Written by Martha, Associate nutritionist, personal trainer, and mental health writer.
Being physically active has lots of benefits, as we already know. Yet finding the right balance between eating well to aid your physical performance but also not letting your fitness goals dictate your eating choices as can have negative impacts on social qualities (even ones we don’t consciously see!). The focus on weight loss and becoming physically active is a loud voice within media. It has its place and as a physical exercise trainer, I recommend everyone should be physically active at least 3 times a week (NHS guidelines suggest 150 mins of moderate activity per week). We are seeing that with regards to weight/health (not always linked) the messages can be extreme. For this article, it is for individuals that feel their life belongs only to fitness and as a result, their food becomes something of extreme conscious thought.
On a fundamental biological point, food is essential for movement. When talking about physical activity, especially those that train hard and consistently, food is both an excellent place for providing the body a chance to recover, grow, replenish the vital components to help with the next session.
Food is needed whether you’re active or not, if we abuse this system it potentially ripples the mindset towards eating huge volumes of food because you train as well as can start to manifest in problems with health. Having pizza every day because you know you run every day sadly doesn’t counteract the food. Pizza, of course, can be consumed even if you decide to run the next day or not, but eating the pizza also shouldn’t be consumed if you eat it only because you know you’re going to burn it off in order to feel that’s the only reason you can consume it without guilt. If we start to stress and overthink the food we eat with regards to a training session (i.e. avoids foods because it is higher in calories, therefore, might hinder physical performance). This can be believed to be part of the ‘reward system’. Mindset can start to sound and believe that you can only consume food based on the efforts of a training session or a training session was tougher than expected so a reward is to consume more. To believe that food or fitness is a result of the other being a reward is whether we can get caught between having the one aspect dictate the other, with a never-ending loop. On the other spectrum, when fitness becomes the control it is then feared that food will become a huge concern as to how to fuel properly without ruining progress.
The truth is, one meal will not change anything dramatically for your training. To have a night with a takeaway or a few beers at the pub will not hinder performance to a point of failure. Psychologically it is easier to feel like one night where we eat differently than normal feels like one has gone ‘off track, but as humans, there is no track to be on. In individuals we can sometimes magnify smaller details within life; a pizza feeling like you’ve let yourself go or not reaching your personal best on your training day. To feel extreme emotions around minor/ smaller targets can progress to unhealthy dictations of health. A bigger perspective and relaxing about food/fitness goals is whether the mind can rest along with your body too. Exercise is a changing journey of which will have peaks and valleys. The food is part of the journey but also has its own separate place within your own ethos; social, practical, financial, accessibility, environment. A healthy mindset with food and fitness is to be fulfilled by all other surrounding practicalities of the training sessions and the foods to support it. To embrace the spontaneity of life around food choices and to have fitness goals in place but let them be part of the long journey and not a rush to achieve. The physical and psychological aspects of mindsets of food and fitness can be a battlefield, worth seeking help if you feel one is winning the war in your mind of stress and negative influence.
Martha is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (AfN) as well as a Personal Trainer and mental health writer with over 3 years of experience. Martha’s philosophy is to keep the mind healthy and happy, this encompasses a bridge between mind, nutrition, and movement. Book Martha online, or complete our nutrition assessment if you are seeking advice.