body image · diets · sports nutrition

Why Sports Nutrition Counselling Is Not for Me (in the Long Run)

20121217-093718.jpgI posted recently about vegan sports nutrition. I know I can fuel my body sufficiently on a vegan diet. A sports nutritionist confirmed that for me. And she was impressed with the choices I make, even before she “counselled” me. In fact, she had very little to say about how I should change my eating, given my level of activity.

Samantha posted about why she hates Weight Watchers. I have also had my ups and downs (literally) with WW and other programs. There are lots of reasons to be wary of any program that focuses on weight loss as the sole goal. And there are lots of programs like that out there.

When I was in my twenties I (twice) lost a considerable amount of weight through a centre called “Physician’s Weight Loss Clinic.” I am 5 feet, 4 inches tall and when I joined I weighed about 120 pounds. On their 700 calorie a day diet (!!) and with *daily* weigh-ins, I went down to 105 pounds (that’s 11 pounds lower than the low end for my height at WW; WW would refuse me or demand a doctor’s note).

Forget any form of activity on the Physician’s Weight Loss Clinic plan. I could barely make it through a work day at my summer job in an air conditioned office answering phones at a desk all day. I’m sure the nurse who did the weigh-ins had an eating disorder. By the time I reached goal, I had one too.

As Samantha said, apart from the fact that these programs don’t usually “work” for long term weight maintenance, they do not have a good handle on what active people require. They do not support, encourage, or even understand eating for performance.

Sports nutrition is a far cry from the calorie-restricted plans weight loss centres and programs offer. And sports nutrition counselling provides solid information for the athlete who regards food as fuel for enhancing her performance. In general, I had a positive experience with it in that respect.

So why have I decided that it’s not for me? I have a history of food obsession, chronic dieting, and disordered eating. The diet industry fostered the attitudes and behaviors that resulted in an almost complete disconnect between my physical hunger signals and my actual desire for food. I had no sense of proper portions and still today struggle most not with what to eat but how much.

At various times of my life, I have attempted to “recover” what I lost: a natural, intuitive relationship with food as a response to hunger and physical need. The most hope for a new approach came to me through the work of Geneen Roth (especially Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating) Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter (Overcoming Overeating), and Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (Intuitive Eating).

The approach, popularized in the early nineties, teaches people to re-connect with their hunger signals and to stop demonizing some foods as “bad” while others are praised as “good.” All of them said to throw away the scale and commit to never dieting again.

When I first encountered these works, I was a PhD student in a demanding doctoral program. I spent most of my day thinking about food and judging my body harshly. I starved myself for weeks on end and worked out for hours every day. These authors promised relief from the obsession with food and, more importantly, from the body hatred that fuelled my workouts.

This month, after some reflection, I made a decision to return to the authors and books that gave me so much hope twenty years ago. I will be blogging more about that at some point soon.

So what does all of this have to do with sports nutrition and sports nutrition counselling? Given my history, it is beyond easy for me to convince myself that a solid “plan” is not a diet. Even the diet industry avoids the word “diet” these days.

But for me, no matter how sound the information I receive from a nutrition counsellor is, it starts me down the path of what I call “mediated eating.” The eating is mediated by information about what and how much I should be eating. And that disassociates me from my body, my physical hunger signals, my intuitive relationship with food.

For me, that is dangerous. It fosters old patterns of behavior and soon I am back to an obsessive relationship with food. Eating is then mediated by the desire to change my body. My body is no longer acceptable as it is.

And the cycle starts all over again. I can feel that creeping back into my life right now. It started with the nutrition counselling. I want to nip it in the bud.

Now, maybe someone who is blogging about being “fittest at fifty” is just fooling herself if she thinks she can have that as a goal and yet not have an at least somewhat mediated relationship with food.

We will have to see. If I want freedom from the obsession with food, weight, and body image, I need to accept that for me (not necessarily for you), sports nutrition has all the psychological trappings of any other plan.

And that’s why I am no longer interested in sports nutrition or sports nutrition counselling.

14 thoughts on “Why Sports Nutrition Counselling Is Not for Me (in the Long Run)

  1. I have to confess that I am unsure how one stays committed to being fit without staying committed to eating in a very healthy manner. Sports nutrition is nothing more than a system taught to athletes of all shapes and sizes, eg. long distance runners to offensive linemen. Sports nutrition is not necessarily a weight loss or even a fat loss plan, although they can become connected depending on your goals at any point in time. Maybe for personal reasons you have to throw the baby out with the bath water, Tracy, but is it not possible to recast your thought process about sports nutrition? Why not get into it from a performance (whatever sport or activity you choose for now, eg. running; in another six months, resistance training, etc., then in another six months, with fat loss; athletes change it up all the time) – not a body image – standpoint? If you are obsessed with body image, you’re going to stay obsessed with it no matter what you do, unless you change your mindset about some things anyway. No?

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    1. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t say I was going to start eating badly. I don’t really have that tendency. I just tired of food plans. I will experiment with it and report.

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  2. Three thoughts:
    First, this sounds like the right decision for you. I know how much you hate tracking foods and that’s certainly a clue that this isn’t right for you. That weight loss clinic sounds awful. Ugh.
    Second, like Craig I try to think it terms of maximizing sports performance through better nutrition. For example, I often don’t feel like eating at all on long, fast bike rides but then my speed and recovery lag. I definitely don’t feel like eating so I may as well eat what’s best from a performance point of view.
    Third, I worry that for me at least “listening to my body” is a romantic notion that doesn’t match the facts. See the bike riding example. Also, our bodies are designed to survive famines and we’re in an environment with an excess of food. What my body wants and what I want are very often two different things. I’ll probably blog about this later in my review of Caulfield’s book.

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  3. I cetainly didn’t mean to be critical, and I agree that these weight loss clinincs like WW sound absolutely clueless! When you first advised of their riduculous points system, I was shocked. Talking about preying on the most vulnernable by ensuring that they’ll be back. I’ve learned alot already from reading this site regarding the need for balance, and what that might really mean. And I thank both you and Sam for your thoughts and your insights.

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  4. And I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the intuitive eating approach. Along that line I liked If Not Dieting, Then What? and also Calm Eating.

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  5. Thanks for the two new recommendations. I’ll check them out. And I didn’t take it as criticism. I understand that it’s a radical approach and might not make a lot of sense when you already have a good performance-based perspective in place that doesn’t play tricks with you!

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