In this article I’d like to go over some tips and things I have personally learned that have helped me have a healthier relationship with food, not just after a competition but eating habits for everyday life, during, and after competition prep. I will talk about how to help your mindset when it comes to eating certain foods or quantity of food and how to live a little and relax. I will also discuss overall eating habits.
I just want to share what I have learned and what has helped me, so maybe it can help you. Also this is a subject I feel a lot of people struggle with – and not just competitors but everyone – whether your goal is aesthetic or not. I was one of those people myself who went back and forth with my eating habits until I learned to recognize the difference and what was correct and not correct or “unhealthy”.
I truly believe that a healthy mindset starts first by realizing what is RIGHT and what is WRONG when it comes to your meal planning. By that I mean, really pay attention to what you are eating (amount of calories, healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates… but don’t become obsessed just learn to pay attention).
Pay attention to the amount and how the different micronutrients (food groups) make you feel. For instance, if you have very low energy, foggy thoughts, low stamina, headaches, irritability, not losing weight or maybe the loss of menstrual cycles for women, competing or not. And let me just add that you should NOT feel horrible while in a competition prep.
Make sure you are eating enough overall. Even if you aren’t eating enough, you may see some kind of results the first time around eating very restricted, but the next time around and the time after that things may not be so good and your body will start to work against you. So, onto what I was saying… if you are feeling any of the things I mentioned above then there is a GREAT chance that the nutrition you are eating just simply isn’t enough for you personal needs and you need to think about reevaluating the current situation and find out why you are feeling that way. I feel once you realize what is acceptable and what isn’t, when it comes to your meal planning, then you can really move forward to finding a good healthy relationship with food. It’s all about finding a balance that fits your lifestyle and your personal needs as an individual.
Another thing I have learned is to really pay attention to how I am feeling and how different foods affect my body. This is a plus as an athlete, but something I suggest everyone learns. During contest prep is a crucial time to really pay attention to your body’s needs (nutrition wise). For competitors always keep in mind that, yes, you are eating for an aesthetic goal but also for “PROFORMANCE” and we want to be super safe for metabolic reasons to stay metabolically healthy with a well conditioned metabolism that will keep you in the game much longer.
Always keep in mind that you are eating for multiple goals, so try not to put your body and mind through the gutter by under-eating with no mental approach on how to reverse the process, and expect to have a healthy relationship with food. For non-competitors and active people, it is important to know that as well that we eat for multiple goals even to lose weight in some situations (not all) we need to eat more and the right types of foods.
It is very important to understand that our bodies actually need food and that food works with our bodies and nutrition is the majority of what will help us accomplish our goals whether we are an athlete or not. We all have to eat according to our body’s needs to accomplish the goal at hand for energy. It is so important for overall health. I have found that a lot of people do not even realize that the proper nutrition can cure a lot of things. For instance, for people who want to lose weight, do not immediately cut carbohydrates or healthy fats! You will not feel well and your body will eventually burn out and probably start to work against you like I mentioned above.
Try eating for energy or eating for performance and gauge your food intake that way. Try to think of food as energy or eating for performance. This way will allow you to shift your thoughts in a healthier direction rather than just always focusing on your weight or eating to look a certain way. Think of ways that food can actually help you perform. Find foods that you like. Research them and work them into you daily meal plan. Keeping things in moderation, allowing yourself to eat things that you enjoy, and not being overly strict is key.
Also we have to STOP fearing food in general. Most people fear how certain food will affect their physiques instead of realizing that nutrition is the key thing that can help them shape their body differently, help them become stronger, fight off disease and illness, and can make you all-around healthier with healthier hair, skin, nails, and a more youthful and an overall healthier look.
Personally, I do not believe in the word “DIET” because when we hear that word we automatically think deprivation and restriction. The most common fears of food or eating I hear are the fear of eating carbohydrates or “white” carbohydrates, the fear of eating after a certain time, or the fear of eating “fats” or healthy fats and, of course, the fear of eating an “off the plan” meal or foods that people enjoy in general – so-called “bad foods”.
People tend to think the stricter the better when actually the main problem could be that you are BEING TOO STRICT. In fact, that could be the source of all your problems to how you are feeling and how your body is not looking the way you want it to or how you are performing with everyday activities and life in general. If we really give our bodies the nutrition it actually needs, it can really change our lives and make us feel like a brand new person.
