Teen Athlete Nutrition – Topic 3 – Food Obsessions
So, our perception of food has been skewed for a long time. It’s been that way since we began making processed foods.
We’ve gone through the Great Depression, where people would eat whatever came their way. We’ve gone through war times when women had to leave the home and begin joining the full time workforce. The 80’s and 90’s no-fat, low-fat, fake-fat, any-fat-is-bad craze. There’s been Atkins and paleo, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, (insert allergy) free diets.
It’s hard to figure out what is best for us and for our kids. Every “diet” that is out there, is there because it worked for somebody. For busy people there isn’t a lot of time to trial and error different eating styles to figure out what the best one is. And I can’t help you! WHAT?!?! It takes trial and error to figure out what your body needs and each person is different. There is no cookie cutter one-size-fits-most option. The best thing that I can steal you towards is clean eating.
What the hell does that mean? Again, there are many definitions out there, here is mine. Eat foods that come from the earth with as little processing and chemicals as possible. If you eat meat, eat an animal that was allowed to do the same. We are living in a world of plenty, there are snacks and treats and things we know not to eat, but Just. Can’t. Resist! That is OK, food shouldn’t be a battle, but it is also not your lovey blanket either! I’ve said it in past posts, you eat to live not live to eat.
That brings me to the obsessions that surround food and food consumption (or lack there-of). Being an athlete and working with athletes, certain ideas are seemingly hard-wired into us. Some are sports specific and others are general. I would like to clarify that I am not a dietitian, nutritionist, nurse, counselor, or mediator. I am a coach, which, by default, means I get to take on these roles whether I want to or not. My athletes have to be healthy enough to perform at their best in practice and performance, so yes, I pay attention.
Eating disorders are a real thing and can cause serious damage. From Anorexia to Bulimea, Binging, speed weight loss, comfort eating, and even calorie counting/food measuring OCD. There are many different ways to abuse food. I know good coaches do their best to prevent any of these, but athletes sometimes take matters into their own hands. With sports like dance, gymnastics, and wrestling depending on specific physical size, weight and uniform look; athletes in these sports should have constant and consistent nutrition training as a part of their regime. This not only teaches them healthy practices, but allows us as coaches to stay on top of current research and information on foods that will most help or harm our athletes.
We will unfortunately never get away from “skinny” being thought of as healthy and a goal look for teenage girls. Media has, however, gotten better about the image of healthy, I don’t think the thought process will change, just ebb and flow with the fashion trends of the time. Keeping this in mind and understanding that many kids do not get to choose what/when they eat; helping parents understand how to keep their athlete healthy has become a priority.
As a society we are busy, and most households have all adults working to support the family. We have gotten away from preparing meals from scratch at home. So, the best bet is to find a compromise and balance. Get the whole family involved with meal planning, preparing and cooking. Even if you have one night out of the week where you cook several meals for a few dinners and snacks for the week. This gets everyone involved and delegates the tasks to all people in the house, making the “burden” of cooking more bearable for all. I’m a full believer that kids should be in the kitchen helping, not sitting around waiting for the meal to be made. Sometimes easier said than done, but the earlier you start the better.
I mentioned several eating disorders above, and as I said I’m not an expert, just someone who has been in the dance and gymnastics world long enough, so “mention” is all I will do. If you do suspect someone is abusing food or harming themselves or others in anyway, talk to someone. A coach, counselor school nurse, parent or teacher can help. There is a lot of resources online, get help as quickly as you can.