Is weight simply a matter of willpower? You might think so, given the number of dieters who add on exercise, subtract food, and expect excess fat to melt away. But it does not always happen that way. Older athletes notice the fat that creeps on year after year seems harder to lose. And others who have slimmed down complain how easily they regain lost body fat.
The Endocrine Society (www.EndocineSociety.org) took a close look at why we can too easily accumulate excess body fat, as well as why it’s so easy for dieters to regain lost fat. (1) They describe fat-gain as a disorder of the body’s energy balance system, not just a passive accumulation of excess calories. They highlight many factors other than food and exercise that influence body fatness, including genetics, the environment, and evolution. Continue Reading
Are you good enough? If you listen to the voice that rattles around in your brain and constantly reminds you that you are inadequate, too fat, too slow, and too dumb, you will never be good enough. For some competitive athletes, their drive to be not just good enough, but perfect (perfectly lean, a perfect student, a perfect employee, and of course, a perfect athlete) can drive them crazy, if not drive them into an eating disorder. At what cost will you achieve perfection, including having the perfect body? At what point will you become unhappy enough to seek help?
Speaking at the MEDA (Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association) Annual Breakfast on Nov 2, 2017, Kate Ekman, a plus-size model (that’s all of size 6, mind you) talked about her struggles to rise above her “I’m not good enough” voices. She heard that message from not only herself but also from many others in the fashion industry.
Today, Kate has overcome those negative thoughts and she reminds us that we can be happier letting go of perfection and instead striving to be “good enough.” We can spend our lives comparing ourselves to others and always come up short—to compare is to despair—or we can start each day by saying “thank you” to our bodies.
Your body is the home to your heart, your soul, your brain and all the wonderful things your friends truly like about you. Your friends don’t care if your hair looks great, or if you look phenomenal in a dress. That’s not why they like you. Your appearance does not determine your self-worth. An imperfect body is perfectly OK.
As a sports dietitian, I spend way too many hours helping athletes take better care of their bodies. I remind them: there is no proof the thinnest athlete is the best athlete. The best athlete is genetically gifted, well trained, well rested, and well fueled. The thinnest athlete commonly sits on the bench, injured again.
If you struggle to find the perfect balance of food, exercise and weight, please check out www.MEDAinc.org — and well as the books, excellent podcasts, and information at www.EDcatalogue.com. As Beth Meyer, executive director of MEDA, Inc. says, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up every day and not have food or your body make decisions for you?” Your body is indeed perfectly good enough the way it is. Enjoy the day!
Athletes get hungry. Sometimes they need to devour very large portions to satisfy their appetite. Sometimes they binge eat in a way that feels out of control. There’s little doubt that dieting athletes who deny themselves of their favorite foods can easily end up “eating the whole thing.” Emotions also contribute to binges; smothering your feelings with ice cream and chocolate sauce can quickly distract you from pain and sorrow. Fatigue plays a role as well; a tired brain is unlikely to make smart food choices.
If you find yourself routinely binge eating, you want to work with a registered dietitian (RD) who can help you find peace with food. Put aside your shame and embarrassment (RDs have heard this all before), and use the referral network at www. SCAN dpg.org to find a local sports dietitian. This health professional can help you stabilize your eating so you will enjoy better sports performance as well as sanity and less time thinking about food.
If you want to try to resolve binges on your own, here are a few tips gleaned from the book Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It by Rachael Rose Steil.
• Keep notes about your binges. Write down some of the reasons for your binge. Are they emotional? Psychological? Physical (due to extreme hunger)?
• Have you ever tried to find a “cure” for your binge eating? Make a list of everything you have tried. How well did it work?
• If you are binge eating “quality foods” that are nutrient-rich, your body is probably hungry and needs fuel. Give yourself permission to eat these foods—and enough of them to resolve hunger. Don’t stop eating just because you “think you should.”
• Think about a food you desperately wanted but didn’t allow yourself to eat. Could you have enjoyed a small amount of that food when you first craved it—and then observed how it made you feel? (Maybe that donut wasn’t as wonderful as you had thought?)
• Is your “perfect diet” contributing to food obsessions? Write down your fears about eating certain foods? Separate fears from facts.
• Draw a horizontal line and write binge eating on the far left and restricting on the far right. Where do you think you are along this spectrum? How close are you to the middle (eating in a balanced way)? What can you do to work towards that happy medium?
• What would your life look like without thinking about and obsessing over food? Is your binge-eating life consuming? Is your drive for eating a perfect diet actually taking you down the path to self-destruction?
