Traditional families are used to enjoying a hearty breakfast, lunch (at noon), and supper (at night). And when women entered the workforce, eating patterns changed and we started eating lighter breakfasts and lunches, with bigger family-focused dinners.
Fast forward to 2021, youth sports and life’s busyness totally disrupt dinner times. Structured meals get lost in the shuffle.
As a result, many athletes are feeling confused and/or uneasy about how they are eating:
“On weekends, I sleep until 11:00 a.m. Should I eat breakfast—or lunch—when I get up?”
“I tend to graze instead of eat meals. Seems like I am hungry all the time…”
“My eating habits are weird. How should I be eating—what is “normal” eating?”
The goal here is to remind you how to eat “like you did as a young child —not diet, not eat “clean”, not judge food as being good or bad, not starve and binge. But to enjoy food as one of life’s pleasures, as well as fuel for your active lifestyle.
I turn to authority Ellyn Satter, author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Here’s what she has to say:
Teenager eating healthy lunch with friends in school lunchroom
What Is Normal Eating?
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose the food you like, eat it, and truly get enough of it—not stopping eating just because you think you should.
That is, did you stop eating breakfast today because the oatmeal in your bowl was all gone? Or were you truly satiated? At the end of lunch, did you stop at your one-sandwich allotment, even though you wanted more?
If you are “feeling hungry all the time,” you likely ARE hungry; your body is requesting more fuel. Trust it. You’ll end up eating more sooner or later, so please honor that hunger and eat more now.
Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
That is, have you put yourself in a food jail and banned “fun foods” like cookies, cupcakes, and chips out of fear of over-eating them? Ideally, your daily food intake includes 85 to 90 percent quality foods, with 10 to 15 percent fun foods, as desired.
You Don’t Need To Eat A Perfect Diet to Have An Excellent Diet
Normal eating is permitting yourself to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good.
One bowl of ice cream will not ruin your waistline nor your health forever. That said, routinely overindulging in ice cream as a means to distract yourself from life’s pain will not solve any problem.
Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
Most athletes require fuel at least every 3 to 4 hours. If you stop eating because you think you should, not because you are satiated, you will feel the urge to graze. Solutions for undesired grazing:
- Eat the rest of your breakfast calories for a mid-morning snack
- Eat an earlier lunch
- Give yourself permission to eat enough food at breakfast.
Living hungry all the time puts a damper on your quality of life, it impairs athletic performance.
Normal eating is leaving cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
Denying yourself permission to enjoy a few cookies boosts the urge to eat the whole plateful. I call that “last chance eating.” You know, “last chance to have cookies because tomorrow I am back on my cookie-free diet.” Depriving yourself of cookies leads to binge-eating. Try planning forbidden foods every day. They will soon lose their power.
Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
Yes, even normal eaters overeat. It’s normal to have too much birthday cake, too much Sunday Brunch, too much ice cream. When competent eaters overeat, they listen to their body’s signals – and notice they take longer to get hungry again. That is, if you have a hearty brunch, you will be less hungry that evening.
Trust Your Body
Hunger is your body’s way of telling you it has burned off what you gave it, and now it is ready for more fuel.
Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
If you are spending 90 percent of your time thinking about food, you are likely hungry all the time. If you eat until you are satisfied, you will stop incessantly thinking about food. That said, food thoughts can be a way to distract yourself from stuff you don’t want to think about. In that case, talking with a counselor might be helpful. Smothering your feelings with chocolate will not solve any of your problems.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, schedule, proximity to food, and feelings.
Many athletes rigidly eat the same foods daily. A sports nutritionist can help add variety (more nutrients), flexibility, and more joy. Food should be one of life’s pleasures, in training or not. To find your local sports nutritionist, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), use the referral network at www.EatRight.org.