January 9, 2001 (

Think about this: Every day what you eat, where you eat and with whom you eat offers you an array of choices. You can choose good fuel or bad fuel, you can improve your body, you can improve your social life. The hard part isn't necessarily making the choices—it's finding a balance among the choices.

After 29 years of trying to figure out exactly why most people want ALL of their food to taste good, I’ve come up with a few theories. It’s a complicated issue—a choice between the pleasures of the table and the need for good fuel to power our lives as athletes.

For many people the sensual pleasure of eating may be their only sensual pleasure of the day. Without great taste sensations, the pleasure centers in their brains don’t get a hit. This is obvious to those who work with food addicts and chronic overeaters. For those of us athletes who don’t give overweight people too much sympathy, recognizing this real and deep-seated need for pleasure should make us a bit more empathetic. After all, we know we need our own "fix" of endorphins.

What I think we have a hard time understanding is why people who live to eat can’t get out and be more active—and then live to eat, if that's what they want to do. We tend to call fat people lazy and other derogatory names because of the way they go about getting some pleasure. In fact, though, we all love to do exactly what they’re doing—but we can’t live with the results of such behavior.

So, some sensible advice for overeaters would be to go find pleasure from other sources—whatever it might be in their own lives that makes them happy. Another bit of useful advice for overeaters comes from Miss Piggy: "Never eat more than you can lift."

As athletes, our relationship with food is a little different. We fuel ourselves with certain things because we want to perform well and look better, too. Our aesthetic ideal is that of a very lean, perhaps even "ripped," physique. Most non-athletes see this view as obsessive and accept a softer physique as more desirable. This difference in the way we view our bodies and our relationship with food can be better understood if we imagine ourselves as cars. (Bear with me here.) Most people want what they eat, their fuel, to taste good. But we athletes want a car that performs! Goes fast! Is fun to drive! Looks GREAT! Who gives a crap about what the friggin’ fuel tastes like!?!

Speaking of cars, the next time you enviously eye some fat cat cruising around in a nice Porsche or Ferrari, just remember that he’s trying to feel, driving around, the kind of pleasure you feel as a fit, lean racing machine. And if a fit, lean athlete is driving that Porsche, he probably owns it only so he can get home sooner to work out.

The other thing I’ve come to realize about wanting to eat good-tasting food is the natural tie to the social aspect of eating. Just whipping up a smoothie and wolfing it down hardly provides the time or setting for a bit of social interaction, does it? How about a little romance? Out of the question, isn’t it?

Well…unless you pour it all over your partner and slurp it off.

We all have the need to commune at meal times. It’s just that nowadays time is short and sitting down to a meal that takes over 30 minutes means another workout could have been done instead. My wife and I argue about this at least once a week. Sitting in chairs also aggravates my back, so I’m always a bit reluctant to spend an evening socializing just for the company, as opposed to celebrating an occasion or something like that. I’d rather socialize on a group ride.

I also hate spending my hard-earned cash on "nouveau" cuisine. Overpriced, skimpy meals that take 30 minutes to arrive because the owner of the place is expecting you to line his pockets by buying another over-priced, skimpy glass of wine are something I can live without. Could get a massage for the same time and price and probably get the same amount of calories.

That’s the conundrum we face—how to balance our human desire for the pleasure of some socialization and a good meal with our athletic goals. If you’re struggling with it, then take it from one who feels he has been winning the battle for the most part for 20 years. It’s worth the struggle.