The common idea in the elite and competitive running world is that you have to have a restrictive mindset toward food in order to be successful. In this frame of mind, weight is everything – just look at the body type of every elite runner, right? It makes sense that the lower the body weight = the faster the runner.
I totally can see where this line of thinking comes from. Heck for awhile, I had this exact same mindset. I think most running coaches (who I should note – most do NOT have any formal training in nutrition and sports dietetics) tell their athletes this all the time. It’s backed up by most running and food blogs, Pinterest infographics, diet books, coaches, trainers, etc.
But what you don’t see behind these lean and light body types are the steps it took to get there. Yes weighing less may lead to faster times, but the methods and steps needed to get to that point are often more dangerous than they’re worth. They’re steps that have often result in life-long damage to one’s long-term health.
We don’t like talking about these things because as athletes, we’re all about the now and working as hard as we can now to get the results we want now. We think we’re the healthiest people out there. We don’t think about the fact that the shin pain that keeps popping up may be a sign that your bones are weak and osteoporosis is in your future. Or that not getting a period during the peak part of the season may prevent you from ever have kids one day. These are just scary things, right? Runners are supposed to be the “healthiest” people out there, right?
Not necessarily. Here are some signs that your too healthy lifestyle may actually not be very healthy at all.
1. You’re chronically injured.
Sure you may be in great shape, but unless you’re running with crappy old shoes, jumping mileage up to a ridiculous amount, or just flat-out not taking care of yourself, a string of injuries is likely a nutritional problem more than anything. We always want to blame other things before we blame our food. Research shows that Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, otherwise known as RED-S (or chronic dieting/caloric restriction/ ignoring your cravings and hunger) often results in injury. A research project I did on Division 1 athletes last year (hopefully published soon!) showed the exact same thing.
2. You don’t get a period.
Ladies this is 100% NEVER NORMAL. I know that most runners dream of this problem, but this is such bad news. Not only is it a sign that you’re not taking in enough calories, but your chance of injury goes way way up. It could also interfere with your ability to have kids in the future, and is linked with early-stage osteoporosis. Some believe that a simple birth control pill can fix this, but putting a band aid on the problem will never actually solve it. Robin has a great post on this here.
Also men – you’re not excluded from this. Excessive exercise combined with a low caloric intake often sends testosterone levels crashing down, which is not normal or healthy either.
3. You’re stressed out about food.
Read that sentence again. And again. And again. How can that be healthy? Sure exercise feels much easier and more enjoyable when you eat nutritious foods, but if you’re stressed out to the point that you look at ANY food in fear, can’t enjoy a meal out with teammates, or rigidly focus on sticking to your meal plan while ignoring all hunger/craving cues, that is not healthy.
Following a meal plan or self-imposed rules about food while ignoring all hunger signals (aka signs that your body NEEDS fuel!) is not healthy.
4. You don’t have the energy to live.
Yes I get that running is exhausting and takes a lot out of you. I’ve run 60-70 mile weeks before and I understand that that is a lot of exercise and of course it’s going to make you tired. But if it’s making you so tired that you need 10-12 hours of sleep just to recover, have difficulty concentrating on school/work, or have no energy to get up out of your chair the rest of the day, that is not healthy. Your body is literally putting all the calories you consume toward running and keeping your body alive that it has nothing let to give you.
If any of these things sound like you – let me know! I’d love to chat with you about some ways to fix some of these things.