d be successful for several days in a row, and when I was I found that I also felt better overall. I would also eat relatively clean during those periods and it usually seemed to take about three days to start feeling noticeably better than the normal day-to-day.
But eventually something would break the chain. Typically I would be trying to test the limits of what I could eat in the evening before bed, and get it wrong. Depending on how badly I got it wrong I would sleep poorly that night and / or feel lousy the next morning. Then you get demoralized and so forth. The reasons are endless and all lead to you not wanting to worry about eating the things that you like. Then I would try to get back on track and there would be endless days when for some reason or another I would eat more than I should every night and resolve to do better every morning, after I somehow make it through the day, which is still a mystery to me in spite of all the times I’ve done it.
I sometimes picture my life on two parallel tracks. One is the guy who eats clean all the time and feels good all the time. The other is me. Sometimes I could get closer to the other track and sometimes I could actually get there and stay for a while. It’s like a great dream that you could actually make come true every day for the rest of your life if you just would.
And after all these years I seem to be closing in on being able to do that. Partly it’s the cumulative effect of all the mornings I felt good and the mornings I felt lousy finally pushing me to make the choices to control that the night before. The clearest comparisons being between how I would feel commuting to and arriving at work each morning, both physically and mentally; I was a different person – forcing every thought and motion into being on bad days, interested and engaged on the good; and how that carried through the rest of the day. On the bad days even after recovering from the incredible lethargy of arrival I would feel desperately tired sometime in the afternoons; on the good days there would be a gradual let down from the energy of the morning and a mild afternoon energy slump, but not bad at all.
That’s the kind of thing I was thinking of when I passed on pizza when my wife and granddaughter had it the other night. That’s something that never happens. The best I can do is to limit myself to two pieces which doesn’t help at all because I actually eat four or five. In spite of that I usually feel fine when I finish and when I go to bed, which is probably part of the problem. But it’s for sure I will not feel fine during at least part of the night and for sure I won’t feel great the next morning. And that’s if I’m lucky – chances are I will sleep fitfully or not at all for the last three hours of the night and feel awful when I get up. Even though it was a Friday night, it was the clarity of thinking of so many work day differences that made me pass. Even though I can hoop and jump it away on Saturday morning, it’s much better to start off feeling good, and I had just had five unbroken days of feeling how good that could be.
More and more, instead of between great and terrible it’s become a choice between feeling great and less than great. If you can feel great and you know how to make that happen, why would you accept feeling less? The answer, up to now, is it’s not an intentional choice. It’s a misjudgment on how much I can get away with eating the evening before.
For me the only way to do that successfully is to avoid seductive foods like chips, candy, pastry, cookies. I can’t resist trying to eat as much as I can get away with, and I’m usually wrong about how much that is. Even if I’m not, I’m almost certainly going to feel less good the next morning than otherwise. And even when I’m “eating clean” the evenings are the time I’m most likely to slip, so if I can avoid that option entirely instead of teasing myself I’m better off.
When I say I “eat clean” that’s a relative term. I avoid the foods that make me feel bad but I can and do eat pizza if it’s early and there’s a limited supply, and I still eat hamburgers, also not late at night. And I drink cokes – I’d drink more than I do if it weren’t for the calories. It’s not so much the sugar in candy and what-not that seems to bother me, it’s trying to digest the ingredients.
And I do still eat after supper. Usually some unsalted peanuts, raisins, and a coke or light beer. Even then I can overdo it, but peanuts and raisins doesn’t have the seductive power of say a fun-size “Snickers Peanut Butter Squared” – does that even qualify as a name? I’ve had maybe two of those, and they’re more or less like cocaine for your taste buds. That was a few weeks ago. My wife got more, and I was looking at one last night – just looking of course. One hundred thirty calories in a squared weighing less than an ounce. I could almost drink a coke for that.
How is feeling better when you eat better related to “The Joys of HoopRock and JumpRock”? Not only do I feel better when I jump/hoop in the morning depending on what I eat the night before, but being able to burn off the fat without hard-core dieting is encouragement to cut the calories where I can, thus the relative ease with which I avoided the squared bar. Overall I find that the more I lower my body fat the more incentive I have to cut my calorie intake even though I don’t actually diet. So I go for the high value targets, like 130 calorie squared bars, and how likely is it I would eat just one, or even two? I’m probably wrong about eating just the two before, unless we ran out.
What does this all mean? That depends on how you process the fact that it seems I’m finally getting some consistent success in controlling how I feel through what I eat from repeated exposure to cause and effect; I’m hoping you and others, no matter how few or many that may be can benefit from my experience in some way so they don’t to beat their heads against the wall so repeatedly for so long.
You have to laugh at my “insights” in 1963, but it’s actually tragic when you take the entire developed world into account that so much potential is thwarted by satisfying an urge essential to survival with what our body, depending on deliciousness and texture as the criteria, craves - ”Snickers Peanut Butter Squared” fun size bars and the like; conveniently also serving as a more than adequate source for the supply of body fat to be stored against the coming winter or next famine, which for all our body knows, could be any time. Essential before agriculture was invented, crippling now, both physically and mentally.
Of course it’s even more tragic when you take the entire world into account that at the same time in history so many people don’t have enough to eat; potential cheated by malnutrition and death. But that’s a different subject on which it would be pretentious to suggest any sort of solution, even if I had a clue, which I don’t.
Back to the topic I do have first hand knowledge of, the earlier you can take control, not to lose weight or to be healthy, but just because of how you feel, the more days you have ahead of you to enjoy feeling great in the morning and better all day long. And at any given moment aren’t you almost by definition happier when you feel good than when you feel bad? So while eating clean is no guarantee you’ll be happy, it pretty much guarantees you’ll be happier. Too bad life is more complicated than that. I can remember when I absolutely had to have my 10 AM Danish from the catering truck, with coffee and followed by the fourth or fifth cigarette of the day, or I definitely was not happy. Good times!!!
Last but not least. Take your Metamucil if you need it. I used to get more and more frequent episodes in the night where there would seem to be a knot / blockage in what felt like my stomach but was actually lower down. Unpleasantness for at least 18 hours would follow. That stopped after I started taking Metamucil – you can try store brands, but they don’t seem to dissolve as well - after every meal. It seems like a hassle, but it’s so much easier than the alternative, and it works so well I could tell all kinds of crude jokes about people not believing and taking pictures, but I’ve grown. After a while having to take it before every meal, or as often as you need is only slightly annoying, not rising to the level of an actual hassle. Now brushing your teeth, that’s a hassle, and don’t even get me started on flossing.