Week 9: Self-Control

Sorry, this post is even later than it was going to be because WordPress kindly deleted the 800+ word draft I was in the process of publishing.  Grrr.

When I was in elementary school, self-control was one of the items on our report cards in the “behavioral/social” category, along with things like “respectful”, “works cooperatively with others”, and “waits his/her turn”, each to be graded with a +, ✓+, ✓, ✓-, or -.  I usually got a ✓ or ✓- for self-control (teachers rarely gave out -‘s, except in cases of blatantly egregious behavior.)

It’s funny; I have extremely good self-control about some things but rather terrible self-control about others.  For example, I never drink soda, almost never skip my workouts, and always do my homework on time.  On the other hand, I spend too much time on the computer, don’t practice the piano enough, and have not-so-great eating habits.

I think part of this issue may stem from my background as an infant in China.  I’ve been told that when I was a toddler, I would clutch food in my hands and not let go until my muscles relaxed as I fell asleep, leaving little caches of Cheerios in my crib.  Even now, after living in a land of plenty for almost two decades, I still have a slight tendency to hoard food.  I almost never leave food on my plate, even if I dislike it.  A little voice still emerges in my head, saying, “But you don’t know when you’re going to eat next,” even though, in reality, I can say with 95 percent certainty that it will be within a few hours.

People think I’m incredibly healthy, but they only see me when I’m coming back from a workout or eating dinner in the cafeteria.  They don’t see me when I’m at my worst–eating a whole box of cereal in one night or going though a twelve-ounce jar of peanut butter in three days.  I eat healthy foods–in unhealthy quantities.

It’s difficult as a runner.  For one, I don’t really fit the stereotypical distance runner profile.  I feel awkward working out in sports bra, and probably not for the reasons I ought to feel awkward being seeing in a sports bra.  I know some of my increase in weight is due to muscle mass, but even that I struggle with.  For runners, though, a pound is a pound is a pound, whether it’s fat or bone or muscle. Don’t believe me?  Consider the difference in body type between competitive swimmers and runners.

Even in “normal” life, I let people think that I don’t care about clothing or appearances, but in reality, I’m pretty sure I just tell them that so that they don’t look to closely.  It’s like hiding behind the bulwarks of uniqueness and individuality, when in reality, you just don’t know how to fit in.

Perhaps even more than appearances, though, is the effect of weight on performance.  I know what you’re thinking now: flashing lights and alarms are going off in your head, screaming, “EATING DISORDER!”  I recognize that, and understand all too profoundly the risks.  I know far too many competitive runners, mostly female, but some male, who have felt the need to be faster and seen losing weight as a quick fix.  The hardest part is that it is.  It’s estimated that one pound lost translates to between five and nine seconds faster in a 5k, assuming no changes in aerobic capacity, etc., with times improving logarithmically with distance (and, presumably, with the amount of weight lost), for all you math-type folks.  (Unfortunately, I can’t find the Runnersworld article where I originally read this, but I’m sure there are studies out there, considering there are studies saying pretty much anything you might want to be said.)  And that’s where the temptation for so many lies.  Lose one pound and drop from 19:05 to 18:57?  That’s a good deal, especially for only 3500 calories–a great deal when it means going from league champion to state qualifier, or from decent high school runner to Division III athlete.  What about another, and another, and another?  Most runners do not set out with the goal, “I’m going to get an eating disorder!”–they just want that edge.  And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a strong temptation, even for those of us who are fairly mediocre runners.

At the same time, I don’t want weight, appearance, or even performance to become an idol.  Eating disorders and idols aren’t the same thing: you can have an idol without the eating disorder, and though I suppose the opposite could also apply, it seems less likely.  Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve come more and more to see how inconsequential I am and how great God is, and why all that matters is who He is and what He’s done.  I stood in church this Sunday so incredibly grateful for His grace, my life, and His Church–a place I am so glad to find myself.  In everything, I want to remember what is important.

I was talking with one of my best friends yesterday, and I mentioned that in college, I can go days without saying more than a few words (e.g., “Do you mind if I take a shower now?” or “Do you want coffee in the morning?”).  To this she responded, “Silence is good, in moderation–kind of like speaking.”  I think the same is true of eating.