The Penguin Chronicles: The Oreo Conundrum

Sometimes an Oreo is just an Oreo and it shouldn’t be so complicated.

I knew exactly what was going to happen hours before it did. I didn’t need a crystal ball or a psychic. I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep until I ate the Oreos.

The nice folks at the Hampton Inn in Austin, Texas, left a package of six Oreos in my room as a welcome gift. For a normal person, six Oreos probably wouldn’t command much attention. For me, six Oreos equaled a bag of gold.

I often hear elite athletes and sports nutritionists advise new athletes to listen to their bodies, that their newly minted athletic bodies will know what they need to be strong and fit. Some say cravings are like a nutritional barometer.

Tell me why, then, does my body still crave potato chips and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer? And Oreos?

Before I became a runner—the first 43 years of my life—food was the center of my life. Motorcycle rides were breakfast rides. Professional meetings were lunch meetings. Seeing a movie meant eating. Recreation was eating. Socializing was eating.

Now I know that food is fuel, but back then food was love, comfort, a companion. Food got me through the rough times in my life. It was convenient and it was cheaper than therapy.

Once, before I started running, I tried a low-carbohydrate diet, eliminating pastas and breads that I loved to eat. Imagine my joy when I started running and was told that I had to eat a high carbohydrate diet. I had to carbo load.

I missed the fine print that said that people who run as slow I as I did aren’t really burning that many carbs, so the mountain of pasta I ate the night before a marathon wasn’t really doing me any good.

Nutrition advice tends to go in giant circles. Fat is bad. Good fat is good. Carbs are bad. Good carbs are good. You need protein, but only certain kinds of protein. And now, you should be eating organic, free-range, fair-trade, ethically grown, gluten- and peanut-free food. It’s a lot to remember when what you really want is just a cheeseburger.

I developed my own nutrition plan and it’s pretty simple. I can eat what I want. I just can’t eat as much of what I want whenever I want to eat it. I’m not going to go the rest of my life without eating a food that I’ve liked for 60 years. But I also understand that what my grandmother considered a serving of pasta is probably enough for a family of four.

So I’m going to be careful, but not a fanatic. I’m going to make better choices as often as I can. I’m going to move as much as I can, eat as much as I need, and enjoy the benefits that come from both.

However, at the end of a long day, sitting alone at a Hampton Inn in Austin, I’m going to brew a cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair, put my feet up and enjoy the Oreos. Sometimes an Oreo is just an Oreo and it shouldn’t be so complicated.

This column first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 


About The Author:

John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at


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