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  • Writer's pictureIan Hyde-Lay

Breakfast of Champions

Praise, a confidant tells me, is the breakfast of champions.

Now I like a heaping plate of praise just as much as the next person, even though a good number of people are by nature a tad on the lazy side and require the stick, not a carrot. But if praise will do the trick, well that’s just fine and dandy.

What isn’t so dandy, in fact what gets my dander up, is the daily dining ritual of an old friend. Though she is a fine athlete, it has fussy stamped all over it. Pills for this, that and goodness knows what else decorate the kitchen countertop. A red and yellow one laid out in front of the rest, flag bearer for a regiment of vitamins. Grapefruit sections shorn of their skin, granola measured to the ounce. A morning washed down or topped off by wheat grass juice and quinoa biscuits.

The rest of her day’s fare is equally unappealing.

Searching for some perceived extra edge, she indulges in further extremes of culinary craziness. Who would otherwise produce pre-wrapped cheese from a satchel, smack on the stroke of 10 each morning? Then, lovingly unwrap said cheese, eye it reverently, re-measure it, pop it down the hatch. Wonderful perhaps for one’s psyche, but surely lacking the satisfactory smack of a chocolate chip cookie.

At 11am, the above ritual is repeated. This time an egg white. Then, come midday, a glass of something strawberry, promisingly margarita-like in texture, alas decidedly sour in taste. Yet, reportedly, good for the soul.

The afternoon features celery sticks or apple slices, each again wrapped individually. Another blast of the smoothie concoction spot on 3pm, before dinner a few hours later – a small, salmon fillet, a few organically grown vegetables, a cup of mineral water.

No wonder she looks a tad undernourished. Haggard even.

She also looks unhappy.

Years ago, a medical man named Steven Bratman writes a book. My friend needs to read it. First published in 2004, it is titled “Health Food Junkies: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating”.

Bratman informs us that for years he suffered from a dire case of ‘orthorexia nervosa” – ortho meaning straight, correct and true, nervosa to indicate obsession. A serious chunk of his life becomes devoted to planning, purchasing, preparing and eating meals.

Eventually, after his weight fluctuates wildly, after his energy levels lift but then swoon alarmingly, the good doctor finally sheds the healthy food phobia. No more “righteous eating” for him. He conquers the feelings of contamination that send him spiraling downward, all the result of munching any food “not on the list.” Likewise, he refuses to remain consumed by food he can’t consume.

In its own twisted way, sport has gone seriously orthorexic in the past two decades. Performers, especially professionals, eat, train, sleep, eat, train, sleep. Then eat, train, and sleep some more, in a numbing, seemingly never-ending loop. Cheat meals are taboo. Instead, calorie loading or calorie counts, supplements, minerals, oatmeal, fish, lentils, veggies, protein shakes are the language of the trade. Unswerving dedication to one’s well-being and achievement remains paramount. Even if tedious and dull.

The healthy eating fetish has other ripple effects as well. Training must be pursued with the same rigid compulsion. It is anathema to skip even a single strength and conditioning session, hill climb, VO2 max workout, Bronco test or repeat shuttle pyramid. Not acceptable to dodge miles on the treadmill, the track, on the water or in the pool. An absolute fixation with fitness and physical development is vital.

However, herein lies the dilemma. Sport, like life itself, is not “ortho.” It is rarely, if ever, straight, correct and true. Rather, it is chaotic, messy and loose. Athletes, coaches, and officials are human. Mistakes happen, errors occur, intensity wanes. Balls are fumbled or overthrown, dribbles lost. Kicks skew sideways. Calls are blown. Planning goes awry. Concentration and decision-making falter. Players sometimes lose control, punch and stamp, elbow and knee.

And so, I fear for the orthorexics, bedeviled by order, cast-iron structure and kale chips. Because flexibility is vital. Give me gastronomic free spirits any day – those not constipated by berries and beans, fruits and nuts, purees and low cholesterol. To those, by extension, not bound slavishly to rigid game plans, nor tied inexorably to practice schedules and regulations above all else.

This being the case, breakfast will highlight cereal, eggs bathed in hollandaise sauce, rashers of crispy bacon and fried tomatoes. Plenty of sausages. Stacks of pancakes, swimming in syrup. Slices of white toast, bagels smothered in cream cheese, thick pads of freshly churned butter. Dark, strong coffee with several dollops of cream.

These people will understand and embrace impurity. And so, enjoy themselves. Attack the day with a smile on their face, project a lightness of spirit. Adapt as needed to disarray.

They will succeed splendidly. Bratman will nod approvingly.

And praise will abound.


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