At the beginning of this journey, my diet was the standard American diet (SAD), full of ultra-processed, fried with added sugar, and high sodium foods. I enjoyed frequent outings to fast-food chains and consumed a lot of red meat and fat-laden restaurant meals late into the night. Usually washed down with plenty of alcohol. The routine was fun but at the end of the day, I was frequently stuffed and uncomfortable. As most of us tend to do, I adapted and normalized the discomfort and continued the cycle. As a consequence, I gained a lot of weight. It wasn’t until my son told me that I looked pregnant that I begin to take an honest assessment of my current state – I couldn’t unsee the truth.
Once I’d decided to change course and was exercising more or less regularly, I needed to address my diet. I was eating out of habit and routine, much of which was emotionally driven. I ate what I enjoyed without much thought about the quality of the food. I didn’t connect how I felt with what I ate. That came later.
Stubbornness runs deep!
Initially, I perceived choosing healthier foods as a sacrifice. I was reluctantly giving up what I wanted to eat for what I should eat. I thought of it as “should eat” and because I needed the energy to complete my training and still function the remainder of the day. My goal of completing an Ironman triathlon was not compatible with my eating habits. I remember days that I ran only 6 miles and barely had enough energy to stay awake and function the remainder of the day. So, with the “should” mindset, I ate the minimum about of “necessary” healthy foods so that I could still eat what I wanted (foods that made my mouth happy) and tell myself that I was doing enough. HA!
Over time, I hit performance plateaus and recovery roadblocks. After discussions with both my coach and nutritionist, I accepted that my diet was a large contributor to my difficulties. I was incorporating more nutritious foods throughout the day and had begun taking vitamin and mineral supplements. They were helping, but I was still missing an important component. The connection between what I ate and how I felt.
Not until I began connecting food choices with my body’s response did I begin to make real progress. I was approaching food and nutrition from the perspective of general concepts without figuring out what specifically worked and didn’t work for me. As I paid attention, I removed and added different foods while experimenting with changing the frequency of meals. Not long afterward I began to feel the benefits of eating well (eating for performance). Food selections narrowed and I gravitated to items that made me feel satisfied and adequately fueled. I also began avoiding food that left me feeling bloated or lethargic (potato chips took 1st place).
Recently, I was invited to go out with friends and let loose. I’d have to break my routine and eating shit that would not make my body feel good. I contemplated this and I considered how it would impact my training. How many days would it take to return to feeling good again? How would the immediately executed training sessions be impacted? Would I feel crappy, feel low in energy, and not make the most out of each training session?
Then it hit me!
I was now perceiving the less nutritious meals as a sacrifice – is a 180-degree change in just under 1.5 years 😯 😃! I remember thinking that I’d rather be hungry than grab crappy convenience food and feel like shit for a day or two. I interpret this change in perspective as an important internal shift in how I view my health and myself as an athlete. It’s a reflection of my priorities – feeling healthy and optimizing my ability to perform each day.