3 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating During Race Season
by Megan Meyer, PhD, IFIC
Training and racing has been a huge part of my life – for more than 2 decades, I have been preparing and training for a variety of races. In my teens and twenties, I was a competitive swimmer. After college, I developed a love for running, signed up for my first half marathon and vowed to never run more than those 13.1 miles. In grad school, I became a triathlon junkie, a sport that allowed me to rest on my swimming skills, build my running base, and develop my cycling chops. After grad school, I wanted a new challenge and signed up for something I never thought I would do: run a full marathon. Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying that I love all things centered on racing.
But why do I love the planning and training that goes into racing? Well, in addition to my affinity for making lists and plans, there’s another aspect that plays into preparing for a race: I’ll give you a hint – it’s a four letter word that rhymes with dude. If you guessed that it’s food, you are right on the money.
I cannot tell you how many times I have met up with training buddies where all we do is talk about the food we are going to eat once we complete our workout. It’s probably 99.99% of the time. It’s borderline obsessive and strange. What’s even stranger is when you take a closer look at the types and quantity of food, as well as the overall sentiment regarding the eating of said foods. Case in point: I went on a 60-minute run last weekend and thought to myself approximately 15 times “I am going to devour everything in my fridge” or “I can’t wait to go to my friend’s potluck tonight so I can eat all the foods.”
But is this relationship between training and eating really that healthy? I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have decided probably not. Because of this, I have decided to take a more mindful approach to eating, especially in the context of training and racing. So instead of thinking that I can down a plate full of food since I “earned” it earlier in the day, I am going to slow down and focus on the overall experience of food. “How?” you ask. By practicing 3 mindful eating strategies.
1. Pay attention to my internal hunger cues
It’s easy to let yourself get too hungry when you are training for a big race. I often get hungry because I have not properly fueled before and/or did not take the time to have a quick snack after working out. I have found that ignoring important internal cues leads to more binge eating later on during the day since my body is desperately seeking calories and nutrients to replenish its depleted stores from the day’s workout. This personal anecdote is also supported by science: A recent review has demonstrated that mindful eating practices can significantly decrease binge eating. So by paying attention to internal hunger cues, I can avoid the need to destroy all the office treats my coworkers brought in to celebrate the end of a work week.
2. Take a look at my environment
After a training session, I often rush to work or my next errand/event with food in my hand or eat while standing. Other times, I want to crash hard on the couch and watch TV while I devour whatever food is nearby. This can lead me to mindlessly eat my meal or snack without really recognizing what I am eating. Portioning my food on a plate or bowl and sitting at my dining room table while eating can help me prevent mindless eating. Practicing this mindful eating strategy has been shown to influence food intake and aid in weight management.
3. Be present when eating
Slowing down and using my senses when eating helps me be a more mindful eater. “Being present” includes paying attention to the color, smell, texture, temperature, and taste of the food. It also includes taking the time to properly chew and swallow foods. And practicing being present while eating has additional benefits: Mindful eating has a positive impact on expectations of food liking and experiences.
With 3 simple tweaks I can have a much more healthy relationship between racing plans and eating plans. I am already looking forward to putting them into practice for my next race!
Megan Meyer, PhD is the Program Manager of Health and Wellness Communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). At IFIC, she is committed to communicating science-based information to media, health professionals, outside organizations, and consumers on topics related to nutrition and health.