Can You Be an Athlete and an Intuitive Eater? Thoughts From A Sports Nutritionist, Part 3

Written By: Lauren Weissman, Dietetic Intern

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

When I left you last, we had gone over intuitive eating principles 1-5 and I encouraged you to be curious and to work on incorporating them into your life.  Easier said than done, right?  Stick with it.  I promise, it will be worth it.

Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the principles 6-10…

6. Discover The Satisfaction Factor:  Ever have this experience: You’re craving a cookie but you don’t want to eat the cookie because you think it’s “bad” so instead you eat EVERYTHING ELSE IN YOUR KITCHEN and then because you’re still not satisfied, you finally just eat the cookie?  Instead, next time try having the cookie or whatever else it is you’re craving.  You’ll find that you’re satisfied and don’t feel the need to overeat.  As an athlete, you’re not really eating for satisfaction because you’re told you need to eat the “right” foods in the “right” amount at the “right” time, in order to meet specific goals.  Too often this leads to the aforementioned binge-restrict cycle.  To keep a healthy balance, allow yourself to eat foods that make you feel satisfied while still being mindful of your goals.

7. Honor Your Feelings (without using food):  Life is stressful.  Heck, right now we’re living through a global pandemic!  Even if you’re not an athlete and putting undue stress on your body on a day to day basis, I have a feeling you might be pretty stressed out.  It’s not uncommon for people to turn to food as a comfort in times like this.  It’s a learned coping mechanism that served us in the past and likely got us through some very difficult times. But now it’s time to learn to cope using other tools available to us (we’ll go deeper into what these may be in a future post).    

8. Respect Your  Body:  Everyone’s genetic makeup is different. You could keep the same diet and exercise routine as another athlete and look completely different.  Be curious as to why you might be comparing your body to someone else’s.  Most likely, the person you’re comparing yourself to is probably doing the SAME EXACT THING with someone else, and someone is probably doing that with you.    The next time you hear that voice in your head feeling envious of another athlete’s physique, try making that voice say three nice things about your own.

9. Movement—Feel The Difference:  There seems to be this common misconception out there among athletes that a workout isn’t a workout unless you end up exhausted and dripping sweat at the end. You might be able to get away with ignoring the aches and pains of training like this all the time in your 20’s, maybe even into your 30’s but at some point, your body will not be able to take that kind of beating.  The fact of the matter is, recovery days, even if they are used for active recovery like taking an easy walk, stretching or foam rolling, are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than training days.  Consider this part of your training- giving your body the chance to repair itself before you put more strain on it. 

10. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition:  Keep in mind when making food choices 1) Am I eating enough to keep me fueled and healthy 2) Is this a food choice I will be satisfied by.  Remember to keep in mind that you are a human being, and there is no such thing as a “perfect” diet, that one meal will not make or break your performance.

I recognize that eating intuitively isn’t as easy as just following 10 steps.  Not for anyone, but especially for athletes because it feels like you are going against everything you’ve ever been taught about how to eat and that can be terrifyingly anxiety provoking.  As human beings, it’s only natural to want to stick with behaviors we feel are safe.  But if you KNOW those behaviors haven’t been serving you, or could potentially harm you, then doesn’t it make sense to try to change, even if it does mean facing fear?  On the other side is a full life, free of restriction and a healthier relationship with food and your body.

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

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!

Can You Be an Athlete and An Intuitive Eater? Thoughts from a Sports Nutritionist, Part 1

Written By: Lauren Weissman, Dietetic Intern

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

If you know anything about intuitive eating, it would seem like the answer to this question would be no.

I mean, in the world of competitive sports and sports nutrition, when anyone talks about diet, it’s always about specific food choices and nutrient timing.

Food is utilitarian and so many athletes eat according to specific goals: lose weight, gain weight, get faster, get stronger, etc. and not about enjoyment or satisfaction. 

Unfortunately, these dietary restrictions can overflow from fueling for sport into everyday life resulting in increasing amounts of athletes with relationships with food that are unhealthy.

The longer this relationship goes on, the more likely it is for that disordered relationship to turn into a full-blown eating disorder.

Not only is this problematic because of the toll it can take on a person in the obvious ways, ie obsession over food, drastic weight fluctuations, mental health issues… there are other side effects that most don’t realize can occur like electrolyte imbalances, cardiovascular abnormalities, stroke, hormonal imbalances, loss of menstruation leading to osteoporosis, and the list goes on.

