Too many athletes are spending way too much time fighting with food thoughts: Do I eat? Don’t I eat? Am I hungry—or just bored?.
They report feeling anxious, self-critical, and sometimes a bit out of control of their desired sports diet. When life feels out of control, athletes commonly try to control other things, such as food, exercise, and weight. Some may be striving to chisel themselves into a perfect body (no excess body fat) and eat an ideal diet (no fun foods).
Unfortunately, the same dedication and discipline that help them be top athletes are the same traits that foster eating disorders. For example, perfectionism is common to athletes. (How else could figure skaters or gymnasts rise to the elite level without demanding perfection from themselves?) Unfortunately, some of those perfectionistic athletes end up with food issues, such as anorexia or bulimia.
This article offers tips for how to manage food that has power over you, how to make friends with that (imperfect) body you see in the mirror, and what to do if eating gets out of control.
When Food Has Power Over You
If you are spending too much time trying not to eat ____ (fill in the blank: cookies, cheese, ice cream, chips?) because you can’t eat just one serving, think again. Depriving yourself of your favorite foods makes them even more enticing. They can needlessly become too powerful. To take power away from “binge food,” you need to eat it more often. (Trust me!) Here’s the analogy:
Pretend you are caring for a four-year-old boy. You take him into a room filled with toys and tell him he can play with all of the toys except for the green truck. You leave the room and then look through the two-way mirror. What is he playing with? The green truck, of course! The same analogy holds true with food.
If you give yourself permission to eat, let’s say, some Oreos every day, after a few days, you’ll either have little interest in yet-another Oreo. This is (because other foods actually make you feel better) or you will be able to eat just one Oreo; it will no longer have power over you. Yes, to gain control over foods that have power over you, you must allow the food back into your life and eat it more often. Be curious; give it a try?
When The Mirror Makes You Feel Sad
Are you spending too much time critically evaluating your body in the mirror? Or hating what you see in the Zoom meet-up? Please, just, stop the body-hatred talk. Few humans have a perfect body. The imperfections you see are perfectly beautiful and acceptable.
Instead of being self-critical, be grateful that you are healthy. Thankful that you have two strong legs that help you be a good runner. Thankful that you have two hands that help you play softball or baseball. You could even apologize to your body for having tortured it with skimpy diets and excessive exercise in your efforts to control how it looks.
Rather than focus on how your body looks, turn your attention to how your body feels throughout the day, particularly before, during, and after exercise. Does your body feel hungry? tired? sore? Respond appropriately to that feeling by nourishing it with food, rest, a warm bath. Daily killer workouts that feel like punishment for having excess body fat inevitably end up with the athlete being injured and depressed.
Now is a good time to practice looking in the mirror and saying nice things about your body, such as, “I have pretty blue eyes.” “I like my silky hair.” “I have strong legs.” You can intentionally pay less attention to the crooked teeth, frizzy hair, and “too big” tummy. Do you really think others care about that stuff?
Note: For more information on making peace with your body, visit RealFoodWholeLife.com, JessieHaggerty.com, and listen to Julie Duffy Dilllon’s podcast Love, Food.
When Mindless Eating Gets Out Of Control
If you find yourself grazing on snacks incessantly and have fears about getting fat, try scheduling regular meals and snacks. Also give yourself permission to eat enough breakfast and lunch, so that you are fully satiated. Don’t stop eating those meals just because you think you should but rather because you actually have had enough to eat. Athletes who graze all day rarely feel fully fed.
Hunger is a physiological request for fuel. Hunger does not mean “Oh no, I’m going to eat and get fat. Rather, hunger is your body’s way of saying it has burned off what you fed it and now needs more fuel. Yes, food is fuel, not the fattening enemy. Honor hunger.
Another way to bring control to your eating is to eat only when 1) you are sitting in a specific place (kitchen table?), 2) the food is on a plate, and 3) you are tasting it mindfully. (I.e., you are not standing in front of the open cupboard, wolfing down handfuls of chocolate chips.)
My hope is the above tips will help you find peace with food and your body.