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Triathlete Blog

New Rules of Eating

By November 4, 2013July 21st, 2015No Comments

Well, it’s that time of year again.

Time to clear your refrigerator out of anything with gluten, meat, sugar and buy yourself a Vitamix.  That’s right folks, we’re cleansing.  Or detoxing.  Or going gluten-free.  We’re paleo.  Wheat grass shots all around.  We’re eating clean!  Making everything from scratch.  Taking on a new challenge.  Denouncing wheat.  We’re doing all of that.

No, really.

In between: cleaning our house, going to work, taking care of our kids, feeding our kids/spouses/dogs, catching up on the latest shows, planning for the holidays, taking a shower, sleeping, oh and – training.  By the way, we’re also going to cardio pump, hot yoga and CrossFit.

In our “free”time.

In fact, most of us know what we’re doing but have no idea why.  We have no idea why the person blogging about making their own sports nutrition does that.  Maybe they don’t know either?  We have no idea why people go to Cross Fit.  We just know that a lot of people do it and look really ripped.  I’m not against any one of those things.  But I am against going against common sense.  At this time of year, you don’t need to juice your meals, eat only fruit before noon or meditate.

You just need to exercise a little common sense, people.

Common sense says that all of those things that you’re thinking about doing that take extra equipment, supplies, restriction or create awkward social situations – those things are complicated.  I’m not suggesting you avoid what’s complicated in life.  Many worthwhile things are – marriage, children, updating your iPhone.  However, I am suggesting you surround yourself with things, ways of life and behaviors that are simple.

Everyone wants the secret.  What’s the trick!  Ready for it?  What is simple is sustainable.  Read it again.  There it is!  Simple.  Sustainable.  And what is sustainable works.  Why?  Because you’re able to do it over and over again.  Consistency.  Just as consistency is the most effective approach to training – it also is for your diet or your way of living.  If you can repeat it day after day after day you’ll see results.  If not, it’s complicated.

Food is a hot button for everyone.  If only we were 5 pounds thinner we’d be prettier, faster, more popular and we’d like ourselves more.  If only.  Chances are we’re not for myriad reasons – we’re getting older, we’re busy, we’re stressed, we’re not built that way or we’re inconsistent.  Simple as that.  Not because you’re eating wheat or drinking a glass of wine or fueling through your sessions.  Come on, do you really think that Power Gel you took while biking is the one thing you need to remove from your diet to drop a few pounds?

110 calories!?!

Admit it, you’ve thought that way before.  It’s true, we all have.  Myself:  GUILTY.  In bold.  If you’re struggling with it right now, congratulations, you’re totally normal.  I have met very few women who do not struggle with some level of disorder in their eating.  Myself included!  Doesn’t necessarily mean you have an eating disorder.  It just means that many of us have a complicated relationship with food.  Considering we need food to survive, this tends to make our daily survival, at times, difficult.

Why isn’t eating easy?  There’s misinformation, media, self-esteem, culture, men, our own mothers – shall I go on to list all of the reasons we are so messed up with our eating?  There are so many mixed messages.  Remember when eggs were bad?  Or when margarine was better than butter?  For every study out there supporting something, there’s another refuting it.  At times we strayed far away from common sense.  And when someone prescribes us common sense, ie., move more, eat less, we look at them skeptically and think: It can’t be that simple.

Simple, yes.  But not easy.

This time of year many athletes are thinking about nutrition.  ‘Tis the time of the year to GET LEAN!  We’re looking for the magic formula, the way of eating, the super food that will get us there.  Because there’s GOT to be SOMEthing.


Let me tell you the secret.  It’s very simple.  I’ll give you 3 tips on how to lose weight, look better and feel good about yourself.  That’s right, I’m going full on infomercial style here:

  • Eat real food
  • Eat often
  • Eat everything in moderation

Eating real food means just that.  It’s fresh, wholesome, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats.  It doesn’t come in a box.  If it does, that box has a list of – at most – 3 ingredients (that you can pronounce and recognize!).  It’s not dressed up with a lot of stuff.  It’s fresh and naked.

Eating often means just saying an emphatic NO to skipping meals or going more than 4 hours without eating (except bedtime of course).  It means actually eating!  You’ve got to feed the machine.

Eating everything in moderation.  This is truth.  But most of us will put complicated rules of restriction into our diets.  And when it comes to following these restrictions, long-term, we are failures.  After coaching women for years and being a woman myself, let me tell you the one thing that is getting in the way of anything you’re trying to do – whether it’s get faster, lose weight, become leaner: it’s consistency.  The lack thereof.  From what I’ve seen and learned, personally, you need freakish amounts of consistency day after day, week after week, month after month to make ANY changes in body composition.  Unfortunately, for most of us, this is not often the case.

We cleanse, detox, in other words we starve.  We eat very little and what we do eat, let’s face it, we really don’t truly enjoy it.  We restrict ourselves from indulging, a little, in what we enjoy believing that there is no way possible we can indulge and still _____.  Fill in that blank – that blank is whatever you want – go faster, lose weight, look good in Lululemon pants.

