Nutritional lightbulb: Dropping myths, adding calories

A broad smile flashed across her face. Her eyes became wide and bright and her body was visibly excited. In fact, I thought my nutritionist might jump out of her chair and perform a spontaneous cheerleading jump she could hardly contain herself after I offered the following personal revelation:

I noticed that if I eat a lot, not so much I’m incapacitated by food (and, sadly, there is precedent for that) but more than what I think I should be eating, I perform better in my workout the next day. Even after vacation where I ate more “junk” than I normally would, my weight was only two pounds up. I think my body must like this weight. I feel better when I eat more, so I guess that’s important.

It was as if the nutritional lightbulb had flicked on above my head. The key was not being stuck on a number for the scale, which I’ve come to see is really rather arbitrary. The key instead was fueling my body and enjoying life. If I was not training for endurance events, if I was just a light exerciser, then I probably could bring my weight down a few pounds. But my nutritionist pointed out that wasn’t me. I’m not a “light exerciser.” I have a set of goals unique to me. Conventional wisdom in this matter often believes if I was thinner I would be lighter and able to go faster. Right? Not necessarily. Because by cutting too many calories I may also lose strength. “You look great to me,” my nutritionist told me. “You’re all muscle. You don’t need to worry about reaching some number that’s stuck in your head.”

After four sessions over several months, my formal time working with her has come to an end and it was money and time well spent. I wanted someone impartial to look at my eating, my weight, my body fat and my athletic activity to help me get a handle on where I could improve my nutrition. Food is a joy for me, but it’s also what fuels me, what sustains me through my crazy and fun life. She helped me tweak my diet so that as a vegetarian I could get a better quality of protein. We worked on getting the right amount of carbs in me after a long workout or race and dealt with my sloshy stomach syndrome.

Overwhelmed at times with information on nutrition — what to eat, when to eat, the top 5 foods for a flat stomach — it’s easy for me to get caught up in the hype and find myself in a numbers game, counting calories and grams of carbs and watching the number on the scale. But just like my average pace on a run is merely a tool to help me improve and make the run interesting, so too are nutrition numbers. They are helpful, but they are not a zero-sum game.  And while calories and grams and scales have been helpful for me as I improve my overall health, what counts most is how I feel and the quality of life I’m enjoying. There is more to life than finding foods which will burn belly fat. I don’t need myths and shortcuts anymore. I just need to listen to my body, because it is always telling me exactly what it needs to live fully, openly and from my heart.

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