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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tastes better than chips and doughnuts

How could anyone resist a giant ice cream cone? Athens, 2012.

I've been thinking of the sacrifices it entails to lead a healthy life. Walking through grocery store aisles and realizing that half of the "food" they contain is not food in my world. Wondering what it feels like to have all that extra free time from not exercising. (I work out or run about 7 hours a week; once a year or so I take a forced week-long break - this year it was because of a bronchitis - and I'm always amazed at all the free time I suddenly have!)

Leading a healthy life, that revolves around "clean" foods and exercise, is sometimes akin to swimming against the current.

Yet it does not mean a boring, ascetic life. I am a true hedonist at heart, very much driven by pleasure - a problematic trait sometimes as I don't have much "temptation resisting" power, but as Oscar Wilde would say, "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it".

I'm convinced that you cannot renounce a source of pleasure without replacing it with another one - hopefully a healthier one. Luckily, there are things that taste better than chips, doughnuts and a sedentary lifestyle!

Couch potato, by Gillermo Forchino

Food fun

For the longest time I thought thin people could not possibly be foodies. That was until I met F, a wonderful Eighteenth Century Literature and History professor. This guy was as chubby as a stick figure (not that I have anything against that), yet he genuinely loved food!

In fact, he liked it so much he put together a course entitled Literature and Gastronomy (his other passion was the relationship between literature and medicine - I'm telling you, a fascinating man!)

For my term paper I chose the topic of vegetarianism in literature; my corpus was composed of the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Pythagoras among others, and emphasized the Arcadian utopia of pastoralism, Golden Age and the good old times when "we frolicked like sheep all day long and only ate fruit already fallen on the ground". Despite giving me a good - well, excellent - grade for that paper, F did not show much enthusiasm for my austere topic. For him, there were no food taboos... no taboos in general I would say, based on his passion for the writings of le Marquis de Sade!

For our last class of the semester, since we were a small group of a dozen graduate students, F cooked for us rare, tasty recipes of the Eighteenth century. A delight!

With F I discovered that you can love food and be thin... as long as the focus is on quality rather than quantity. In short, you have to be a gourmet. F was the perfect example of such. He enjoyed tidbits of delicacies. I witnessed it several times at the bimonthly wine and cheese gatherings we had at the Department of French Literature.

This long aside leads me to the following conclusion: you can indeed maintain a healthy weight and still enjoy food, as long as it's mostly healthy food and in reasonable quantities. When you think about it, there has to be foods you truly enjoy that are good for you, no? I know I love vegetables of all kinds, including green leafy stuff of all allegiances, plus "less usual" ones like leeks, endives, and Jerusalem artichokes. I also am a fish and seafood lover. I still enjoy cheese, baguette bread and wine (you can take the girl out of France but you can't take France out of the girl!) But in those things I indulge occasionally and in small quantities.

Of course, channeling your pleasure toward non-food aspects of life is another great tool to add to your weight loss kit. Anything that tastes as good (or better) than chips and doughnuts will do the job!

Which brings me to the next point of this post, namely:

Exercise fun

As children we ran, climbed, jumped, skipped, rolled on the ground. We were constantly on the move. For those of us whose physical activity has been subjected to a long hiatus, this love of movement has to be relearned. But hold on there! Even if it's uncomfortable, unpleasant and sometimes plain painful, the love of exercise will come back to those who do enough of it on a regular basis.

And then it becomes a source of pleasure. I, for example, have loads of fun doing this:

And this:

And that:

Ah, and that also:

In the meantime, working out can at least be an extrinsic source of pleasure, i.e. things associated with it will be the reward as opposed to the exercise itself being pleasurable - temporarily anyways.

Some examples of extrinsic reward associated with exercising: feeling stronger and fitter and energized (running upstairs with heavy grocery bags repeatedly? Bring it on!) Once the exercise-induced benefits start accumulating, one realizes how big the payoff actually is. Along the way, what was once a sacrifice becomes a habit, and eventually a true source of pleasure.

Of course once in a while the pleasure we get from being fit is of a vain and superficial nature, like when you look in the mirror and think "Jeez, am I hot or what!" I don't see anything wrong with it, really. We are all entitled pride! To feel empowered and - and sexy, let's not be afraid of words - is a present one should not refuse himself/herself.

A few days ago, at the gym, there was this amazing looking woman. She was so ripped I almost straight up asked her what her body fat percentage was (I'm guessing 12 %). I really wanted to pay her a compliment, but I didn't quite know how to word it.

"I've been looking at your but* and gawd, is it ever firm."

Not quite.

"How many olives do you think I could fit in the creases of your six-pack?"

Not better.

Everything I came up with sounded like a cheesy pick-up line. I decided to not say a word. I still discretely admired her muscles.

I mean, I'm quite happy with my training results, but she was something else!

Later on, as I was stretching, I noticed this guy whom I'd never seen before (I would have remembered those blue eyes, for sure!)

(Ya, it's no national secret, I have a little bit of a weakness for blue eyes.)