By really listening and wanting to become more in tune with our bodies we will actually be able to recognize what it may need to function as far as nutrition is concerned. For instance, if you are trying to stay lower carbohydrate (not in contest prep), which I don’t recommend but for whatever goal you believe this will help you accomplish or just in general, and you start having sweet cravings that are maybe worse than normal then most likely your body is probably telling you that, in fact, you need to eat more carbohydrates, especially if you are an active person.
Try adding some healthy carbohydrates like Quinoa, brown rice, white rice (jasmine), or sweet potatoes into your meal plan. Basic stuff, and there is so much more out there that you can eat. You just have to be willing to do a little research. Or say maybe your energy is low and your thinking is really foggy or maybe your joints are hurting… those could be signs that you may need to up your healthy fat intake, so try adding things like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, almond butter, almonds, and cashews into your diet. And make a note of how the amount and the different foods make you feel.
Keep in mind that nutrition is your friend. You could have all these symptoms if your nutrition is off. Those were just a couple of examples in case maybe you are feeling that way. Those tips could help you get to the bottom of the problem. Don’t be afraid of food. Don’t be afraid to eat and eat what your body is telling you that it needs. IT WILL NOT MAKE YOU LOOK BAD to eat and enjoy foods! In fact, it could make your physique look better and change the way you hoped it would.
It is just important to really take a step back and pay attention to how you feel because whatever is lacking, if it’s energy, stamina, clearer thinking, an achy body… it is all most likely coming from the lack of proper nutrition. There is no reason for us to constantly beat ourselves up over food and what we consume. After all, we do have tastebuds for a reason and we are meant to enjoy food – in moderation, of course, but just enjoy it!
Try to visualize how eating certain foods and the amount will help you with your goals if it’s fitness-related or just to feel better. Allow yourself to have certain foods that you want, like pizza, ice cream, burgers, whatever; just allow yourself to indulge sometimes and try not to tell yourself that those types of foods are off limits. That approach may lead to very unhealthy habits and possible binges and a repeat cycle.
Try to create a strong mindset when it does come to food and strive to find a healthy balance; you are the only one that can truly find that for yourself. Find your happiness and what makes YOU FEEL GOOD, bottom line. You have to want to find it within yourself. You have to want to be strong but learn to not be so hard on yourself at the same time. Sounds impossible but, to tell you the truth, it isn't!
Your mental approach to food should be a positive one, even though everyone struggles to find balance and I am still learning myself. But I feel through experience and being able to realize what is right, what is wrong, and what makes me feel bad, I am in a good place now and have learned a lot – some the hard way and that is why I want to share this with you all.
If you find yourself in a bad place with your mental approach on eating or relationship with food take a step back and really think about why, and know that through time, patience, and really wanting to, that will you find your personal balance. Reach out to those have experience, but also be careful at the same time because there are a lot of people out there that will just steer you wrong, and it is important to recognize that as well.
To become a whole healthy person it really just takes you wanting to be. It takes you loving yourself enough to want to do what is right for your body and overall well-being. Finding balance is not easy and I am not sure anyone ever finds complete balance, but we can start by how we treat ourselves with food, because food and nutrition is our central universe as human beings. Know that it is okay to enjoy food and know that forcing yourself to have too many restrictions is not healthy in any way.
For me personally it has taken some time, experience, research, changing coaches, and just really being in tune with my body and learning to love myself on a different level. For me it is also about more than just competing. I wanted to be healthy and I wanted to understand why I felt the way I did at times and, most of all, I wanted to be a true projection of health from the inside to the outside.
Having a healthy relationship with food can be easy if you just really pay attention to your body and just give it what it needs to be healthy overall and function properly like a well-oiled machine. My advice is stay away from fad diets and starvation contest prep meal plans. There is a safe way to do things, I promise! You just have to be willing to do a little work to find them rather than following the crowd. Just keep in mind what you are eating for – energy, performance, weight loss, to build muscle, to FEEL BETTER, or whatever goals you may have.
Care enough to really want to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with food rather than just treating your body as something you want to look good which in turn may lead you to have unrealistic goals and make you turn to anything necessary to lose weight or look a certain way. If you give your body what it needs to change, then it will. Love yourself first, and remember nutrition is our friend. No goal is worth your health, ever. Finding your own personal balance is everything!