We would enjoy food much more if we stopped labelling it good vs bad!
Is a healthy relationship with food attainable for the virtual cyclist? What does it even mean?
Growing up in an extended Italian family, the love of food, eating together as a group, and above all else, arguing whether Parmesan or Romano cheese is to be sprinkled on pasta (by the way…it’s of course Romano) was commonplace.
Our Emotional Association with Food Begins at an Early Age
During my childhood food was everything! It brought us closer as a family and I developed a deep appreciation for cooking, meal prep, and eating. It is for this reason that it pains me to see and talk with clients who have such a difficult relationship with food – no matter the type or quantity.
I vividly remember one of my clients telling me that she felt eating was the most stressful ‘have-to-do’ thing in her life. Not because of a time or financial burden, however, but because she hated how she felt after eating almost anything. So disheartening!
A Negative Association with Food is Common Amongst Athletes
This heart-breaking sentiment towards food is most certainly a reality for many, more so for athletes, and especially in those competing in weight-sensitive sports.
Healthy eating is not just about the quality or quantity of the food you eat, but also how that food makes you feel. I feel very fortunate that I don’t struggle with this, but I am sensitive to the fact that if you are lacking positive food emotions, you are not alone and there are definitely ways to manage this stress.
Here are a few suggestions that have helped many of my client-athletes in the past, and might just help you interact with the food you need, could, and should love.
Nutritious vs ‘Good’ Food
First, labelling your food as either ‘good or bad’ just may be the WORST thing you can do when struggling with how you view food. I advise my post-Grad Sports Nutrition students to get away from using the word ‘healthy’ when describing food, as it does not provide an accurate depiction of the quality of food.
Rather, it is better to think about food as either ‘nutritious or not’. That is, does the food provide any nutritive value or benefit to our health, and in the case of athletes, performance?
You should think about it this way. If I asked you,
“What is more healthy, a homemade meat patty burger with cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a white bun, or a big bowl of fruit…What would you say?
An argument can be made for either option being ‘good or bad’, as one is considered a ‘whole’ food, while the other has a relatively even distribution of fat, carbs, and protein. If we think about
which one is more nutritious, then we would realize that both examples have nutri
tional value and both could be beneficial for health and performance depending on our specific needs. There is rarely a right or wrong answer when all of the factors are considered.
Not All Foods Are ‘Good…or Bad’
Viewing foods as ‘good or bad’ will only prove to make you feel good or bad after eating them. Take time to understand that many foods of all varieties, whether high in carb, animal, or plant, with protein or fat, offer at least some nutritional value. Dedicating time to learn what constitutes nutritious foods will minimize some of the negative emotions associated with eating that you might be experiencing.
The odd non-nutritious food choice is OK – Really!
There are, of course, foods that we eat, such as Timbits (time for a trip to Canada if you do not know what these are), that have very little nutritional value.
To develop a healthy relationship with food, it is important to understand that an odd donut here, a cola drink there, and the random bowl of fruit loops (how is this still the best cereal out there?) is not going to impart a long-term physiological or performance decrement.
Your everyday nutrition over weeks, months, and years is what makes a difference!
It is much akin to being low or high in total kcal on one particular day of the week, or getting too little protein, carbs, or even fat for that matter, a couple of times a month. These ‘misses’, if you will, have very little influence on your long-term objectives and are not worth agonizing over.
The Virtual Cyclist’s Relationship With Food
For many virtual cyclists, short-term emphasis and long-term goals include weight loss for reasons not always associated with health, but rather cycling performance. Improving your power-to-weight ratio can go a long way toward boosting your chances of achieving virtual podium finishes.
The drive to lose weight for this purpose can have very negative health consequences, as I described in a previous post entitled, “Are we cycling our way to illness?” Losing weight is generally not an easy task which places stress on an athlete’s body, especially for the veteran cyclist, who likely doesn’t have very much extra weight to dispose of in the first place.
Further, weight is highly individualized and dietary changes that are successful for your fellow cyclist might not work for you. Labelling food choices as a ‘friend or a foe’ to weight loss complicates the healthy relationship with food we are trying to achieve. Education is the key here.
If weight loss is a goal, there are strategies that can be implored in consultation with an experienced nutritionist. This can, and should be a stress free experience, that facilitates small changes over time, further minimizing your anxiety towards eating.
My final note relates back to a point I made earlier regarding my Italian heritage. Try to make food social and fun! Preparing meals for and by yourself, and eating in isolation, is sometimes a necessity. It should not be the norm nor the preferred method.
Set time aside to share meals with family and friends. Prepare meals with your partner or neighbor, engage in online discussions about different cuisines, and even as my kids love to do, binge-watch ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ on the ‘Food Network’. By positively sharing your dining experiences with others, you will undoubtedly improve your overall outlook on food and mealtime.
Developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with food and eating is no easy task for many cyclists. Support is available and guidance services exist.
Enjoy your cycling habit, create a healthy image of your body, and make friends with your food!
How about you?
How would you define a healthy relationship with food and how do you keep yours? Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know! Comment below!