Women restrict and over-restrict until at some point the stress of restricting, hunger stress, emotional stress, social stress, becomes so much that we give in – and then we overindulge.  I screwed up breakfast?  I might as well screw up second breakfast.  And lunch.  And dinner.  And that meal we have before bed that really screws up our sleep.  That one.

Maybe this lasts a day.  Sometimes we get in bad moods or streaks and it lasts a week until we put our foot down and say Monday or November 1st or the new moon I will begin again and this time I’m going vegan, dammit.  Because the scale hasn’t budged and that has GOT to be the answer.

No, actually it was your inconsistency.  That up and down pattern of restriction followed by over-indulgence.  Give it 6 to 8 weeks of day in, day out following the 3 rules above and then judge your body composition.  I suspect you’ll see a change.

Simple but not easy.

If you’re struggling with body composition or weight, chances are you need to address what you’re doing during the season rather than what you do in the off season.  With a bit of moderate and common sense, you can enjoy yourself during the off season without swearing off baked goods.  You might gain a few pounds but that’s ok.  As long as you limit this gain (the 8% rule!), it should come off in due time when you return to your normal training load.

The problem is that many people do a really shitty job at eating during the season.  They overcompensate: I rode my bike for 5 hours and can eat anything I want!  No, you can’t.  Doesn’t work that way.  Especially since you likely replaced 50-75% of what you burned by way of sports drink and gels.  They underfuel: they miss fulfilling what they need during critical recovery windows – this creates stress (and to see what stress does, see below).  They don’t follow a consistent fueling plan during workouts: so they end up at the gas station 3 hours into a long ride on the brink of starvation shoving a Snickers and a Coke down.  That’s not performance food.

And here’s another problem: endurance sports is NOT a great weight loss plan if you’re someone who is tethered to the number on the scale.  Case in point: when I started triathlon, I was nearly 10 pounds lighter than I am now.  Am I heavier?  Yes.  But the composition is totally different.  Sometimes the weight gain is muscle mass.  Sometimes it’s water retention.  But many athletes will wrongly attribute the weight gain to what they’re eating, so they restrict or starve themselves to achieve xxx numbers on the scale.  In doing so, they create excessive stress from improper eating on top of the stress of endurance training and the stress of daily life.  Stress begets more stress and more cortisol which in itself causes weight gain.

So what’s the answer?

First of all, relax.  Stop creating ridiculous rules for yourself that you can’t eat chocolate or have to give up cream in your coffee.  Unless you are 4 to 6 weeks away from your peak race, that is a great way to take away your will to survive.

Next, learn how to eat.  It’s shocking how many adult women simply do not know how to eat.  I didn’t know how to eat until I was about 30 years old.  True story.  It wasn’t until a nutritionist looked at my 3 day food log – which contained, oh, you know the typical performance food of Girl Scout Samoa Cookies, garbanzo beans (for protein of course!) and salad – that I learned what I was doing was not just wrong but working against everything I wanted: performance, well being, happiness.  From there, she taught me practical ways to fix my eating.

Third, when the stakes are high (in season, close to your peak race), your focus should also be high.  When the stakes are low (off season, when you are possibly a year from your peak race and knee deep in the holidays), cut yourself some slack.  Having the right focus at the right time is the key to better body composition (and performance and success) over the long haul.

Lastly, like I said in my previous post, be good to yourself.  Starving, restricting, creating difficult regimens that require a blender, a lot of time and doing something different than the rest of your family – well, that’s not fun for you, for them and it certainly doesn’t sound sustainable.  Being good also means learning to love and accept yourself.  There might be times you don’t like something about yourself but the overall trend should be acceptance and love.  You get one chance to go around this beautiful world.  Don’t waste it all on hating your intelligent, healthy and limitless self because you weigh xxx pounds or don’t look like so-and-so.

You’ve read this entire post and I didn’t give you one food group to swear off.  All I gave you was…a lot of common sense.  The more complex our lives become with technology, communication and information, the more we seem to forget what has stood the test of time: simplicity.  Don’t fall into the trap of overcomplicating something because we feel it MUST be complicated or else everyone would have it or be it or do it.  Remember, simple isn’t often easy to do.  Simple is not the same thing as settling.  Simple is simply the shortest distance between two points: a straight, logical, common sense line.  Don’t stray too far from the path in how you eat and what you eat and you’ll be on the path to success with your way of eating and how you look, too.  Above all, follow an approach you can follow day after day after day.  Take on only a level of complication that your life (and personality) can realistically handle!  Going paleo, vegan, sugar-free works for many people but it must work within the context of your life.
And whatever your approach to eating is, remember, 6 months of mostly good eating with a little cheating is better than 1 week of swearing off sugar only to eat an entire pumpkin pie in less than 24 hours.

I’ve seen this happen, folks, and it isn’t pretty!

(just ask my husband about his annual “pumpkin pie incident”)