Before I began this MH Staff Challenge, I never really ate breakfast. Or lunch. Coffee got me out of the house, onto the train, into the office, just fine. More coffee got me through to lunchtime, even more got me through the afternoon. What kind of coffee, from where, this is what I thought about. What kind of grounds, how much water, how hot, with milk or without. This was my focus. This was food.
You drink enough coffee, you start shaking. You start twitching, in your neck. In your brain. You go from one thought to another, back and forward, in a mad racing heartbeat, lights flickering on and off, talking fast and crazy like a paranoid schizophrenic. Seeing things. Imagining things, like this is good or healthy. Like this is okay, or that it works. This was my delusion. This was my drug.
I used to eat because it was trendy. Supper consisted of meat, butter, fat, all together in one big greasy bowl. Coconut cream, pasture-reared bacon, straight out of the Banting textbook. Like a Tim Noakes acolyte, like a Paleo wet dream. I made rice, mash, everything, out of cauliflower. I made pasta, noodles, a ton of it, from a thousand baby marrows. Lasagna from aubergines. Cookies from flaxseeds. I was obsessed, possessed. Deluded.
My meal plan was a formula. I’d fill in the cells, table the results, repeat weekly. My grocery lists have always been impeccable. Substitute x for y, find the average, collate. Carry over nothing. Meals for supper were always a simple equation: fat plus protein equals problem solved. Leftovers mean you’re doing it wrong. When you think about food like this, it’s a bullet point on a checklist. A calculation of convenience. A recipe for disaster.
What boxing training has taught me about food is, it’s not a toy. Play with it, and it’ll hurt you.
I used to eat as an afterthought, but boxing training has a way of reorganising your priorities. Sessions at 6am, getting home at 6pm, either ends are bottomless pits without food. The day is an endless road to nowhere, eyes closing, limbs aching, without eating. Coffee doesn’t do it, not even when it’s Bulletproof. Boxing training has a way of rewriting your intentions, no matter how convenient they might be. This is my focus now. This is hunger.
With all the boxing training I’ve been doing, eating is an instinct. A reaction to a burning need. Walking into the office after training with Sanchia, this is the kind of hunger that overrides any kind of plan, no matter how obsessive. One sparring session with Clever is enough to end all notions of getting by on coffee. This suffocating weakness deep in my core, this is what food is for. This particular pattern of pain, this is why I eat now.
There’s an art to eating in a way that suits your body. A meal plan isn’t science, or mathematics. It’s not about the mind, it’s something you have to feel. You can work the numbers, subtracting here, adding there, like it’ll all come together in one big perfect prescription, but it won’t. Not until you know what it’s like to need something, between your teeth, inside your bones, right now. Not until you know what it’s like to burn from the inside out.
There’s no plan for desperate hunger. It’s a reflex, to take whatever is in front of you and get it down. No matter how unfashionable or labour-intensive it is, when you’re this hungry, this much in need, it’s all good for you. Hold back, because it’s not low-carb or grass-fed or gluten-free or full-fat or fair trade or packed with caffeine, and you’ll suffer. Not just from hunger, or exhaustion, or falling over in the ring, but pain. The pain of a body in need.
What I’ve learnt about eating is, it’s not a game. Treat it like a code to crack, and it’ll kill you.
Arthur, the fitness guru here at Men’s Health, tells me not to stress about what I eat. With all the training I’ve been doing, “you can probably put anything into that furnace right now,” he says. Steve, founder of The Armoury, says boxing training is such an all-round regimen that my diet shouldn’t even matter. And Sanchia, my personal trainer, likes to say, “Forget the protein bars. Just eat eggs.”
I do a lot of cooking now, a lot of chopping and prepping and storing. None of it is convenient. Convenience is not the point. It’s not trendy, all the brown rice, all these lentils, all this roast chicken and low-fat yoghurt. All these eggs. Trendy is not the point. In Rocky Balboa, some guy asks Stallone, who now owns a restaurant, what’s good on the menu. Rocky says, “Ah, it’s all edible.” And this is the secret of eating for me now: the hunger is the point.
If it’s in front of me, I will eat it. In a flash. Without even noticing it. Because food is a necessity, a crucial support system. Not a fad, or a number in a spreadsheet, but an answer to this hunger. This tiredness. This need.
Just eat eggs. Scrambled, fried, it’s all edible. It’s all good for you.
Photo by Casey Bisson via Flickr