“Drinking is overly relied on for socializing,” Faraz Jaka proclaimed.
I read this statement on Twitter a year ago. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in my house, giving me Fedora-adorned advice. I replied, “Food is like that as well. It’d be awkward for me to call up my buddies and say, ‘hey, you guys want to go out and talk?’”
Today, I was having a discussion with a friend about how I recently lost twenty pounds in a month. We talked about how food is used to make social gatherings less awkward. People don't say, "Let’s go out and talk," but that's the primary goal of getting together when we go out for pizza or sushi even when we aren't especially hungry.
He agreed, saying, "Yeah, I can't remember any of my friends ever suggesting we meet up at the gym." That reminded me, "Now that I think about it, I just went for a hike with friends. We ate stir fry afterward... and maybe just a little ice cream." My friend laughed. "Nothing wrong with that. You had a strenuous day. The ice cream is fine after that. After all, life is about balance." That word "balance" stuck in my head and inspired this article.
Balance. That is a word we poker players know well. Last month, I wrote Don't Study Poker in an Ivory Tower Only to Play in the Gutter. It was about the folly of implementing GTO strategies in games where your opponents are prone to making frequent mistakes. You can do much better in these games by actively exploiting those mistakes instead of trying to be balanced.
The conversation with my friend made me realize that the same concept applies to those of us who are prone to frequent mistakes with our diets. I told him that balancing my workout and healthy meal with ice cream was an excellent way to stay balanced at my current weight. Balance is for skinny people who don’t want to get fat. I’m overweight with high blood pressure. I don’t need balance. I need to get out of line to tilt the scales in my favor. This line of thought illuminated several parallels between weight loss and the game of poker.
Diet Discipline is Like Poker Discipline
I recently saw one of the best definitions of the word “discipline” I’d ever come across. It is the ability to follow your own good advice.
We all know how to lose weight. We just have a hard time getting our inner fat kid to listen to our inner diet coach. Since so many of us have this problem, we just accept it like it’s no big deal. However, as self-respecting players, we would never go for this with regard to our poker games.
Each of us has an inner donkey as well as an inner poker coach. When we are playing our A-game, the poker coach suppresses the donkey within, and we do well. When we are tilted, the donkey runs the show and we fail, eventually running out of money. Not good. Allowing the fat kid within to ignore the diet coach and run the show is like being on permanent life tilt. Eventually, we will run out of days. Obviously, this is much worse than going busto.
So what leaks does the fat kid have and how can the diet coach plug them? This question is heavily dependent on the individual, so you’ll have to answer this for yourself. Here are some of mine.
Emotional Eating is Like Having Junky Ranges
I tend to eat junk food when things are going very well or very poorly. This is also known as emotional eating. If I win a tournament, I eat junk food to celebrate. Once, I won an online tournament at 3AM and immediately went to IHOP for Red Velvet Pancakes. If I lose in horrific fashion, I eat junk food to soothe the pain. On a poker trip with Andrew Brokos, I was deep in a tournament and bubbled shortly after making a stupid mistake. Hours later, I was nowhere to be found. Usually, tilted poker players can be found blowing money in the pit games, but Andrew didn’t bother looking for me there. He correctly figured that I was more likely to be at the gift shop buying Oreos.
This cycle of emotional eating is completely unhealthy for a tournament poker player because we constantly have extreme ups and downs. Maybe a balanced person can celebrate and console himself reasonably with junk food, but my inner fat boy can't. I’m a food fish. My diet coach within understands this and exploits that trait by going out for healthy things like my favorite fruit or things that don’t make me fat like a long drive with some great music.
This is similar to a poker coach forcing a student to stay away from the junky hands he loves to play. Emotionally eating junk food is like playing AJo UTG. It’s fun, but your poker coach knows it’s bad for you, especially if you have massive leaks in other areas. It’s better to be a nit until you understand the nuances of the game. That’s not fun, but people who have fun 100% of the time aren’t pros. They are recreational players. Pros fold AJo UTG and they don’t go out for pancakes every time they win a tournament.
Social Eating is Like Having a High VPIP
Another mistake my inner fat boy makes is having lunch with my friends even when I am not hungry. The WSOP has been described as summer camp for poker players. It is a time when we see our friends from around the globe and live together for weeks on end. With no parents around and pockets full of money, we are free to eat four meals a day at the plethora of Las Vegas buffets and restaurants, many of which are open 24 hours a day. I swear I have gone six straight weeks without ever feeling a hunger pang, but that never stopped me from accepting every invite.
My inner diet coach exploits this trait of social eating by replacing it with other social things. For example, I don't drink alcohol, so instead of food, I go out with my friends for drinks and have a diet soda. Instead of dinner, we can go register in a small stakes game and play crazy pots with each other for fun.
This is similar to a poker coach forcing a student with a high Voluntarily Put In Pot (VPIP) statistic to pass on some of the opportunities to speculate that arise. For example, it is a good idea to defend the big blind with a lot of hands when you are getting a great price, but some players go way too far with this. They never miss an opportunity to flick in another big blind or two even with the bottom of their ranges. “Everybody’s doing it! I can’t miss a family pot!” they say. Just like my inner fat boy can’t miss a family dinner buffet even though my Voluntarily Put In Mouth Publicly (VPIMP) statistic is off the charts.
Binge Eating is Like Going on Monkey Tilt
The worst mistake my inner fat boy makes is binge eating. This is often triggered when I try to balance good diet decisions with just a little bit of unhealthy food as I did with that post hike ice cream. That was an example of social eating, but my binges often being with emotional eating as well. Before I know it, my cravings spiral out of control for two weeks, and I gain twenty pounds before snapping out of it. The last binge I went on started with Thanksgiving ham and led to non-stop hamburgers until the New Year. My inner diet coach can easily exploit this mistake by avoiding these unhealthy foods choices altogether. If all else fails and I do get the urge to binge, I can try to mitigate the damage by binging on healthier foods like fruit and salads instead.
A poker coach can try to help you control your opening ranges and your VPIP statistic, but once you disobey him and get punished by the Poker Gods in a massive pot, all bets are off. This often leads to monkey tilt, and like binge eating, there isn’t much a coach can do for you at that point but tell you to quit. Of course, this works about as well as me trying to binge on fruit and salad. Yeah right.
Many of us poker players use social gatherings and the swingy nature of poker as excuses for making poor food choices. This is probably the most costly of all life leaks, but we are slow to improve because these leaks are more socially acceptable in our community than leaks in our poker games. To its credit, there is a trend in the poker community towards a healthier, more balanced lifestyle, but people like me need much more than that. We have so many massive diet leaks that we cannot afford to respond in a balanced way. Whether you are playing 100% of hands or eating 5,000 calories a day, you need more than a 10% correction to have a real impact on the problem. Large leaks are fixed by large adjustments in the opposite direction.
Do what needs to be done now to plug the leaks before it is too late. Once your inner fat kid is just as healthy and competent as your inner diet coach, then you can start thinking about balance. If you have discipline with your diet but struggle with it in poker or vice versa, hopefully by considering the parallels between the two you can use your strengths in one of these areas to shore up your weaknesses in the other.