body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?

fitness · food

Activity snacks: what’s your favorite?

This week is sort of feeling like the first week of summer. I say “sort of” because today the high was 53F. Brrr… But the temperature on Monday was fantastic for cycling– mid 70s and sunny. My friend Pata and I met up and then headed to our favorite coffee place in Lexington, MA to snack and caffeinate. We rode in the afternoon, so both got forms of ice tea with lemonade, and she ordered banana bread.

Two ice teas and one slice of banana bread, with two bikes waiting patiently behind.
Two ice teas and one slice of banana bread, with two bikes waiting patiently behind.

I know from our many rides that Pata loves the right baked good to keep her going during a ride. Me, I generally prefer to stick to clif shot bloks, or clif bars, or luna bars (my favorites).

My two bike bottles (with orange gatorade) flanking two packs of clif shot bloks. The bikes are still waiting.
My two bike bottles (with orange gatorade) flanking two packs of clif shot bloks. The bikes are still waiting.

Of course, these specialized energy bar/block/gel/drink products can be pricey. I try to order in bulk, and often can get them through athlete friends who have pro deals or other discounts. But, in the end, they work for me on rides, so I don’t mess with what works.

However, I was reminded of how some of us (meaning me) can be overly fussy about how we refuel during breaks in activity. Sitting on a bench across from us were this nice woman and her two kids. She was roller blading and they were biking. On a break they indulged in a bag of multicolored jelly beans, bought from the local drug store. I am sure they cost less than one of my packages of clif shot bloks.

A nice woman and her two kids, enjoying a jelly bean break during a cycling/skating outing.
A nice woman and her two kids, enjoying a jelly bean break during a cycling/skating outing.

I never got their names, but she said it was okay to use their picture. These folks were eminently practical and economical about getting some energy snacks. In fact, my former sports nutritionist Nancy Clark (who has written several books about sports nutrition for runners and cyclists, including here and here) told me that I could put jelly beans in a bag with some salt, and they would be just as good as these tasty but expensive sport beans.

A veritable cornucopia of flavors and types of sport beans (glorified jelly beans in tiny expensive packages).
A veritable cornucopia of flavors and types of sport beans (glorified jelly beans in tiny expensive packages).

Last summer I really stocked up on energy chewables, so I’ve got plenty to start off an active cycling summer. But I’m giving some thought to trying out more modest fueling fare. Do the fancy products really help more than the plain snacks, or is it just placebo effect?

This is a hard question, and I’ve done a bit of digging and not gotten a clear answer. For endurance, high-octane performance, and recovery, we need different combos of sugars, proteins, minerals and generally not much fats, as they are harder to digest. On the other hand, some studies have shown that chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks ever (if you can tolerate milk and the fat content).

Yes, exercise science is complicated.

I’ll keep looking into this, and when I have something to say, you can read it here first.

What I can say with some certainty for now: don’t eat this:

Yes, this is birthday cake-flavored popcorn, or so it says.
Yes, this is birthday cake-flavored popcorn, or so it says.

In the meantime, I’m curious: what are your favorite during-ride and after-ride snacks? I recall that Cate swore by cheese sandwiches during her bike ride through the Baltics. Dear readers, what gets you through a ride, hike, sail, paddle, run, walk, etc.? Do you make your own concoction? Buy something from the convenience store? Order fancy food online? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · food · habits · sports nutrition

Sam Tried for Ten: A Week in Review

The original idea? To try to eat ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day. See Sam tries for ten.

I was curious to see how I’d do with a positive eating goal and I thought I’d share my thoughts and results with you.

Short version: While initial enthusiasm helps, it might have been too ambitious a goal for a busy work week!

My report card:

Day 1: Tuesday

Vegetable stew: sweet potato, onions, peas; Side of mixed veggies: green beans, cauliflower, broccoli; banana, Bites of apple, zucchini noodles, asparagus, artichoke hearts

Score: 11/10

But it was Day 1!

Day 2: Wednesday

Orange juice, Eggplant, Okra , Zucchini noodles, Bok choy, banana

Score: 6/10

Day 3: Thursday

veggie burger, hummus, veggie ramen: mushrooms, peppers, Bok Choy

Score: 6/10

Day 4: Friday

Melon, strawberries, grapes, lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, berries, arugula

10/10

Day 5: Saturday

Orange Juice, mango, orange

Score 3/10

Day 6: Sunday

Orange juice, veggie fresh rolls with broccoli slaw and carrot sticks

Score: 3/10

Day 7: Monday

Edamame, orange, carrot sticks, red peppers, tomatoes, kale, green onions

Score: 7/10

Lessons learned:

The first day of anything new thing is great. So much motivation!

