It has surprised me that triathlon magazines, websites and social media accounts etc spend so much time discussing what to eat or not eat – beyond simply discussing what makes good fuel or not. Not naming any names, but certain sites talk about diets and food with a blatant focus on fat-shaming and food one-upmanship.
Which is a shame because I think we could have kept the two things separate (triathlon and food guilt)
There are so many websites dedicated to making you feel bad about eating certain foods (I reckon you could name any food type and there will be a website claiming you should never eat it) that it seems unnecessary for triathlon sites to get involved in the foray.
We could simply have stuck to swimming, biking, running, shopping and racing. With maybe some ideas of foods that help or hinder said training.
But no, I find myself bombarded with pictures of green smoothie bowls (WHY is it in an effing bowl?) made with home-grown kale. Which frankly looks far superior to my giant bowl of Cocoa Pops, because of course it is superior. And the smoothie pictures always have a smug caption beneath them, along the lines of ‘I managed to gulp down half of this delicious elixir before my 792 kilometre bike ride this morning, but it was just so filling I had to save the other half for when I returned! I wont be needing any dinner tonight!’
To which my response is ‘Eff you, mother-effer’.
So I thought I’d weigh in with my own thoughts on eating. They’re very random and possibly controversial, but it’s my blog and I’m just being honest. Leave your hate-mail messages in the comments and I will take them on the chin.
DISCLAIMER: I will not claim to have all the answers on eating right all the time. Because I clearly don’t! But I also don’t care: If you want to eat right all the time, in my opinion you may be insane and this is not a post for you.
My personal experience is that banned food groups and unbreakable rules (unless I am actually allergic or have strong moral or religious beliefs of course) result in me being unnecessarily worried about food: what I can or can’t eat; what I can substitute x for; is x food ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘allowed’; etc.
And worrying about food is simply not the best use of my time anymore.
It took me a while to get to this point and I’m certainly not against other people experimenting with banning food groups and following food rules. You may have very different results to me. But I’ve tried the no-sugar diet and the paleo, counting macros, counting calories, among many others. I therefore know that it is entirely possible to eat really badly whilst still following those diets. Google search ‘Paleo cupcakes’ and tell me what you find. Then search ‘sugar free caramel slice’. Then hopefully see that banning certain items in the pursuit of health is folly.
I think that truly healthy eating is actually simple – consistently eat like a healthy person would. Eat like you love your body. Eat like you are happy.
When I embrace this kind of eating, I find that I eat smaller portions of less processed stuff purely because I stop overthinking it. I probably eat less sugar and more caveman-style foods. And I am happy, healthy and pleased with my body’s ability to keep up with all the adventures I am pursuing.
But not all the time. Because apart from the everyday eating to fuel my activities, eating food is undeniably a social convention – a way of bringing people together, of celebrating and of comfort. There is nothing wrong with those things. Eat the birthday cake. Have a glass of eggnog. Cry into a tub of ice cream. In much the same way that eating one salad does not make me healthy, having one slice of cake does not make me unhealthy.
Trying different foods, having the odd death-defying sugary treat, is part of the experiences in life we are privileged to have access to as human beings. I’m not suggesting you should engage in a triple chocolate ice cream cake challenge every day, but if you are offered such an opportunity and that seems exciting to you, it’s OK to try it without guilt or worry. You’ve got one life, so make your choices and accept some culinary adventures if you want to. And let’s face it, part of the reason we choose to have active adventures in life (such as triathlon) is so that our bodies can handle a slice of cake without turning into a giant blob.
Disclaimer: I sometimes claim to be on a diet (particularly at work, where they think I am a total health nut) so that I have a semi-legitimate excuse for not indulging in the 7 types of cupcakes John baked last night. To my work colleagues – I am sorry for lying to you. I’m not paleo/sugar-free/blue-food-only. I just don’t want to eat your cupcakes. Now you know.
Sometimes you may want to diet. I think we all go through phases where our needs change, and maybe we’re in a head-space where we need rigidity and guidelines and numbers to aim for. Sometimes we want to make our lives difficult and hate ourselves for no good reason – and ‘a diet’ is the ideal way to achieve that quickly and easily. But don’t set yourself up for failure by believing that a diet will be sustainable for the rest of your life.
Sidenote: If you are going through that phase of trying to hate yourself and food, it’s likely that approximately zero of your friends are in that head-space at the same time as you, so there’s no need to start spouting the benefits of joining your local slimming club to them. Your actual friends don’t care what your scale says or what dress size you are. They only care if you are happier or sadder, because they are your friends.
Another Sidenote: If you are dieting because you have no idea what else to do to get healthy, I would highly recommend seeing a qualified nutritionist to learn.
I try to remind myself that there is a lot more to being beautiful than simply being not fat. Smiling makes you beautiful. Happiness and kindness both do too – make someone else smile then look in the mirror and see how beautiful you are. If nothing else, maybe you just need to get a new haircut or buy some new clothes.
Skinny does not equate to beautiful. I personally think if you saw most of the girls in the fashion magazines without clothes on, you would be a little bit sick in your mouth. It is probably high time that we accepted that having a little bit of fat on us is OK. Having a bit of fat does not mean we are fat. I also have brains but I am not brainy (for examples of this, read any other post on this blog)
So maybe it is OK for you to accept that your body is quite nice exactly how it is, and you can treat it with a bit of love. Because your pulse is beating and that is a gift you can’t squander on worrying whether your fantastically big bottom needs to change (it probably doesn’t!)
You will have days where you feel let down by your body. Let’s face it, if your body could talk it would say the same thing about you as a person. So consider it to be karma. You don’t always treat your body nicely, so why would your body always be nice to you?
SIDENOTE: If you feel let down by your body physically, you are probably underestimating it. I know that in the past I’ve thought ‘my body can’t do that’. I genuinely believed (for more than 7 years!) that I could not run. Not just ‘ah I’m not really a good runner’ – I mean, I thought my joints were physically unable to sustain the action of running. I underestimated myself, and I know I’ve said it before but if you think you are too fat, too unfit, too busy, too old… I guarantee there is someone fatter, less fit, busier and older than you doing xxx (insert the thing you think you can’t do) right at this very second.
Stop fighting what you have.
Remember that at any given second there is someone else praying for a functioning body half as good as the one you possess.
Once you have realised that you are actually wasting precious moments of your life worrying about the size of your waist and the foods that created it, you may find that you are free to pursue much more interesting and exciting things, like adventures and challenges. You will find that you have a lot more to offer this planet than your good looks. You may even find that you accidentally lose weight while you do the new things you suddenly have time for – a bit like the old wives’ tale that as soon as you stop trying for a baby, you end up pregnant.
I spent a large portion of my life thinking I was the only one who ever ‘caved in’ to food and ‘binge ate’. How thoroughly liberating it was to finally realise that there isn’t a human on earth who hasn’t done those things at least once, and that in fact it doesn’t mean there is something mentally wrong with me. Once I realised it was relatively normal, it became such a small problem. Like when you are little and your first tooth starts to wobble and you think ‘OH HELP ME MUM MY MOUTH IS FALLING APART AND I AM ONLY FOUR YEARS OLD!’ and then you learn that actually, it’s OK and all your teeth will definitely fall out because that is normal. Then it just becomes fun. And you might get 50p under your pillow if you’re willing to let the tooth fairy have your tooth (yes, I grew up in the UK)
Maybe we should start giving ourselves 50p when we have a food breakdown. Because often I beat myself up about it afterwards and feel bad, which just leads me to make more bad choices and feel even worse about myself. I’m not a psychologist but I do believe the professional term for this is ‘a vicious circle’.
So I am no longer fighting the fact that I am a perfectly flawed human being… and I have accepted that I’m not the only one dealing with these issues. I’m not special after all (but don’t forget we each are in many other ways)
Being a triathlete makes me no less perfectly flawed than when I wasn’t a triathlete. And I still don’t want to get involved in the ‘your green smoothie vs my Cocoa Pops’ debate. I’d rather go for a run.
That’s all I have to say about it. If you are a life-long dieter, maybe try letting go of the rules and just eating like the de-stressed, happy-go-lucky, energetic person that lives inside you. You might need to wake them up with a little brisk walk or something first. It may work, or at the very least it might free you up to enjoy other, more interesting aspects of your life.
If you already have a wonderfully healthy body, ignore this post to your heart’s content. As I already stated, I don’t know anything really.