For NEDA Awareness Week, let’s talk about disordered eating in distance running. Specifically, what is considered disordered (aka you are thinking that way because of diet culture) vs. what is considered normal (aka you are thinking that way because you care about your health and performance).
This is a very fine line in distance running. We are constantly told that weight loss or maintenance is essentially what good nutrition means. If we gain weight, we assume that we’re not eating correctly. If we maintain weight while trying to lose weight, we assume that we’re not eating correctly. Basically, we associate the ability to lose weight = good nutrition.
But this is not how nutrition really works.
The basic principle behind maintaining good nutrition is eating what feels best in your body. I’m studying to be a dietitian, but I can’t tell you what is going to feel best in your body. For me, lots of healthy fats like peanut butter and avocado, paired with some type of carb at every meal makes me feel best. Eating lots of meat and protein doesn’t feel great for me sometimes. But I know a lot of runners who love protein and feel like they can’t perform without it! We’re all different.
The difference between eating because that’s how you’ve been taught vs. eating because you’re listening to your body’s internal cues is huge. We’re not taught to listen to our bodies as athletes. We’re taught to push through the pain. This can be good (I’m talking competitive athletes, check out this post if you’re confused on if this is true for you). But most coaches take this message one step too far and put the “tough it out” mindset onto food. As a result, we don’t actually give our bodies what they need.
If you’re stuck in a culture where coaches (with no background in nutrition aka basically ALL OF THEM) are telling you how to eat, you’re probably feeling a lot like this –>
If you want to truly improve your performance, increase the quality of your life, and stop feeling out-of-control around food and your body size, here are some things to keep in mind –>
So what are you to do if the diet mindset is all you’ve been taught?
Step 1: FIND A SPORTS RD! There is a great listing of sports RD’s on the SCAN website. Sports dietitians are trained in how the body metabolizes food and responds to exercise. They are going to tell you a lot more than your coach or athletic trainer can. (not that all coaches/AT’s are invaluable – but they have ZERO training in nutrition and should not be trusted for any kind of nutrition advice)
Step 2: Practice listening to what you’re body is telling you. Sometimes it’s tired –> you need rest. Sometimes it’s hungry –> you need food. Just like we wouldn’t run through broken bones (okay, sometimes I know some of us do). You shouldn’t ignore your body’s signals and expect it to magically function how you want it to.
What kind of messages have you been told as an athlete? Were they coming from a health and performance mindset? Or a dieting mindset?