• Write down what you learn from each binge. The binge is not a failure but rather an event you can use as means to better understand yourself and your body, and to move forward.
With best wishes for finding peace with food,
“I religiously track my food and exercise. I’m eating 1,300 calories (the number my tracker told me to eat if I want to lose 2 pounds a week). I’ve been following a strict diet and the scale hasn’t budged. My friends tell me I am eating too little. I think I must be eating too much because I am not losing weight. I feel so confused… What am I doing wrong?”
I often hear this complaint from weight conscious people who don’t know if they are eating too much or too little. They believe fat loss is mathematical. Exercising 500 calories more, or eating 500 calories less, per day will result in losing 1 pound (3,500 calories) of fat per week, correct? Not always. Weight reduction is not as mathematical as we would like it to be. Continue Reading
In this era of highly competitive sports, more and more runners, cyclists, soccer players and other serious athletes are eagerly seeking information on how to fuel optimally. Performance nutrition is also of interest to Marines, special operations troops such as the Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) teams, and others in the military who need to perform at a very high level to both survive and to carry out their missions. Hence, effective fueling practices are a topic of great interest and research for the US Armed Forces.
At this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (the nation’s largest group of sports medicine professionals, exercise scientists, and sports nutrition researchers; www.acsm.org), civilian as well as military exercise scientists presented the results of their recent nutrition research, some of which I have highlighted below. This information might be of interest to you, whether you are a competitive athlete or soldier who trains for hours in the summer heat, winter cold, at high altitude, or for in preparation for a strenuous event—be it a military mission, Ironman triathlon, or an adventure race. Regardless of your reason for exercising, fueling your body wisely and well can greatly impact your ability to perform optimally today as well as invest in your future health and well-being.
Highlights of research on nutrition for military performance:
The question now arises: Can athletes who eat a high quality diet with leucine-rich food (meat, fish, chicken, cheese, whey) + probiotic-supporting fiber-rich food (vegetables, fruit whole grains) reap the same benefits? Sounds like a winning combination to me!
When compared by sex, the men, understandably, tended to have less body fat—except when compared to the best performing women. The amount of the male or female marines’ muscle-mass determined athletic performance more so than their body fatness. The best-performing men and women in groups one and two had significantly more muscle than the men and women in group three. The researchers concluded that muscle mass may have a stronger association with performance during strength, aerobic, and anaerobic tests than does percent body fat. This is a good example of how the leanest athlete is not inherently the best athlete. For some athletes, building more muscle might be more important than losing body fat.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she counsels both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes, teaching them how to eat to win. Her popular Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com, as well as information about her online workshop and teaching materials.
Peanut butter (PB) is a popular sports food that is not only yummy but also health-promoting. I routinely choose to enjoy two (!) PB sandwiches a day: one for lunch and the other to curb late-afternoon hunger.
If you try to stay away from peanut butter because it is fattening or too fatty, think again and keep reading (as long as you are not allergic to peanuts, that is). The purpose of this article is to educate you about the value of PB in a diet for sports-active people of ages and athletic abilities—as well as their parents and grandparents. Continue Reading
“Yea, I stopped getting my period!!! That means I’m training really hard and am finally thin enough. “
“Yea, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that monthly hassle any more.”
“Yea, now I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant!”
Freedom from monthly menstrual periods has historically brought pride and pleasure to many female athletes. That is, until they experience infertility when they do want to get pregnant. To their misfortune, many of the same women who were very content having abnormally functioning bodies are now in a state of grief. Continue Reading
When we met for our nutrition appointment, you said that I need about 2,400 calories a day — including exercise — to maintain my weight. If I burn off about 400 calories a day with exercise, does that mean I should eat 2,000 calories on days I do not exercise? Continue Reading
Is diet soda really bad for me? … Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? … Which is healthier: to put sugar or Sweet ‘n Low in my iced tea?
Many athletes ask me many questions about diet soda and artificial sweeteners. They feel guilty about eating sugar, but they love sweet foods. If that sounds familiar, you can stop the guilt! We are born with an innate preference for sweet foods (including all-natural breast milk). All living species —apart from cats— are attracted to sweets. (Yes, my dog loves blueberries!) Hungry athletes, in particular, tend to enjoy sweet stuff a lot! While little is wrong with 100 to 200 calories of sugar a day, some athletes enjoy way too many sugar-laden foods, including soda. Continue Reading