Mindful Eating

Guest post from the OPEX blog

Mindful Eating

Nutrition is 80% of your results in the gym.

You’ve probably heard that loose statistic, coined by body builder Vince Gironda, the ‘Iron Guru’ and former coach to even Arnold Schwarzenager himself back in the 1960’s.

Whatever the exact percentage food coincides with your results, there is no getting around the fact that nutrition and food play a big role in your daily life and all the work you put into the gym.

That being said…something that is rarely discussed in our fitness culture today (outside of “what is good nutrition” and “what is bad nutrition”, or hot topics such as the ‘best post-workout shake’ or ‘carb back loading’), is our relationship with our food.

Not necessarily our current dietary protocols to which we subscribe or affiliate, but really the mind-body connection we have with our food and the beliefs, practices, and rituals surrounding each of the 3-6 meals we face each day.

While Gironda’s statistic of “80% of your results in the gym stem from your nutrition” applied mostly to the types of foods you consume, I beg to argue that your relationship with your food (again, mind-body connection) is also a key factor into that equation.

Our relationship with the food we eat can have a tremendous impact on, not only, what we get out of our food (nutrients, energy) but also what we get out of the gym (performance, results, strength gains, recovery).

How so?

Some examples:

  • Consuming the wrong foods and supplements for your body. Are you an athlete or fitness enthusiast who follows a particular dietary protocol because it’s what you’ve read you ‘should do’ or there are certain foods and supplements you should take? General knowledge is good—but without a connected relationship with food, some of these foods and supplements, in actuality, may not be working for you. For instance: you down that post-workout shake for that “30-minute recovery window”—only to nearly crap your pants every time (because your body is not digesting the whey appropriately). Or, you wake up to drink Spark or some other type of energy drink every morning, first thing, only to feel a pounding headache come mid-morning—as your body has been conditioned to run off a stimulant, and need a stimulant, of some sort. Or you eat six small meals a day—just protein and veggies, maybe some fat thrown in there—avoiding carbs—in order to abide by a ketogenic diet…you are doing all the ‘right things’ but your energy and recovery from workouts is lacking—majorly. You can read every article out there on Google concerning the ‘perfect’ training diet for XYZ, or see what other Games athletes eat on a daily basis—and try it for yourself. But every BODY is different, so until you are more connected with what your body needs and your own food—not the food you should eat on paper, you potentially won’t be at your peak on the nutrition front (i.e. impaired digestion, leading to poor absorption of nutrients pre and post-workout; discomfort in your stomach leading to poor workout capability; lacking energy stores from not consuming optimal energy, etc.).
  • Just eat. For many athletes, eating is just part of a checklist. ‘Must eat to perform.’ And it’s true. Food is fuel. And while an athlete’s body can consume many foods that the average Joe can’t (Gatorade, powders, chocolate cake even)…it does not mean this is a buffer for not consuming really great, nourishing foods as well. Optimal recovery from any workout does require quality nutrition and quality food hygiene and digestive practices—regardless if you are Rich Froning or not. If your relationship with food is solely based on ‘just eat to fuel’, then you are potentially missing out on that mind-body connection of really knowing and appreciating the nourishing and recovery aspects food has to provide for your performance. A nicely prepared grass-fed steak or pasture-raised chicken thighs, alongside a sweet potato and fresh, organic greens sauteed in coconut oil, is so much more nourishing and vitamin-enriching then microwaving some eggs and eating sliced cucumber and tomato alongside it (because it’s the only veggies you will eat), or scarfing down two conventional burger patties from the burger joint drive thru with some unwashed romaine lettuce on your way home, or just mixing up a meal-replacement shake and maybe unwrapping a bar an hour or so later and another one a few hours later, or eating that whole Papa John’s Pizza every Friday night because you need to replenish energy stores…and calling that sustenance (at least try making a nice homemade pizza once and a while?). A healthy relationship you have with your food gives you an appreciation and enhanced awareness around the nutrients and energy you are getting from your meals, which in turn, ‘give back to you’ by giving you more quality in both the digestive and nutrient assimilation processes.
  • Lack of intuitiveness. What does hunger feel like to you? What does fullness feel like? When you are still and quiet for a moment, you may potentially find it a bit easier to describe than when you are on the ‘front lines’—mid-meal, food in front of you…eating what is in sight. Our hunger-fullness cues are something many people have become disconnected with over the years. It was so much easier when we were babies, before we developed varying beliefs, rituals and behaviors around food. When we become disconnected with our hunger-fullness cues, or just eat to eat, we may make it harder on our bodies to digest our foods properly, or eat more of foods that don’t necessarily contribute to our goals and performance in the gym (i.e. late night cookies, a whole pizza—when we really could have just eaten half, a pint of ice cream, too much at dinner—leading to tough digestion and assimilation of those nutrients, followed by constipation, bloating and discomfort during our morning workout the next day).
  • Obsessive thoughts. From a wellness perspective, food, like the gym, is meant to enhance your life—not necessarily be your life. While even many competitive athletes live to train, or it’s their job, it is important to remind yourself of the greater picture and perspective in life (i.e. food and fitness are not the only things in life). When food and fitness plays a big role in our day-to-day thought life, we can find our days revolving around our food and our fitness…and essentially, missing out on a heck of a whole lot of other great things going on around us. In addition, that being said, 1 in 4 struggle with an eating disorder and/or disordered eating, which only detracts from the full physical and mental focus and capabilities to which you have to give to practically everything else in your life (i.e. great workouts included). Obsessive thoughts about food could look something like this: Planning lunch…and then dinner…and thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast…or your post-workout shake during your workout…or how you are going to keep to your healthy diet on vacation…or how you can avoid going out to eat due to the strict diet you adhere too—and will that restaurant even serve chicken and broccoli?, etc. When food becomes a primary focal point of our thoughts, it takes on a whole life of its own, which, in essence is an unhealthy relationship with food that keeps us from giving it ‘our all’ to other things in our life (i.e. training, travel, social relationships, etc.)
  • Overtraining. Piggybacking off the above point, there are some people who subscribe to the ‘work for my food’ mentality when it comes to the gym. These are the people who train so they can eat—whatever they want…or anything at all. From the splurges and indulgences they love…to simply justifying the fat or calories or ‘permission’ to eat only after a workout is said in done, can at times, lead to overtraining. You become disconnected with your body in order to ‘eat the food’—that you think about burning whatever energy it takes to eat what the heck you want.

