The topic of food always comes up when people think of health and fitness–and especially running. And for good reason. Our food is our fuel. I am not a nutritionist, but I did grow up with a healthy diet, and I have knowledge of good nutrition and what makes my body feel good. Notice I said my because nutrition can be a personal thing. For example I hate cheese and I always have. For others, this might be a staple, so ENJOY IT! I tend to eat sweets almost daily, but for others, dessert is a once-a-week treat. Whatever works and makes you feel good is the food bible I go by.
Here’s my two cents on food: enjoy it and don’t overthink it. What?! Yeah. It’s that simple.
However, for me, there was a time when it wasn’t that simple. Back when I was a senior in high school, and I had big competitive dreams, I started to observe what really fast runners were doing. I began to notice that there were some local girls and state meet champs who dropped a lot of weight and got really fast. hmmm I thought. Intriguing notion. So all I have to do is drop a few pounds and get fast? That sounds simple enough. I didn’t bother my senior year because I was injured and had already committed to my college. But my freshman year of college, I was suddenly a little fish in a pond of a lot of fast fish, so I needed to figure out how to keep up (literally). I noticed the other 9th grade recruit dropped close to 50 pounds and was dominating the Pac 10. We were friends, and I didn’t know (until retrospectively) that she had an eating disorder. I started doing what she was doing–eating eggs whites for breakfast, chicken and salad for lunch, and something similar for dinner. And what happened? I lost probably 15-20 pounds and I got fast. I was flying at workouts. But what else happened? Well, I got stress fractures, all I thought about was food, I drank coffee around the clock to feed my hunger, and I was not happy. I lost my sense of humor, was not fun to be around, and was dictated by what I ate (or didn’t). Ugh! I still can’t believe I went down that path, and I feel for any girls who go through that experience. It’s not fun and also counterproductive on many levels. It took a few years for my metabolism to even out (obsessing over food, I later learned, make your body yo-yo between high and low weights) before I got back to my healthy body weight. In high school I was a healthy 5’7″ and 125, and today I’m a healthy 5’7″ and 125. Granted I don’t ever weigh myself–only when I go to the doctor, but that’s what I always am, give or take a couple pounds, so it seems that it’s my body’s healthiest fighting weight
So, bringing it back full circle. What I wish someone would have told me back then is “don’t obsess over food at all!” It’s just going to mess with your system and won’t allow your body to be its healthiest. When I was obsessing over what I ate, it’s all I thought about, and let me tell you, that is NOT fun. You’re just bound to spend your life fluctuating between a low weight (when you are really disciplined and punishing yourself) and high weight (when you just give in and eat everything in sight). This is why I don’t personally eliminate anything from my diet (except cheese because it tastes like mold ;-). I eat it all–bread, ice cream, butter, candy, meat. Everything. And, I don’t think twice about what I put in my body. This isn’t to say I don’t eat healthy. I DO! Every meal I have includes protein, heavy on the greens, and maybe something sweet. I just don’t think about it. It’s equivalent to driving to work. It just becomes your regular habit.
My other tips:
-Fill your home with healthy food. You’ll eat what’s available.
-Start your day off with protein, healthy fats, and greens. It’s a great jumpstart and protein keeps you satiated. I eat a breakfast burrito with two eggs, spinach, avocado, and yummy spices every day. Literally EVERY day. It’s become as normal for me as brushing my teeth.
-Eat REAL food. No fake stuff. Eat real sugar, whole milk, real butter, real bread, REAL. This is what humans were intended to consume. No powders, shakes, mixes, capsules, or magic. You’ll find that when you eat real stuff you don’t crave as much sugar and carbs
-Eat what you want. If you want a croissant, eat it. It’s when you start overthinking things and feeling guilty when it’s a real problem
-Listen to your body. If you are hungry, eat. Don’t starve yourself all day and spend the evening binging on junk.
-Eat GLUTEN! Gluten is good. Fresh, warm, delicious BREAD! Pizza! Pasta! Mmmm I mean, I don’t know a lot of the science about this and that, but honestly, I don’t think it’s evil (unless you have some kind of serious allergy). Want a sandwich? Fill it with good protein and lots of veggies. Want pizza? Pile it with yummy veggie and protein toppings. Want pasta? Make your own veggie-filled sauce and homemade meatballs, too!
-You can’t have too many veggies. Find a way to add them to each meal. You can get super creative. The fiber keeps you full and your body and mind happy. Only warning: don’t eat too many veggies before a race or hard workout. It’s the one time you don’t want your system to be too active 😉
That’s pretty much it! For me it’s about eating balanced and healthy for 90% of my diet. Anything more than that, and it’s just not fun! It’s all about routinely eating balanced, not overthinking it, and learning what works for you.
Now go enjoy real, good FOOD!