So, anyways, I noticed that this guy (fifty-ish, reasonably fit) was regularly peeking at me. I kept my poker face and I continued stretching. But after a few minutes he walked up to me and said:

- I've been looking at you...

- (to myself: Ya I noticed!)

- ... and you look very fit. And strong. It's very nice. You work out a lot?

- I do...

- (He looks at my Bluenose t-shirt): Are you also a runner?

- Yes, I am.

- Wow! Awesome! I could have guessed actually, by looking at you... Anyways, you look great!

- Thank you!

He walked away and I finished stretching, aware that my head was inflating like a hot air balloon. I tried to hide it as much as I could, but as soon as I entered the locker room, and saw no one in there, I let my guard down and started grinning from ear to ear!

It definitely felt better than any chips or doughnuts.

And you know what the funny thing is? At no moment during this little dialogue did I think of him as inappropriate or unpleasant. I just took it all in, the compliments. I think we always should!

One last "gym tale" for the road

Proof that going to the gym can be fun. I was bench pressing (actually, I was doing an alternative of traditional bench pressing: you attach a kettlebell with an wide elastic to each end of the bar - for shoulder stability!)

While I was doing this, during one of my rests, I noticed this woman who was lifting an olympic bar not too far from me. She seemed to be in her late sixties, and I couldn't help but notice what a fit figure she had. I thought "If I can look like that when I get there!!!" She also had a perfect haircut, some perfect makeup (not too much), and a perfect, distinguished smile in between her grimacing weightlifter expressions. Everything about her screamed sophisticated.

When she was done she put the bar down, and as she walked by me she blurted out (with a coarse voice):

"I'm too old for this sh*t."

I almost choked on my water!

As I looked at her, bewildered, I still managed to get out a response: "No, you're not! You're an inspiration!"

She smiled.

Morale of the story: in the gym you can be whoever you want to be!

Recent update

And now to finish, a recent update on my numbers: my weight is down to 129 pounds and body fat is down to 16.5%. I'm telling you, the day this frigging number gets below 16, I'm putting balloons and confetti on this page!!!


  1. I would love for a man to come up to me and compliment me like that in the gym! How wonderful. I don't know if I could have waited until I hit the locker room to start smiling like a fool. You must have been so proud.

    As for exercise fun, I am still at the point of forcing myself to work out, but I know at some point I will look forward to it and how it changes my body.

    1. I'm glad you see it this way, ASNM! The first woman I told this story to looked at me with mortified eyes and said something along the lines of "What a cheesy old flirt" (talking about the man, not me! LOL) (Why, I don't know: he wasn't drooling all over the floor or trying to grab my butt!!!) Her reaction surprised me because I had only seen it positively (but then again I usually see the glass half full).

      When a man wants to compliment a woman, he should be able to do it without fearing her reaction! We ought to give the poor guys some slack and stop seeing harrasment everywhere. :-)

    2. I'd love to compliment other people on their looks, or even clothes. But as a mid-thirties man, if you do it to another man, you are gay and flirting and risk a punch in the face, and if you compliment a woman, you look like a horny pig who's just at the gym to watch the girls bend over. Result: the only person I compliment is my wife; although I'm sure lots of people would appreciate a nice word on their efforts.

    3. You're not alone, Anonymous: I know a guy who got a negative reaction for complimenting a coworker on her Christmas party dress. Knowing him I'm sure it was done in good taste. A nice "thank you" would have been fine.

  2. I like everything I eat.

    I do not eat everything I like.

    Exercise is my "me" time; it IS my "free time." And I can't think of a better way to spend it.

  3. I agree 100% Norma!

    When I started working out it was to escape a house full of whining and runny noses for 1 poor hour a day, as I like to say. By the time those kids had become pleasant companions, working out had become a habit and a pleasure. Of all possible pastimes, this is such a good choice! Good for your mind and good for your body!

  4. I'll be on the lookout for those balloons and confetti! You bring up a lot of great points in this post and I too am inspired when I see people older than I am who are so fit! That's my goal!!

    1. Hi Diane! I think we are both lucky members of an inspiration chain! :-)

      I think seeing older people that are so fit relieves part of our subconscious fear of dying (and ageing)! I vividly remember watching a 85 year old woman swimming a 200 m IM (fly, back, breastroke, crawl, 50 m of each); I also love to watch the 70 and older categories on the podium after a race. Fills me with wonder. And it totally helps put in perspective my own first signs of decrepitude. (Totally kidding! LOL) But it's true that age is between the ears: I've known at least 2 people who when they turned 50 thought they were the new Methuselah, and I've known at least 2 who were still full of youthful energy well into their 90s! :-) Never know what will happen on the way to old age wisdom, but there's at least one factor we have control over: our attitude. :-)

      Thank you for holding me accountable; now I feel I owe you balloons and confetti in the not-so-far-future. ;-)

  5. Merci Julie de m'avoir botté le cul avec cet article! :-)