Also, I don’t do that badly on my weekdays without much effort. Thanks GoodFood. I do the vegetarian prefab meal kits three nights a week and they’re loaded with vegetables.

But weekends will take work! The main take away is that that’s where I need to put some effort in if I want to get enough fruits and vegetables.

Do you track fruits and vegetables? Do you get ten servings a day?

Carrots and artichokes,
Photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash
eating · food

Trending now: plant-based eating

Image description: square plate with one ample vegan crab cake on it, with a dollop of white sauce and chopped green onions and a wedge of lemon the side. Photo credit and recipe: https://veganhuggs.com/vegan-crab-cakes/

There are lots of things to love about millenials and Gen-Zs, but one of the best is how they are demanding more meatless food options. An initiative to have 55% of food options involve plant-based proteins at my university by next fall recently made national news. See “Western University’s cafeteria food probably not what you ate in school.

We have a little restaurant on campus that serves really good food. But they don’t always have vegan options. They accommodate, but it’s not a default. And they are well aware that if they serve me one more veggie samosa (don’t get me wrong, the first hundred samosas were absolutely amazing! And I can enjoy them with enough time in between. But not every week, thanks anyway)…well, let’s just say I like variety as much as the next person and leave it at that. If I show up unannounced, they go into a tizzy (“you didn’t tell us you were coming!”). I like that they care. But I’d rather not create panic when I come with a group whose reservation is not under my name.

I know our Great Hall Catering can do it when called upon to do it. A while back, Sam and I co-organized a feminist philosophy conference and asked for the entire thing to have vegan catering. That meant all breaks, a lunch, a reception, and two dinners (including a fancy banquet). From the cashew cheese tray at the reception, to the make-your-own burrito bowl lunch, from the banquet dinner with actual real dessert (not a fruit tray!)…many attendees remarked that it was the best catering they’d ever had at a conference. But that was by special request. And it took some work with them (like I told them where to source the outstanding vegan cheese, for example, from the local company Nuts for Cheese). But once they got the hang of it, they ran with it.

Knowing this, I’m eager to see what they come up with as they revamp the food offerings on campus to offer more plant-based selections. I have long complained that amazing chefs at high end restaurants seem to be unable to grasp the idea of plant-based protein sources. As if a plate full of side dishes is actually satisfying. Tasty, perhaps, but satisfying and well-rounded. No. I have eaten many a side salad and baked potato for dinner while the rest of the party ate ample and (apparently) delicious meals that included protein as the main event.

Western has enlisted the help of a consulting company, Forward Food, to ensure that they do this right. It’s been a slow road, but I consider this a big win. And it’s all because of demand. Young people, like a good proportion of our student population of over 30,000, want plant-based options.

The prospect of having vegan options by default, not by special request, whenever I go to lunch on campus excites me. Contrary to what some may think and much as I appreciate that they know me and my needs at my favourite campus restaurant, I actually prefer not to be given “special” treatment. I would much rather just go have my lunch and be able to pick from a range of selections just like any other customer. I’ll be first in line for the veggie “crab” cakes.

Have you seen a shift in offerings over recent years at the food services outlets you frequent?


eating · food · health

Sam Tries Cauliflower Crust Pizza and Doesn’t Die

Image description: A Cadbury creme egg against a blue background. There is text which reads, “Does anyone have a recipe for these using cauliflower?”

Making things with cauliflower as a substitute for various carbs is a thing. I think I first encountered it with cauliflower rice but since then it’s spread.

It’s especially hot with those following high fat, low carb diets. It’s also often taken to extremes, see the Cadbury creme egg joke above mocking the trend. And for those reasons I’ve avoided it.

Are you like that all? When people give reasons for a thing that you don’t agree with, you ignore the thing even if there are other reasons for trying it that might speak to you? I often have that reaction to food associated with extreme diets even if they’re foods I might actually like for reasons of taste and eating more veggies.

Sometimes however ignoring a thing because others like it for reasons you don’t agree with means missing out on something good.

I came across cauliflower crust pizza in the frozen pizza section of the grocery store. On sale. So I bought two. Verdict? Yum. I liked it. My mother liked it. Would definitely buy more. But the thing is it’s still grocery store frozen pizza. There’s only so good it can taste and only so good for you it can be.

Image description: pizza box which reads “pizza your favorite vegetable.”

