By Bob Seebohar
I have the pleasure to be able to provide sports nutrition services to athletes of all ages, abilities and sizes, and I find great satisfaction in doing this, especially since I too am a triathlete. What is interesting is that in the 10 years I have been a Registered Dietitian, the same challenges surface from athlete to athlete. These challenges are the emotional connections to food that we have. Some are positive, some can be mentally destroying.
The relationship that we have with food is very powerful. It can send us into a downward spiral and cause weight gain, or it can create a very empowering environment around us. To start on what I call the “normal eating” path, it is important to first acknowledge why you eat certain foods at certain times. Many athletes will reach to high sugar or salt containing foods when they are triggered to do so. These triggers often include stress, boredom, fatigue, sitting in front of the television or computer, or even happiness and celebration. If you ask yourself why you are choosing these foods, it can help you develop a better relationship with food and allow you to break from mindless eating.
Understanding the why behind what you eat when a certain emotional trigger presents itself is just the beginning. Becoming more of a normal eater is a process and one that you must practice each day. As you embark on this journey, do not get down on yourself if you succumb to emotional eating. It is a normal part of being human. However, use that opportunity to explore the situation that prompted you to eat out of emotions and most importantly, what happens after you eat this emotionally driven food? Are you able to stabilize again and follow your normal daily nutrition plan again or does that one emotional eating episode derail you into a downward spiral of which you cannot get out?
Quite often, I ask the athletes with whom I work with to do emotional inventories. That is, when an emotional eating situation presents itself, write down what is happening at that very moment and how you feel. It’s like using a GPS or a power measuring device for training: you are collecting data so you can analyze it later and make yourself better.
Keep these tidbits in mind as you learn to become a more normal eater:
- Normal eating is being able to eat when you are hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied.
- Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint in your food selection to get the right food, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasurable foods.
- Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.
- It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so good when they are fresh.
- Normal eating is overeating sometimes and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. It is also under-eating at times and wishing you had more.
- Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
- Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area in your life.
- In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your emotions, your schedule, your hunger, and your proximity to food.
Trust yourself and spend some time teaching yourself to become a normal eater once again!
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a Sport Dietitian, USAT Level III Elite Coach, USAT Youth and Junior Coach and an exercise physiologist. He was on the coaching team of Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist, and was the head coach of Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympic triathlete, and Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion. Bob was previously a sport dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the 2008 Olympic triathlon team. Bob has worked with hundreds of age-group triathletes and professionals to help them lose weight and body fat while optimizing performance through nutrition periodization and metabolic efficiency. Bob recently published a Metabolic Efficiency Recipe book with over 100 recipes that provides athletes even more options to follow metabolic efficiency training. Visit www.fuel4mance.com for more information.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.