Somewhere in the middle... eating and exercise and being reasonable about it!
September 2, 2010 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me reduce my anxiety about eating too little (when I'm eating enough) and getting my pre/post-workout nutrition EXACTLY right...

I am recovering from an eating disorder. I've recovered from the anorexia part and have made massive improvements in terms of eating in an intuitive, relaxed and healthy manner, but 2 years of distorted thinking about food has ingrained some unhelpful patterns. Because when I wasn't eating enough I would often feel exhausted, which I hated, and back when I was still able to exercise, I would frequently become hypoglycemic after training, which was quite scary, I now have some anxiety about not eating *enough* (particularly enough carbs) which sometimes causes me to over-eat - I'm so frightened of becoming sick again and not being able to do the things I enjoy (like play sport) that I've been erring on the side of over-eating - and my weight and body fat just keep increasing because of this. Finding the right balance between enough and too much is something I'm working on.

I have read a ridiculous amount of information about nutrition so I'm pretty good about knowing what I should be eating before and after I exercise, but I probably know a bit more than is necessary and get a bit anxious about not getting it exactly right and I think I'm probably overestimating the negative effect it would have.

I exercise once or twice a day (aiming to return to a competitive level in my sport) and would like to loosen up a bit about the food thing - the other athletes I know are fairly free and easy about what they eat, in that they aren't mentally calculating exactly how many grams of protein/carbs/fat are in their meals etc, or *exactly* how long before or after training they are consuming them - and panicking when they can't eat exactly what (or when) they had planned etc - and they seem to be doing fine.

I want to keep my progress going with returning to healthy eating behaviours, and this is part of it. I don't want to over-eat just because I'm afraid of under-eating. One of my friends said to me "As long as you're eating at least 3 meals a day, nothing bad can happen" and this was quite helpful in reducing my anxiety about accidentally not eating enough in general, but I'd especially like to hear some sensible advice from people who exercise, especially at an athlete level about having good nutrition but not being overly regimental about it. I don't want to feel like I need to be absolutely precise in order to be able to train hard and get results.

Thank you!
posted by Chrysalis to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to talk to a nutritionist - lay out what you've said here, namely that:

1. You are recovering from an eating disorder.
2. You are trying to get back to a competitive level in X.
3. You'd like to know how to best fuel your body, especially before and after work-outs.

Having someone else audit your eating and exercise can really help to normalize both.

Regarding the part about comparing yourself to other athletes: don't. First, they don't have your past; second, you don't know how what you see them eat reflects on what they eat as a whole. Actually, though, it may be worth talking to them seriously about this, because they might be able to provide some guidance.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:35 AM on September 2, 2010

You should have an idea of what you would like to weigh. Weigh yourself once a day (at the same time, ideally, such as in the morning). Do not concern yourself with variations of a few pounds; weight goes up and down quite easily on the basis of how much water is in your system and other transitory factors. But if you are, let us say, ten pounds over or under your ideal weight, that is a signal that you have either been overeating or undereating. And if the weight is in an appropriate range, then you have nothing to worry about.
posted by grizzled at 6:51 AM on September 2, 2010

There's nothing wrong with planning your eating, or having macronutrient or caloric targets. I know plenty of athletes who do this, and I think it's a good thing in general if you want results. If you have a plan in place, and you think ahead -- i.e., with grocery shopping and meal preparation -- you'll know you're hitting your targets and won't have to worry about making game-time choices and over- or under-eating.

It is important though to make sure you don't lose your mind over it and go off the rails completely. Something that helps me a lot is having a single day of the week as a "cheat" day, where you have no nutrition rules at all. You can pig out on this day if you want, but you don't have to. You just do whatever you feel like, with no concern for any rules. All the other days you stick to your plan. This is a nice pressure release, and it won't derail you because, as a guy that I train with says, "You are what you do most of the time." That's why it's ok to have a cheat day and why it's ok to miss your targets a little bit now and then. In the long run it's not going to matter. Training hard and eating right is a lifelong endeavor, and as long as you're getting things right most of the time, the trend will be positive.
posted by JohnMarston at 7:22 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: It helped me immensely to eat and cook fresh foods, because they don't come with nutrition information on the package. I could guess how many calories I was eating, but most of the time I lost track. This might not help you if you've already memorized the calories in a head of broccoli or a chicken breast, but if you have been eating prepared foods it could be a useful trick.