It didn’t taste the same as crust made with flour but it was pretty yummy. I like cauliflower. I might even try making one at home. See the great picture below.

Here’s a recipe for a vegan version.

Have you tried it? What did you think of cauliflower pizza?

Image description: a Cauliflower Crust pizza with rainbow vegetables

fitness · food

The pressure of cooking

First there was food.

Produce at an open market.
Produce at an open market.

Then, there was food porn.

Soon after came food morality.

Now, there’s emergency cooking advice. Not for the kind of emergency that requires baking soda or a fire extinguisher. No, I’m talking about how cooking advice has taken on a high-stakes life-or-death tone. That is, we are told that if we don’t buy fresh/organic/local/etc and cook it in healthy (to whomever’s doling out the advice) ways, we and our families and friends will suffer the consequences. So for goodness’ sake, don’t ever fry chicken. Why not? Check this out.

Caption reading– Research: eating fried chicken increases your risk of death by 13%.

In a new book, Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, the authors take a look at the advice we are given to grow our own food, buy it from the most local and fresh sources, cook it in specific ways with specific spices, and make sure that we and our families and others eat it the way this complex (and time-consuming and expensive) process intended it to be consumed. Here’s what one reviewer said about it:

[In the book]…the anthropologists Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott do not deny the value of healthy, home-cooked dinners. Instead, they argue that the way our food gurus talk about dinner is fundamentally disconnected from the daily lives of millions of Americans, especially but not exclusively low-income Americans.

… When Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Jamie Oliver preach their influential, well-compensated sermons about how you—yes, you!—can (and should) improve your family members’ lives by buying healthier food and preparing it at home, they implicitly frame the quality of our dinners as something over which we all wield a considerable degree of control.

If you aren’t doing dinner right, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough for your family: not shopping smartly enough, not doing the right prep work, not using the best recipes. In addition to creating a lot of angst and guilt whenever we fall short, this censorious approach shifts our collective attention away from the bigger forces shaping our lives and meals, blocking the way to more realistic solutions located beyond the kitchen.

The authors interviewed 150 women in North Carolina, most of them with low incomes. What did they find? Of course the women wanted to cook healthy meals, using fresh food. But they were constrained by:

  • food budget
  • time
  • family food preferences
  • local food traditions
  • did I mention money?
  • oh, and time– worth repeating

How do we respond to the pressure to cook, come what may?

Often, the way we talk about food makes it sound like fixing our meals will fix everything else: heal our bodies, save the environment, restore our family bonds. The proposed solutions in Pressure Cooker flip this equation on its head: Fix the big stuff—reduce poverty, recognize food as a human right—and families will figure out their own dinners just fine.

This makes sense to me. Taking the pressure off cooking to solve all the world’s problems is a good idea. Even better, taking the pressure off (mostly) women to tackle all the world’s problems by making the perfect meal and force-feeding it to their loved ones and friends is a good plan. We all have much bigger fish to fry.

Readers, do you feel pressured to cook certain foods certain ways? When? What do you do about it? I’d love to hear from you.

competition · eating · food

Competitive Eating: Is Excelling at This Good for Women? Good for Anyone? #tbt

We are in the middle of a deep freeze here and I’m drawn to this past post to totally take my mind off of it. Here, I considered the case of competitive eating and whether it’s something we should be impressed with.

I confess that I love the idea that this 120 pound woman can scarf down a 72 ounce steak and all the accompaniments in record-breaking time because it challenges stereotypes. It’s also fascinating (that’s the best word i can come up with) to watch her in action.

But my thoughts about competitive eating haven’t really changed. Of the various things we can aim to be good at, shoving down as much food as we can in as little time as possible doesn’t seem like the most worthy of pursuits. And could even be dangerous and is almost certainly bad for one’s health. Nevertheless, here you are. Draw your own conclusion. And Go, Molly!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Molly Schuyler with a 72 ounce steak dinner.Last week I saw a report of a competitive “achievement,” in which a small woman did what no one expected her to do.  Now, I’m usually pleased by this sort of thing. I like it when women, large or small, do things that defy “type.”

But this time I wasn’t so sure about the achievement. Molly Schuyler from Nebraska is a competitive eater. She weighs just 120 pounds.  What did she do?

She ate TWO 72 ounce steak dinners in less than 20 minutes at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch. This happened in May, but it got another round of attention when it got recycled by Fox news in January.

My reservations don’t stem from my vegan convictions.  It’s nothing like that at all.

It’s just that in the realm of things that it’s a good thing for women to be good at, competitive eating doesn’t make my…

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