I have been known to get on my soapbox in the past, but this is a subject that I think is perpetuated by a lot of misinformation and needs to be addressed. You CAN eat AND be in shape. There seems to be this misconception that if you are fit, if you have abs, or if you fit in certain size clothes, then you just don’t eat much. There are memes circulating all over the internet to the tune of “this could be us, but I like to eat”. I constantly see people posting, “I want to be fit but I like to eat too much.” I know a lot of it simply comes from a lack of information, perpetuated by the media, but I legit get kind of butt hurt when I see stuff like this.
I eat a lot. Like, A LOT. It shocks people. Some of it is genetics, or at least it was when I was younger. Honestly though, a lot of it has been spending the last several years really being kind to my body, nourishing it, and building muscle. This has increased my muscle and helped my body adapt to a higher caloric intake. For years I counted calories or tried fad diets, but that just never worked for me. What has worked best for me is eating real food and focusing on getting vitamins at most meals. This means tons of veggies & fruit, as well as trying to get some protein at each meal. I listen to my body. I listen to its signals. If I feel hungry, I drink some water. Then, if I am still hungry, I just eat. None of this “I shouldn’t be hungry, I can’t eat right now. I’ll hold off another hour.” There’s no need to make it so complicated.
I don’t eat “clean” 100% of the time either. I try to get a lot of nutrients most of the time. Sometimes, I want something outside of that (what some may call a treat). If I want it, I will typically wait a day or two, and if I still want it, I just eat it. Sometimes I eat it right then and there. It’s not that serious. I don’t eat until my belly is ready to explode. I don’t eat 10 cupcakes because I ate one. I listen to my body, and enjoy some food that doesn’t necessarily offer tons of nutrients. I don’t believe in cheat meals. Cheat indicates that you are not following some kind of rules, and eating just does not have to be that serious. I want to be strong. I want to be fast. I want to feel good. I want to have energy to chase my toddler and go on the hundreds of trips we always seem to be going on. For these reasons, I look for nutrients.
I am not saying that this is an overnight success type of thing. I had to work hard at first. I had to work hard to see the value in food. There is this mentality out there, and it honestly makes me really sad. This mentality that you have to earn what you eat. You have to work off the extra that you eat. I get it. For so long I knew better but I would still buy into that mentality. I would have an extra piece of pizza with the justification that I would workout extra the next day. Or, I would do some extra cardio, knowing that I was going to eat birthday cake later. It is just insanity. Seriously though, almost every woman I meet has or had this mentality and it makes me very frustrated. Not with them, but with the fact that this is still just a common way of thinking.
Here’s the thing though: if you put in the effort now, you won’t have to waste your mind space for the rest of your life. Think about it: Are you counting calories? Are you on a diet? Is this something you can do for the rest of your life? Is there room in your lifestyle to go out to eat without it “ruining your diet” or causing you to over/under eat? If you relate to any of these, then it is time to reconsider your lifestyle. Start slow. Find a baseline of what you are eating then slowly increase it. As I mentioned, I stopped counting calories and just winged it, and that worked for me. I know that is really hard for most people though. I think many people need to start with more structure, and that is OK.
For example, say you track what you eat for a week (most people use My Fitness Pal for this – it’s a free app), and notice that during the week you are eating about 1300 calories, but on weekends you are going buck wild and eating closer to 2000 calories. That is a big jump, and usually a sign that you are not eating enough during the week. What I would do here is slowly increase calories. This can be scary for many people, but it’s not that serious. Start by adding around 20 calories (bringing you to 1320). Stay at that for about one week then jump another 20. You want to slowly add, especially if you have not been eating much for an extended period of time. You can also get more technical with this by breaking it down by your macros (macronutrients), but since this is a brief overview, we won’t go into that now.
It is important to remember that the minimum recommended for women to consume, simply to perform the basic functions of living (breathing, etc) is 1200 calories. Breastfeeding women are recommended to hit a minimum of 1500, but closer to 1800 calories to maintain an abundant supply. These are MINIMUMS, and they vary based on activity level. At the end of the day, these numbers mean nothing because they are blanket, and everyone’s needs vary.
Now, let’s get back to my original point: you CAN eat and be fit. In fact, eating enough is going to be key to being fit. On top of that, it will be key to your mental health, which is more important anyway (in my opinion). Is it hard work to get to this point? Yes. Don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t work hard to be healthy; however, once you reach a place of understanding what you are consuming, it really does take a lot of the thinking out of it. You can begin to eat more intuitively, which is a lot less work in the end. You will have so much more room in your brain for things other than counting calories and macro breakdowns. Both can be great tools to begin to understand your nutrition. Once you have a better understanding, you can begin to move away from all of that counting, restricting, and stress, and just start living your life.
Once of the best things I ever did to move away from finding food stressful, is I stopped focusing on my body. Again, this takes some diligence and commitment. I started focusing on my performance. I started focusing on making goals such as lifting heavier, running further, running faster, being able to start a family, etc. From there, I began to fuel my goals. I looked for the vitamins in my meals, and I looked for what was going to be best before a workout (carbs or fats – some people have a tough time working out with fats as an energy source, but it never bothered me), followed by what would be best recovery wise (protein definitely, sometimes carbs depending on my goals or what I did).
Carbs aren’t the enemy, nor is fat. They are two of the three vital macronutrients your body needs to function, and they are both the body’s energy sources. Therefore, in order to be fit YOU MUST consume these nutrients. I challenge you this week to be kinder to yourself. Set some fitness goals, and try really hard to focus on how to reach those goals without letting how you look dictate how you eat. I challenge you to see that in order for someone to be fit, or a smaller size, most of the time they truly ARE eating because they NEED it to function best.