In short: when we are disconnected with our food:

  • We down protein shakes post-workout day in and day out, despite the fact that we nearly crap our pants every time we consume that processed powder because it’s what we are ‘supposed to do’
  • We deprive ourselves essential nutrients and energy, because we ‘have to’ in order to lose a certain amount of body fat or weigh a particular number on the scale
  • We eat ‘whatever’ in the name of strength gains, or enhanced performance—despite the skin breakouts, or indigestion, or ‘wall we hit’ every day at 3 p.m.
  • We chug the caffeine (bring on the Spark, coffee, energy drinks) in order to give ourselves the energy we don’t seem to ever have
  • We cut out carbs altogether to experience the ‘slight edge’ everyone seems to talk about—only to feel weaker, fatigued and unsatiated
  • We eat whatever is in sight—because it’s in mind. It tastes good, brings us pleasure, fills a void, is a social practice—but we really aren’t connected to it.

What is YOUR relationship like with your food?

  • Do you see food as just a check-list part of your fast-paced day?
  • Is it something you think about—even obsess about—all day long?
  • Do feelings of guilt come up if you eat something that is not ‘good for you’ or if you overindulged in a treat?
  • Are you dependent on food as a ‘drug’—sugar, caffeine, comfort foods—they keep you going?
  • Is it nourishing and replenishing for your mind and your body?
  • Is it directly correlated with how you feel about yourself or how you cope with emotions and stress?
  • Is it something you feel like you have to ‘earn’—in the gym, through a tough workout, or strict dietary practices, in order to justify deserving to eat?
  • And on and on…there is a whole spectrum of relationships, or temperaments, to which we connect with our food.

The bottom line: It’s crucial to have an awareness of our relationships, our beliefs, our behaviors, our preferences and our daily practices around our food, in order to maximize the optimal benefits it can provide.