Food has been on my mind a lot recently, but probably not for the reasons you think.
In my psychopathology class, we are currently covering eating disorders, and I just turned in a paper last week on bulimia nervosa in athletes. I’m also in two Facebook groups for people who are current or aspiring competitors or who are on a journey to fitness. Recently, the topics of conversation have been around eating disorders and weird food behaviors. In addition, an episode of the Dr. Phil show that aired this week featured a well known professional figure competitor as a guest who came clean about her ongoing struggle with binge-eating disorder.
Food is really quite a complex issue in our culture. Many of our social and cultural customs revolve around eating and drinking. When someone is sick, we bring them chicken noodle soup. When someone has a birthday, we eat cake. With practically every holiday, there comes an associated food custom, whether it’s boxed chocolates, green beer, turkey and cranberry sauce, candy corn (does anyone actually like that stuff?) or chocolate-covered bunnies and marshmallow peeps.
It is a norm of the holiday season to overindulge and eat things we know aren’t good for us. That in and of itself may be fine because it promotes these indulgences as exceptions on special occasions, not the rule. The problem is, American culture has made excessive portion sizes, sugary treats, and mindless overindulgence the norm. We are taught that if something tastes good, we should enjoy it in massive quantities.
When you were a kid and popping Pringles or snacking on Oreos after school, did you look at portion size and stop yourself after you had eaten your allotted amount? (for Oreos = 3 cookies and for Pringles = 15 crisps) I know I sure didn’t. I probably ate at least 8-10 cookies or half the can of Pringles before I started to feel uncomfortably full and a little bit sick. That was when I stopped eating – when I felt sick. I’ve always been a fast eater, so I was rushing through each cookie and each crisp to get to the next – I wasn’t even taking the time to savor what I was eating. I drank up to 3-4 cans of soda a day and was known for my ability to put down two Quarter Pounders plus fries and a Coke at our semi-frequent trips to McDonalds even when I was just a scrawny little girl. Maybe you find this surprising given my current eating habits and discipline, but I have had to work at establishing good habits and changing my behaviors to be healthy and fit now.
The eating behaviors you establish as a child carry over to your adult life, and your family’s eating habits and the sneaky advertising and packaging of foods (particularly the junk) are more influential than you probably realize. That doesn’t mean you don’t have free will or the ability to change them though. Look at serving sizes – don’t make assumptions. Remember that it takes 10-15 minutes for the feeling of fullness to set in, so pace yourself when eating. Stay cognizant of mindless eating in which you aren’t actually tasting or enjoying your food – slow down. Don’t start thinking about the next piece of cake or the next brownie while you are still eating your first one and not even taking the time to enjoy it! I make these incredibly yummy protein brownies that I eat with my last two meals. Sometimes when I’m eating one, I catch myself thinking about making a second one (a thought I have not succumbed to so far). Then I realize that I’m wolfing down the first one and not even taking the time to enjoy it! It shouldn’t be about the quantity of what you’re eating, it should be about the quality. Eat slowly and consciously – take the time to enjoy your food and perhaps you won’t feel so compelled to eat excessive amounts of it!
I find it a little bit irritating when people ask me, “Kayla, when are you going to go back to eating like a normal person?” Yes, my eating does change in the off season compared to competition prep, but primarily in quantity, not content. Competition or no competition, I will continue to eat egg whites and oatmeal for breakfast, lean protein and veggies throughout the day, and healthy fats. I have no intention of changing my philosophy of clean eating. Since when is eating highly processed foods chock full of additives, chemicals, preservatives, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup desireable or normal? Since when is eating food in its natural state instead of processed, battered, fried, and covered in sauce weird? We are rapidly becoming a culture that would prefer to eat gelatinous fruit snacks in the shape of real fruit out of a pouch over eating a red delicious apple and enjoying the flavor that nature endowed it with.
According to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 66% of American adults were overweight or obese in 2004. In that same article (published in 2007), they predicted that by 2015, 75% of American adults will be overweight and 41% of adults will be obese. Those numbers are staggering. Being overweight and obese is associated with significantly increased risk for:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Osteoarthritis (degenration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Some cancers (pancreas, kidney, prostate, endometrial, breast, and colon)
So, if eating “normal” is defined by what the vast majority of the population eat (most of whom are overweight or obese), then forgive me for not following the crowd on this one – I will continue to wave my nutrition freak flag with pride. I do have to admit that I’m a little sad I have to forego Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs this Easter (my favorite). However, I’m confident the universe will not unravel if I don’t get to eat one this year.