Can You Be An Athlete And An Intuitive Eater? Thoughts From a Sports Nutritionist, Part 2

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Written By: Lauren Weissman, Dietetic Intern

Reviewed By: Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN, RYT;  Intuitive Eating Sports Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher

In my last post on this topic, I discussed the concept of being an athlete AND an intuitive eater. It’s something that would seem like an impossibility based on the classic concept of sports nutrition; however, since recommendations in sports nutrition generally lead to very restrictive dietary habits, they tend to also be associated with athletes developing disordered relationships with food, something that intuitive eating is intended to heal.

So, as an athlete, how can each of the principles of intuitive eating apply to you?  There are 10 in total but let’s take a look at the first 5 …

1.  Reject the diet mentality: Regardless of whether you are an elite athlete, or just someone who likes to be active now and again, no one is sheltered from the influence of the diet and wellness industry.  It’s hard to go through the day without seeing an advertisement for Keto, paleo, WW, etc.  We live in a society OBSESSED with being thinner, better looking, healthier, and no one is immune.  Under-fueling, however, can affect athletes and active individuals in a much more radical way than the average person. While cutting back on a few calories here and there may not seem like that big of a deal, under fueling can lead to hormonal imbalances, bone loss, and even risk of cardiovascular event or stroke.

2. Honor Your Hunger: As we get older, we tend to assign” rules” to the way we eat.  “No eating before X time/ after X time… only eat every X hours… wait X amount of time after exercise to eat… eat within X amount of time after exercise…” When did we decide we wanted to make ourselves crazy looking at the clock and doing math all day just so we can eat?  If you want to eat something, eat it. Honor your hunger. It’s your body’s way of telling you what it needs. Now can our hormones, stress levels, lack of sleep impact our appetite? 100%. But denying your hunger isn’t going to help address the underlying issue. (we’ll talk more about this in a future post) 

3. Make Peace with Food: During exercise (and after for immediate replenishment) athletes need easily accessible energy that their body can use readily. This means eating one of the most vilified foods out there – sugar.  Sugar and other sources of simple carbohydrates can be an athlete’s best friend when it comes to game time performance so the mindset that sugar is bad or carbs make you fat (which is wrong anyway), should be rethought.

4. Challenge the Food Police: See principles 2 & 3. All of this work takes time. It’s not going to change overnight. So be patient with yourself and celebrate the small wins like recognizing the negative self-talk or “food rules” that can sneak up on you without you even being aware of it!

5. Respect Your Fullness: Here is where eating mindfully comes into play.  Because an athlete burns so many calories during their sport, it makes sense they would have a larger appetite than the average person.  Check in with yourself while you’re eating.  Ask yourself “how hungry/full am I on a scale of 1-10?” and stop when you feel comfortably full, not when your food scale or macro count tells you.

Take some time to digest (sorry for the pun) those and practice them.  See if you can catch yourself the next time the food police pop up and become curious as to where these “food rules” came from, why did they start, and how can we heal from them. Acknowledge them, question them, and then continue to do the work of honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness.  We’ll talk about principles 6-10 next time.  See you soon!

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