Athlete: So I made a bad choice today?
Me (Coach): What was that?
Athlete: I ate cookies. I know I shouldn't have eaten them but I did. But I have a huge workout later so I guess I won't beat myself up too much.
Me: Why do you think you should not have had them?
Have you ever had this conversation with your coach or perhaps your friend? I'm sure you have. But the question is why do you create a cycle of "food guilt?"
How the cycle began
For many athletes it is about a conditioning that started long before they even realized it was happening. Magazines, television and social media today fill our brains with images of lean, fit men and women and have articles and messages that are just as confusing and contradicting as they are helpful. In a woman's magazine you will read an article that talks about finding balance in your nutrition and to love your body, but on the very next page there is an advertisement for weight loss supplements and 5 moves to guarantee a six-pack. So even as we sat in waiting rooms of doctors, dentists or hair stylists we, from a very young age, read articles that contradicted the images in the very same medium.
To add insult to injury weigh loss books and diet pills are a multi-billion dollar industry designed to give us "quick fixes" and "secret solutions." The irony is that even diets such as the "Paleo Diet" that is supposed to help us follow our ancient ancestry's diet isn't telling the whole story. The truth is so simple that it could not be written in a book because well, it would fill up enough pages to sell. Brace yourself, the secret to nutrition is to eat a well balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, protein, fat and yes even carbohydrates.
What I cannot tell you without knowing you is how the macro-nutrient breakdown of Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat will optimize your body. For some it could look like "flexible dieting", which for the record as a coach I found is just a mathematicians approach to justifying eating donuts and ice cream, for others it may be a Vegan diet. Your body is unique and will respond differently to what you put into it.
FOOD GUILT BEGINS
But let's get back to food guilt. We do not need to shame ourselves, punish our bodies with harder workouts or juice for 2 days because we ate Christmas Cookies or enjoyed pizza and beer with friends. It's called balance. I am going to repeat this-- BALANCE. Balance means enjoying the cookies, but also enjoying the plethora of vegetables you had at lunch as well. It is watching a football game and cracking open cold beer, but also creating balanced dinners with protein (chicken or tofu), carbs (veggies-broccoli) and fat (coconut oil, ghee).
Cortisol is on the Rise
When you stress over eating certain foods you increase your levels of "the stress hormone," cortisol. This level rises during tension-filled moments. This can turn your overeating or cravings into a habit. Because increased levels of hormone can help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods. This cycle of "food guilt" only makes you more likely to overeat the sweet treats and ultimately cause a hike in your weight.
Don't believe me? You can still gain weight even by skipping the sweet treat and obsessing over it. You want the cupcake but have mentally beat yourself up over the idea of eating it with your race just two weeks away. So you dismiss the temptation and stay strong. But your thoughts continuously returning to this "forbidden cupcake" still increases your cortisol levels. So once again, you begin to see a hike in your weight. Becoming increasingly frustrated over the fact that you have been living like a rabbit for two months on carrots and lettuce your scale doesn't budge an inch. Not to mention the stress is affecting your overall hormonal balance and efficiency of your thyroid.
So tell me again why eating the sweet treat was so bad? Because it had more calories than you thought? Let me paint one more picture. All you want is to eat a slice of the company pie at the holiday party but you keep saying "No" in your head. You circle the table for the fifth time like a vulture ready to eat it's prey but grab more carrots and veggie dip. You make it through the holiday party but head home and raid your pantry for more food because you "are still hungry" so you eat a bunch of "unnecessary foods" because you are still hung up on pie. Compound this over 1, 2 or several more days and think of how many calories you just added.
It's science, calories in need to be less than calories expended in order to lose weight. Calories in need to remain the same as output for sustaining a weight and if you exceed the amount of calories you burn you will gain weight. But the missing variable is your cortisol. If you want to reduce your cortisol, you need to manage your stress. Since life is full of unexpected stresses, lets start with the food guilt. Enjoy your food, stay active and stop beating yourself up. The results will follow.
Now I am going to do something you are not doing for yourself. Give you permission to enjoy your food. You have this one life, live it to its fullest. It does NOT always have to be zucchini and garden salads. I assure you the stress you are creating in your body over eating the cookies is causing for more damage to your waistline than the cookie itself.