Too many athletes and fitness trainers are at war with food and their bodies. In their quest to attain the ‘perfect body’, one that is leaner, lighter faster and better, they often develop atypical eating patterns. As one client reported, “I’m trying so hard to lose five pounds but I’m getting nowhere. In fact, I’m even gaining weight. I’m ‘good’ at breakfast and lunch, but after I get home from the gym at night, I end up devouring everything in sight. On weekends, my eating is even crazier.” Could this be you?
The problem with dieting
The first three letters of diet are ‘D-I-E’. Dieting conjures up feelings of deprivation and denial. Dieting is unsustainable, no fun. Few dieters win the war against hunger. Even 50% of people who have had gastric bypass surgery regained weight within two years(1). Why does this happen? Because the body perceives diet as famine and strives to protect itself from starving to death by ‘telling’ us to eat more.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Hunger leads to the overwhelming urge to bingeeat. Research with healthy, normal-weight men who cut their food intake by half (similar to what many dieting athletes and fitness trainers try to do) reports most regained the weight they’d lost, plus 10%, within three months(2).
Another study with middle school kids who were followed through high school indicates all efforts to lose weight resulted in disordered eating patterns five years later and not leaner bodies(3). Dieting tends to create more longterm problems than it solves.
How to find peace with food
“Bread, bagel, pasta, rice, crackers – all those dreaded carbs – are not fattening”
Let’s take a look at some ways to transform blown diets into appropriate fueling (while you chip away at losing undesired body fat). A first step is to remember food is fuel, not the fattening enemy. Food not only enhances athletic and fitness performance but also prevents hunger and out-of-control food binges.
We are supposed to eat, even if we are over-fat. If we restrict our food consumption, we restrict protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals and other bio-active food compounds that contribute to good health and high energy. Bad idea. We needs those nutrients. ,
*Calories: Current research suggests a sustainable way to lose undesired body fat is to reduce our daily calorie consumption by about 200 calories a day(4). By knocking off these calories at the end of the day, you can lose weight whilst you are sleeping (as opposed to when you are trying to train and function during the day).
*Carbs: Bread, bagel, pasta, rice, crackers all those dreaded carbs – are not fattening. Your body does not readily convert carbs into body fat. Rather, your body preferentially burns carbs to fuel your workouts. If your muscles become carb (glycogen) depleted, you will feel an incessant, niggling hunger that can lead to non-stop snacking.
You may believe you are eating because you are just bored, but your muscles are telling you they want carbs to recover and refuel. Do not avoid carbs. Egg whites for breakfast, salad for lunch, and fish and broccoli for dinner will leave muscles un-fueled and your body unable to train and compete at its best. Oatmeal, whole grain breads, brown rice, and sweet potatoes are just a few wholesome suggestions. Enjoy them as the foundation of each sports meal.
*Protein: Dieters need a strong protein intake to help protect their muscles. When you restrict calories, you burn not just body fat but also muscle tissue. Enjoy a protein rich food (in combination with carbs) at each meal and snack and keep your muscles strong and shapely.
Protein is satiating – it helps keep you feeling fed and can curb your appetite. Dieters who eat protein (eggs) at breakfast stay full longer than those who eat just carbs (bagel, fruit, granola bar). By eating and enjoying a satiating breakfast, you’ll be less likely to crave sweets and succumb to doughnuts or sweets.
*Fat: Fat (preferably healthful fat, such as in nuts, olive oil, salmon, peanut butter) is an essential part of a sports diet. It’s required to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. A little fat gets stored right within the muscle cells and gets used during long workouts. It enhances endurance.
Runners who switched from a low (16%) fat diet to a moderate (30%) fat diet improved their performance by 14%(5). That’s a lot! And, they did not gain body fat. The mantra ‘Eat fat, get fat’ is false. Overeat calories and you will get fat, particularly if you overeat calories from fatty foods. Excess dietary fat easily converts into body fat.
*Vitamins: The less fuel you ingest, the fewer vitamins you consume. Taking a vitamin pill might replace some of those losses, but a pill does not provide other bio-active compounds in foods that protect your good health. Strive to enjoy colorful vegetables and/or fruits at each meal.
By satisfying your hunger with wholesome foods at daytime meals, you will ruin your appetite for the evening ‘junk food’ that contributes to fat-gain. You will also feel better during the day, have better workouts, be in a better mood and be able to knock off those 200 plus calories of evening snacks, so you’ll lose weight easily when you are sleeping. Experiment for just one day by front-loading your calories; the benefits will be obvious!
Easier said than done?
While food-binges can simply be the backlash from unrealistic efforts to lose a few pounds, they sometimes also serve the important job of distracting people from thinking about painful relationships and feelings of inadequacy. That is, if you incessantly think about food, you are not thinking about how sad, depressed or lonely you might be feeling.
You’d rather focus on losing five pounds, believing weight loss will make you happy. This is a doubtful proposition. Instead of trying to find happiness from a number on the scales, it’s far better to appreciate your body for all the good it does. Do not compare your body to others. To compare is to despair.
Rather practice eating mindfully and ask yourself before you eat, ‘Does my body need this fuel?’ Eat mechanically, on a time schedule, with even-sized meals that truly satisfy you, so you don’t just stop eating because you think you should. And rather than struggle with food and weight issues on your own, consult with a qualified nutritionist, who can help you create a positive food plan. Life is too short to spend it fighting with food.