A very imprecise guideline: if you are (generally) eating only when you need it - when you are hungry, or after a workout - and you (generally) do not eat until you are uncomfortably full, you are not eating too much. If you are able to get through your day, and workouts, without getting dizzy or lightheaded, you are probably eating enough.

Keep in mind that the human body is resilient and can handle occasional overeating or overtraining. If you are eating and resting enough to feel physically comfortable most of the time, you can bounce back from occasional blips.

Congratulations on your recovery, and enjoy your health!
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:34 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are recovering from an eating disorder, I'm going to go ahead and disagree with the advice about weighing yourself daily. I still weigh myself occasionally, but noticing how my clothes fit is a much less stressful and rigid way to make sure that nothing crazy is happening with my weight.

I'd also caution against assuming that strict diets are a good choice for you right now, even if they work for other athletes. This stood out to me: "I have read a ridiculous amount of information about nutrition so I'm pretty good about knowing what I should be eating before and after I exercise." This is true, but if you are recovering from an ED, you are likely using and interpreting all this information (maybe 'too much' information, as you said) different than someone else without your history would. I would strongly second the recommendation to see a nutritionist, and especially to see one with a background in eating disorders rather than a sports nutritionist. Right now, "proper nutrition" for you might mean something other than close calculations of the food you eat, especially if you are currently at a healthy weight.

In terms of how to regain a healthier relationship with food, one thing I've found to be helpful is to try new things that aren't associated with how I regulated my behavior when I was struggling with these issues. Overly strict exercise was a big problem for me, but I gained a lot of perspective from starting to dance, a new activity for me that wasn't associated with rigid calorie counts or fitness goals. You might discuss doing something similar with food with a nutritionist.
posted by heyforfour at 7:53 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing a nutritionist with a background in eating disorders. If this were me, I would not weigh myself every day. When I did it, it did nothing and in some cases caused more anxiety. If your sport of choice is a weight-dependent sport (ie. you have to get into a certain weight class for boxing, etc), weigh yourself once a week or, if it's triggering for you, get a trainer or fellow athlete to weigh you with your back to the scale. Someone else can keep track for you.

What I found helpful moving on from a really messed-up outlook on food was completely ignoring calorie information (YMMV, of course). If I'm too tired during a workout, I know to eat more next time. If I'm not, I know afterwards I can eat a little less. I try not to overthink it - our bodies are pretty tough, so they can take a mistake here and there once in a while.

Try to think about what food's doing for you - it's nourishing your body, it's letting you move faster, run longer and get better and better at your sport. It's something your body needs. If you eat a little too much after a workout, you know what? You're working out twice a day for your sport - chances are your body's going to use it up anyways. If you're eating an amount that lets you go hard without feeling completely and shatteringly exhausted, you're eating enough. Judge your food intake by how far you can go when you work out. Your body will tell you.

Take care of yourself! *waves pom-poms*
posted by zennish at 8:43 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Weighing yourself every day" and "Have a cheat day" are good strategies for most people but NOT for people who have suffered from EDs. The first leads to anxiety, the second leads to binging.

Metroid Baby makes a really good suggestion--don't focus on the calories, prep your own foods. Focus on getting in high-quality foods (little processed foods, lots of meat, healthy fats, and veggies) and eating them when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. It's good to have something like a piece of fruit and some protein source after a workout, but don't stress about the exact amounts.

Nutrition is still a very imprecise science at this point and ultimately all that information overload is does is make you wig out if you have no context in which to interpret. The best context is your body--adopt those practices that you feel improve your performance, drop the practices that you feel detract from it. This doesn't just include what types of food and how much you eat, but mental shit as well. If obsessing about the grams of protein and the protein/carb ratio you're getting before and after your workout is causing you to freak the fuck out and not focus on performance, then drop the idea of all that pre- and post-workout stuff entirely. They may work for others, but they do not work for you.
posted by Anonymous at 9:41 PM on September 2, 2010

I'm a big fan of the Isocaloric diet, or way of eating. Roughly, it means you eat equal parts of carbs, fat and protein. Dietary fat doesn't make you fat. HFCS does. Eat clean, meaning no processed foods, etc. Don't weigh yourself, but instead go by how your clothes fit.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:58 PM on September 3, 2010

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