Fit Fueling for the Fitness Obsessed Female

This is written as part of a series of posts for Fit Fueling that outlines how and why Heather Caplan, RD and I decided to create a virtual Intuitive Eating and Sports Nutrition course for active women. Read Heather’s most recent post here. This post was updated 1/8/19.

If I were to survey every active person reading my blog, attending seminars that I give, or sitting in classes that I teach, I’d bet that the majority would never check off that they are an athlete. However, a large percentage of you/them likely have activity levels much closer (or equal to) athletes than you think. Technically, an athlete is “anyone who participates in a sport” (according to Nutrition for Exercise and Sport by Dunford & Doyle). But, what if you’re someone who is doing an hour of personal training followed by a spin class? Or you clock a 6 mile run in the morning and head to yoga that night? Or, you chase a crazy active toddler around much of the day and then head to a personal training session? You may be exercising more and putting your body under more stress than a baseball player (trust me, I work with these guys and during the season intensity is pretttty low).
I used the word “obsessed” intentionally in the title of this post, because during both work and play at the Newtown Athletic Club (a 12,000 member fitness facility) I’ve encountered women (and Men) who pride themselves in working out multiple times a day, even without a particular competition or fitness goal. I also have seen new mom’s or people new to working out who fit workouts into an already busy lifestyle. Many do this without a sufficient breakfast and fear of snacks over 100 calories. Or while on a restrictive diet micro-managing their intake throughout the day to barely make it through their workout and then binge at night.
Not only do I see it there, but I’ve seen it with clients who reach out to me specifically because they are sick of dieting, but still think that prioritizing 2 hours of exercise each day is normal (as a busy, working mom, for example) and despite their desire to change their obsessive behaviors, can’t fathom enjoying any ice cream other than low calorie Halo Top (cause they “get to” finish the whole pint – insert diet culture eye role).
calories burned in zumba
I don’t advocate for using HR monitors to count calories, but all the red zones in here are proof that group ex classes can be just as, if not more, intense as an hour long run.
Similar to what I mentioned above, clients of mine have had a hard time accepting that I considered them to be an “athlete”. Even individuals referred to me because of athletic injuries (a couple recurring muscle strains, a couple of stress fractures). Still, despite their high level of activity and need to see a sports medicine doc for their injury, their initial reactions were “Athlete? Oh no, you must have me mixed up with another client. I don’t race.” Well, if you have a sports injury due to your high level of activity and lack of nutrient intake to support it, I’m 100% sure you need to start fueling your body like an athlete.
Often, people are done with a competitive athletic period of their life and don’t know how to adjust their training to a normal level, or are anxious about weight gain (because they’ve grown up thinking they should be a certain weight to be successful in their sport so maybe that translated into success in life – or they never learned about how important it is to respect body changes with age). Their exercise remains high, but because they aren’t competing, their food intake drops. They often think they’re just “being healthy“.
Others are seeking out so much exercise specifically in an effort to manipulate their body, because media, social media, and the gym environment itself, equate achieving a certain body with achieving good health. People around them, or maybe they themselves, are proud of extreme exercise and dietary restriction. They think they’re healthy for being mentally strong or having “willpower” on days they keep their calorie intake below the My Fitness Pal rec when not accounting for exercise. They don’t understand how dangerous and unhealthy this is, or maybe, they mentally just don’t want to admit it.

But let me tell you something about health…

Health is physical and MENTAL. It’s patient, forgiving and embraces self-care.
Health doesn’t stress you out, but identifies your stressors, food stressors included, and slowly adapts to reduce stress.
Health doesn’t keep score or call behaviors or foods “good” or “bad”, but recognizes foods and activities as neutral and nourishing either to the body or the mind, or both.
Health is not restriction, but rejoicing in obtaining energy from food, activity and experiences.
Health is recognizing and trusting your body’s desire to protect you.
As a former collegiate athlete who loves competing in road races and triathlons, (but welcomed and accepted those things wouldn’t be a part of her life in the year post-baby) I have found a sincere love for group exercise classes and team personal training myself. Some days pre-Cooper, after a heavy lifting sesh with some other fabulous ladies, I came back at night for an intense zumba class. Not due to obsession or a need to burn calories, but because it’s fun and relieves stress! Because of my frequency of and variety in exercise, I continued to fuel my body like an athlete.

Now, I try to fit fitness in at least 3 times per week and any extra is a bonus. But, it hasn’t really changed how I fuel my body – I’m sure being a new mom ( I’m still nursing the little guy and chasing/carrying him around) plays a role in my appetite still being the same, but it doesn’t really matter why. If I wasn’t, my body would still know what I needed, and maybe I’d crave one less snack a day or feel satisfied with smaller portions. Either way, I merge sports nutrition with the fact that I intuitively eat to ensure I’m getting enough carbs and protein in when I need them.
It hasn’t always been this way. I was one of those people who had a hard time exercising just for enjoyment and would never skip a scheduled run or bike ride to do something that sounded better in the moment. I’d get anxiety on vacation if I didn’t do something intense enough (as I update this blog post, I’m on vacation and have spent a grand total of 25 minutes on structured exercise in 4 days and DGAF). I also spent a lot of time restricting essential nutrients as a student athlete.
Heather and I didn’t just gain essential knowledge from our dietetics education, internship, careers and desire to keep learning. We gained the knowledge of the healthy way to eat to support activity by screwing up ourselves. Big time.

My favorite piece of feedback from our Fit Fueling virtual course was this:

“I am the type of person that really needs to trust a person in order to take what they’re saying as fact, and am almost always googling things I hear to make sure it’s accurate.  Not the case with you guys.  You backed up your answers with science AND personal experience, which was a winning combo.”

If you love exercise, but are sick of obsessing over it and food, join us in our next group . Tell your best friend from spin class, too, cause chances are, she feels the same way you do.
Don’t think you need our course merging intuitive eating and sports nutrition? Kim Hoban and I have something up our sleeves to release later this year, too.

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