At first, this guest-blog sounded like a fun deviation from my family-friendly-ish blog for www.teamusa.org (just click the link “shameless plug”). With permission to cuss and insult, ideas came pouring into my brain. Then Stu decided to throw in a nutritional change, and the ideas stopped as abruptly as my carb intake. Well they didn’t stop. They disappeared. I believe they are somewhere locked in the same ‘happy place’ where Happy Gilmore’s grandmother is draining a slot machine.
The goal is to reach ketosis - forcing my body to use fat for fuel. Problem is, our brains normally run on glucose, as it’s so readily available. Hold the glucose hostage and eventually the brain turns to beta-hydroxybutyrate, key word - eventually. So until I reach ketosis, which can take anywhere from 7-21 days, I have turned into a zombie fruit bat. A low functioning hunger machine. I also have a sneaking suspicion this is what it feels like to bobsled for too long.
So this blog is about hunger. It couldn’t possibly be about anything else because that’s the dominant thought that pops into my mind every 7 seconds (or however often it is said men think about sex).
What is hunger really?
Being human has changed so much over the last 60 years that hunger is not simply a signal that the body needs fuel anymore. It comes in so many psychologically complicated layers now, with unrelated issues manifesting in bizarre ways.
A great book, “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century” by Marc Schoen, PhD. outlines how the advent of fast food has left us unable to deal with the sensation of hunger. We expect instant gratification upon the onset of the feeling, and agitation rises the longer the feeling goes unsatisfied. Many of us can remember being a child and asking constantly when dinner would be ready - waiting hours to finally sit down to eat. There is no harm in being hungry, yet now any inclination toward the feeling gives people an excuse to fill an emotional void and pump a little dopamine into their brain.
After the bobsled season wrapped up this year, I set out to discover true hunger.
A book I had come across while researching seasonal eating praised the benefits of a springtime cleanse - backing it with western and eastern medicine. All of my instincts said that only drinking water with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for a week was likely a bad idea, so I made sure not to ask anyone about it that would confirm my suspicions. Instead I went to an expert - an actress friend in LA, who thought it was a great idea.
A cleanse is supposed to be energizing. Luckily, I had nothing to do for a week because I became the most worthless piece of meat on the planet, spending over half my days sleeping (9 hours at night with naps totaling 4-5 hours a day). The rest of my energy and waking hours were spent stumbling to the couch to watch two entire seasons of “Game of Thrones.” In a week I lost 10lbs, and felt like I had to be reintegrated into society like Tom Hanks in “Castaway.”
A mere walk to the post office left me gassed.
Though my secret fast was clearly a poor decision, I did learn a very important lesson - what real hunger is and how to deal with it. It turns out it is possible to fall asleep with a growling stomach. And when you start to feel anxiety over life’s stresses? It can be alleviated in ways other than food. Like sleep!
Luckily I had ample time to regain my strength before meeting up with Stu to start training this spring, where I was immediately put on a nutrition plan that left me…hungry. With a developing ability to distinguish between false hungers like boredom or anxiety, I was able to find power in a healthier hunger - hunger for success. This allows me to focus on the many difficult challenges Stu presents us…like combining oil and water.
As society encourages us to speed up, I am focusing on slowing down and being more mindful when I eat - chewing slowly, enjoying every damn calorie. When my roommates aren’t looking I lick the hell out of my plate. To get more nutritional bang for my buck I’ve been trying to incorporate organ meats into my diet. I thought I was completely indiscriminate when it comes to a calorie, but I lost the battle when it came to liver. Then I turned it into pate and won the war!
Bottom line, unless you are reading this from a life raft adrift at sea… HUNGER WILL NOT KILL YOU! Learn to be logical with it, and you will gain control over not only a vital training/performance tool, but also a larger issue plaguing our instant gratification society.
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Bree Schaaf has been involved with sliding sports since 2002, but only recently did she begin the sport of bobsled. Schaaf followed her brother to a skeleton recruiting camp and spent the next five years competing at the national and international level. In 2007 she made the switch to bobsled. Her first place finish at the 2009 National Championships gave her a spot on the World Cup team for the second half of the season. She finished 5th at the 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia.