Mindful Eating Benefits For Athletes

by Megan Meyer, PhD, IFIC

Training and competing have always been a big part of my life. After over two decades of training for more races than I can count, I believe I have perfected my race day execution and, more importantly, pre-race preparation.

My love of running began when I was a competitive swimmer in my teens and twenties. After college, I decided to change things up and try running, which led me to sign up for my first half marathon. Naturally, soon after I combined my running and swimming skills to become a triathlon junkie.

Somewhere between my evolution from triathlete to marathon runner, I realized something. The things I ate during race season not only affected my performance on race day, but they also fueled a year-round food obsession and not a healthy obsession.

After hearing about mindful eating, a practice that incorporates many intuitive eating principles, such as eating when you’re hungry and not observing dietary restrictions, I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t long before I noticed my energy levels improving and my strength increasing. More importantly, my mind was free from counting macros and daydreaming about food.

If you’re looking for a way to break out of the restrictive eating habits that often accompany competitive sports, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore mindful eating in more detail, including the benefits of mindful eating and how to get started.

WHAT IS CONSCIOUS EATING?

While the concept of mindful eating can be difficult to understand, in practice it is relatively easy. Mindfulness is, quite simply, the practice of continually bringing your attention to the present moment, rather than racing through life on autopilot.

Practicing mindfulness can encompass more than just your eating habits. But for me, mindful eating is like eating when I’m hungry, intentionally chewing my food, and allowing myself to eat foods I enjoy instead of aiming for a perpetual calorie deficit.

WHY PRACTICE MINDFULNESS WHEN EATING?

In addition to the physiological health benefits of mindful eating, such as improved HDL cholesterol and lower BMI, practicing mindful eating has been shown to have a positive impact on mental well-being.

He Diets and other restrictive eating practices. that athletes commonly use to improve their physical appearance and performance can lead to obsessive thoughts about food.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met other athletes and all we do is talk about the foods we’ll eat once we complete our training. Food is the main topic of our conversations 99.99% of the time.

Mindful eating can help moderate food obsession and the negative impacts it can have on the psyche. Multiple studies show the effectiveness of mindful eating in improving depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.(1)(2)

CAN YOU LOSE WEIGHT BY EATING CONSCIOUSLY?

In an effort to lose weight, many people turn to restrictive dietary practices, such as limiting calories or running on an empty stomach. While these methods may work for some, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to losing weight, and in some cases, they do more harm than good.

Since conscious eaters are encouraged not to track calories, eat when hungry, and indulge in “unhealthy” foods like pizza, one might assume they would gain weight. But studies show that this school of thought is false.

Research shows that athletes who follow conscious or intuitive eating principles, such as eating when hungry and not adhering to dietary restrictions, have lower BMIs than those who practice restrictive diets. Best of all, these weight-related benefits of conscious eating come with better psychological health. (3)

WHAT ARE THE STEPS FOR CONSCIOUS EATING?

Knowing what an example of conscious eating is will be essential if you want to start adopting these principles in your own life. In the next section, you’ll find some simple steps you can take to eat more mindfully.

1. PAY ATTENTION TO INTERNAL HUNGER SIGNALS

When I focus on training, I notice that I skip meals or snacks. Even though I’m hungry, I ignore important internal cues, leading me to eat more compulsively later in the day. My body desperately seeks calories and nutrients to replenish itself after my workout.

A change as simple as eating when I’m hungry has helped me address my binge eating habit, and there are studies supporting the effectiveness of mindful eating in treating binge eating disorder. (4)

2. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT WHERE YOU EAT

After a training session, I often find myself rushing to work with food in hand or grabbing a quick snack in the kitchen. Other times, I fall asleep hard on the couch and watch TV while devouring whatever food is nearby. Both habits lead me to eat without thinking, without recognizing the foods (and the amount of them) that I am putting into my body.

If you’ve adopted a similar eating pattern, being intentional about where you eat is an easy way to develop a more mindful eating style. Get into the habit of dividing food into portions in a bowl or plate and sit at the dining room table to eat.

3. START WITH SMALLER PORTIONS

It can take up to 20 minutes for the brain to receive the signal that the stomach is full. Eating too quickly or starting with too large a portion are two ways to set yourself up for overeating.

Instead, start with a smaller serving than you would normally have, perhaps 60% of your usual serving. After eating this first serving, you can do a mindful eating meditation or simply take a few minutes to allow your brain to catch up with your belly.

After listening to your body, you’ll know better if you need the remaining 40% of your serving. You’ll probably be surprised how often you don’t!

4. ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS

Before I became a conscious eater, I used my time eating to watch TV or catch up on emails. This disconnection from food is one of the main causes of overeating, as we no longer pay attention to our satiety levels.

Slowing down and using my senses when eating helped me become a more mindful person when eating. I used to pay attention to the smell, texture, temperature, and taste of my food as a way to be more present while eating. This level of presence allowed me to be more in tune with my body and helped me control my compulsive eating habit.

5. CHEW YOUR FOOD WELL

When you think about digestion, you can imagine the process that occurs in your abdomen after eating. But chewing your food is an underrated but essential part of the digestion process.

For a long time, especially when I was under time constraints or eating standing up, I didn’t chew my food well. He didn’t know that chewing your food more can improve nutrient absorption and decrease hunger between meals, making it easier to feel full longer after eating. (5)

Some experts recommend chewing food 32 times, while others suggest trying to get food to an oatmeal-like consistency before swallowing. Adopting one of these methods, or creating your own, is a great way to make big changes without much effort.

6. REMEMBER, YOU DON’T NEED TO “EARN” YOUR MEALS

When you have experience tracking macros and calories in and out, it can be easy to fall into disordered eating habits. The most common thing is to feel that you have to earn your food through physical activity.

One of the biggest changes I noticed when practicing mindful eating was that I no longer felt the need to use exercise as punishment for the food I had eaten. I started treating food as a form of self-care, and when I did, it was easy to continue my physical activity.

CONCLUSION

If your food obsession is getting out of control, take conscious steps or intuitive eating practices to be able to help. Not only are they useful for improving your performance on race day, but they also make everyday life between races more satisfying.

In this article, I shared with you my favorite mindful eating practices, like eliminating distractions and eating when I’m hungry. But they don’t stop there! With many books and other online resources, you can find all the information you need to start your own mindful eating journey.

Creating a new relationship with food using these guiding principles can take some time and it is important to remember that there is no rush. But returning pleasure to food as the ultimate goal is a great goal.

About Megan:

Megan Meyer, PhD is director of the health and wellness communications program at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). At IFIC, she is committed to communicating science-based information to the media, health professionals, external organizations and consumers on topics related to nutrition and health.

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