Lately, I have been thinking of food in a very elemental way; perhaps in the most elemental of ways -- as fuel. I recently joined an amateur cycling club here in New York, and I am now spending a few mornings a week riding my bike with other enthusiasts in Central Park and further afield. These rides aren't your ordinary commuter trips; this morning, for example, I rode 21 miles starting at 7am, and was back at home, showered, and out the door by 8:45. On Saturday I plan to ride 50 miles, and that's just the first of this year's longer rides. Eventually I'll work my way up to a Century -- that's 100 miles! I am putting in some serious miles on my bike, and my appetite can feel the difference. Today, for instance, I ate two breakfasts: a quick meal of toast with pecan butter and a banana before the ride, and a second breakfast afterwards, of granola and blueberries (above). Even with those two meals, I was still hungry before lunchtime, and have had to remind myself all day that it's OK for me to eat a little more.
The first time I went on a long bike ride, early last spring, something happened to me that happens to most cyclists at least once: I "bonked," meaning that I ran out of energy (for us, that means calories!) before the end of the ride. The cause was simple: I didn't eat enough as I rode. For a three-hour ride, I need to eat at least 150/200 calories per hour simply to keep going on my bike. And that's assuming that I'll have a big meal afterwards to make up for rest of the calories lost during the ride. I still forget sometimes that I really do need an awful lot of food to keep my body and my bike going, but I have been a quick study where this is concerned, because the signs of bonking are so obvious. Without my energy drink and my sports bar, and a constant flow of water, my legs turn mushy, my vision blurs, and my breathing becomes ragged. While I can make a shorter ride without any re-fueling, for a longer ride such snacks are indispensable.
Eating to ride, and not exercising to eat, is a new mode of operation for me. It's amazing to me that I can eat, after a long ride, in a way that is almost instinctual, so far from the over-thought appetites of my eating disorder. I eat because I am hungry. I eat because my legs are tired. I eat to ride again. I eat and eat and eat and eat -- and don't worry about it! I just eat because my body is telling me to eat. And what could be simpler, and further from disorder, than that?