Updated: Jan 14
Do you remember why you got into exercise in the first place?
Often we start some type of physical activity for the simple enjoyment of moving our bodies, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and being part of a like-minded community. Somewhere along the way though, we come across certain pressures, rules and regulations. Pressure to perform, pressure to have a particular body shape, pressure to eat a certain way or dress a certain way.
When I started Crossfit, I had loads of fun trying to lift heavy things above my head and master the gymnastics movements. The community was so supportive and engaged, it felt like my second home. What the community also did, was heavily promote the Paleo diet. Many people saw great improvement when they left behind highly processed foods and started adding more vegetables, natural fats and protein into their diet. The Paleo culture was so strong, that it became almost part of the identity of the athlete.
"If you are a crossfitter who doesn't eat Paleo,
are you really a crossfitter?"
The peer-pressure was also strong. As the sports dietitian of my community, I felt I always had to justify myself. "Why don't you eat Paleo?", "What?! You have bread?! Oh no." Luckily for me, I always new why I didn't eat Paleo and was very comfortable with my decision. For some of my training buddies however, the story was different. They succumbed to the pressure and went down the rabbit hole of doing diet challenge after challenge, only to eat even more bread (and many other foods) than when they had started. They felt they were doing something wrong, they had failed their diet and their peers.
While working with a number of elite athletes in the sport, I noticed that those rules were not serving them anymore - they had taken the gist of a Paleo diet and transformed it into a set of rules.This meant they were restricted in amounts and variety. Missing out on nutrients and adequate energy. Of course, their performance stagnated. All those hours at the box where not amounting to much progress and they were more prone to injuries.
Crossfit is far from the only sport where you are susceptible to this. For a while now, endurance athletes are sold the idea of veganism for optimal performance and health. The peer-pressure is strong, and is accompanied by TV documentaries and testimonials.
"If you are a long distance runner,
and you are not vegan, shame on you.
Your friends are, and they will leave you behind."
One of the most common issues I see with athletes, both in the endurance and strength world, is that they are not fuelling enough - particularly women. Part of this, is because of trying to submit themselves to food trends and peer pressure. It happens gradually and we mostly go along with it, until at some point we find ourselves lost, not making progress, fighting recurrent injuries, feeling isolated and questioning why we got into that sport in the first place. It's just not fun anymore. Are you still having fun?
When we are in tune with our body, when we honour our internal cues of hunger and satiety, when we get satisfaction out of the food we eat and when we treat our body with respect, then we are able to make choices that work in our favour. We eat what we need to keep our bodies strong, support the training load, and take us to new heights.
There is no guilt. No shame. No feeling out of control.
While I don't see a problem in following a well balanced Paleo, Vegan or any other diet for that matter, we have to remember that these diets have to serve us, not the other way around! Better yet, rather than giving your eating style a name - and with that a strict set of black and white rules - experiment with various combinations and find what works for you.
From time to time, revisit your routine and question it. Are these habits still serving you? If they are not, change then.
A great skill to help you navigate, giving you more awareness of the reasons behind your food choices and greater confidence, is intuitive eating. I think it's one of THE most important skills to have in your toolbox, specially for athletes.
If you would like to learn more about intuitive eating, we have an online course coming up soon. Register your interest here.