The irony in all of this is that while most athletes begin strict diets in order to optimize performance and improve in their sport, the snowball effect they see because of the restrictions these diets have ends up leaving them with a negative return on their investments. 

In contrast, Intuitive Eating takes a much gentler approach to creating a relationship with food.  It takes the focus away from exterior rules and restrictions putting it back on getting in touch with what’s going on inside your body and mind.

So, getting back to the question- can you be an athlete and an intuitive eater? 

My answer to you is, yes.  If done properly, following the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating will only help an athlete to maintain a healthier relationship with food and their body.

I’ll talk to you a little bit more about how each step can apply in later posts, so stay tuned!


Intuitive Eating, AKA The Anti-Diet: What is it REALLY?? Thoughts from a Sports Nutritionist

Written By: Lauren Weissman, Dietetic Intern

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

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and we got into the topic of Intuitive Eating.  She is someone who has struggled with yo-yo dieting and weight fluctuation for as long as I have known her.

We were talking about her latest diet venture when Intuitive Eating (IE) came up. Her response to me was that she felt “It’s just an excuse for people to pig out all the time.”

This seems to be a pretty common misconception so I thought it might be important to take a minute to explain exactly what Intuitive Eating is for those of you who aren’t quite sure.

The Intuitive Eating movement was founded in 1995 by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  Using research rooted in observational studies performed previously on the eating patterns of toddlers, they found that over a week, allowing these children to be able to eat what they wanted, when they wanted, the toddlers would eventually make food choices on their own that would lead them to obtain all the nutrients they needed.

Unlike many adults, these children were too young to have been influenced by diet culture.

Therefore they had not associated any foods as being “good” or “bad”. Tribole and Resch attributed this to the toddler’s ability to eat based on cues from their bodies rather than moral values they had assigned to whatever they were eating.

Moreover, they noticed that the toddlers did not over or under eat.  They ate when they were hungry and stopped when they were appropriately full.

Evelyn and Elyse realized that this research could very well translate to the adult community.  They came up with a list of 10 Intuitive Eating principles to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies.  They are:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Respect your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Honor your feelings
  8. Respect your body
  9. Movement—feel the difference
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Intuitive Eating emphasizes gaining a sense of connectedness with your body.  Listening to it and honoring it.

Some days this may mean eating a little more, others a little less.  Sometimes salad, sometimes cake.

The point is, whatever you’re eating, it’s because your body wants it, and that’s okay.

The Athlete Mindset and Why I Became a Sports Nutritionist

This originally appeared on my instagram page in 2019 (see original below); however I decided to re-post on here after being inspired by Teddy Bridgewater (NFL athlete). This one is for all of the athletes who realized that it’s more than just a sport . I see you and I, too, believe in you. 

People often ask “why sports nutrition? What made you want to become a sports performance dietitian?”

To be honest, I didn’t know why in the beginning. I loved working with athletes and connecting with them. There was always something special about them.

And then I realized what it was…

I had found my people.

Growing up, I never considered myself an athlete. I played sports here and there but I didn’t truly fall in love with movement until I was a teenager 

During high school, I lost someone extremely close to me and I found sports & movement as a way to cope and help me heal. In the evenings I would run up and down my father’s driveway for what seemed like hours trying to process what had happened. Trying to make sense of it all. Using the only tools that I had at the time – movement and music

Even today movement helps me process feelings and emotions. Mind and body flowing together. Becoming one.

After my first true heartbreak in college, I joined a club field hockey team (didn’t even know how to play) to help me fall in love with me again and grow from my heartache 

After college, I ran my first half marathon and fell in love with long distance running and then eventually strength training and yoga 

Sports are more than just a game — it’s what it does for us — mentally, physically and emotionally 

Do I consider myself an athlete now? Hell yeah. And you are too. If you move your body, you’re an athlete 

So back to the original question – “why sports performance nutrition?” 

Because being active has helped me in more ways than I can count. And when coupled with proper fueling [and meditation], it’s ?

The athlete mindset is like no other. It’s resilient. It’s determined. It’s inspiring.

To all of my fellow athletes, whether it’s  your profession or you’re a weekend warrior, I see you. Thank you for  your  determination in sport and in life – it’s on another level and it inspires me everyday.