What Kind of Eater Are You? Use Nutrition to Fuel Workouts
When we talk about healthy eating and choosing the right nutrition for exercise plans designed around our personal goals, we’re actually talking about two separate things, or two distinct aspects of mindful eating. The first involves what we eat. Half of healthy eating and proper nutrition is centered around the foods we choose to reach for and the foods we choose to ignore.
But proper nutrition for exercise also involves how we eat, or the actual methods and habits that bring our chosen foods off the grocery store shelves, onto the table, and into our mouths. Healthy food choices alone aren’t quite enough to provide complete nutrition for exercise. We also have to pay attention to when and how we’re eating these items in order to make the most of our relationship with food.
Without changing anything, monitor yourself for a few days or a week and see if your eating habits fit into any of these common patterns. Your eating pattern may arise from your personality type, your work schedule, or simply the way your life is structured. But once you recognize your patterns, it’s easier to make necessary changes and start down the path to healthier eating.
Eating Patterns: Reactive
If you have a reactive eating pattern, this means your eating habits are mostly impulse driven. You eat when you’re hungry, and when you’re not, you don’t. On the positive side, you stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. But on the negative side, you eat more when your mood dictates, for example when you’re tired or stressed.
To maximize nutrition and get the most out of this eating pattern, don’t place yourself in the path of temptation. Stock your drawers at work with healthy snacks so you aren’t at the mercy of the vending machine. And think about nutrition for exercise while you’re at the grocery store. This will help you control your food options at the source. If you know that you’re likely to reach out and eat whatever’s at hand when you get hungry, only buy and bring home the healthiest foods. If you’re a reactive eater and you keep junky snacks out of your kitchen, you’ll probably never miss them.
Eating Patterns: Habitual
Habitual eating means avoiding the need to make choices by eating the same kinds of foods at the same time every day. If this is your eating pattern, you probably eat regular meals at established time periods and you rarely miss meals or indulge in unplanned, unexpected snacking. On the positive side, your nutrition is seldom influenced by stress, emotion, hunger, or the power of suggestion (you don’t decide to buy and eat a hamburger just because you see a tempting ad). This is healthy. But on the negative side, your diet may lack variety. And since we don’t know everything there is to know about the link between health and food, variety keeps us from taking in too much of what might be bad for us and missing out on healthy ingredients found only in a limited number of sources.
If you’re a habitual eater, maximize your daily nutrition by actively changing things around. If you eat a tuna sandwich every single day at noon, try a peanut butter sandwich when you remember to think about it. Be adventurous with menu choices when you go out, and if you tend to visit the same restaurants over and over, choose a new place once every few months.
Eating Patterns: Grazing
If your eating pattern involves grazing, you’re likely to eat many small, unstructured meals throughout the day rather than a few large, planned meals. You probably don’t eat at a table very often, but instead grab items on the go, eat while you’re at your desk, or carry small snacks around with you in your car or purse. Grazing can offer great nutrition, especially for athletes and those who work out regularly, because this model steadies our blood sugar levels and minimizes the strain on our digestive system. But grazing can be a serious problem for those who don’t exercise every day, since it can be very hard for grazers to keep track of portion sizes and monitor how much food actually goes into their bodies in a given period of time.
If you’re a grazer, you’ll need to be very vigilant about mindful eating. And if you’re focused on nutrition for exercise, try to pay extra attention to what you’re snacking on. You also might benefit from stepping on a scale at least a few times every week, since grazers are most likely to be caught off guard by weight fluctuations.
Nutrition for Exercise: Matching Your Eating Habits to Your Workout Plan
If you’re about to start a new workout plan or change your existing plan, take a few minutes to think about food and how your eating habits might benefit from a little adjustment. As your activity levels shift, it’s a good idea to take control of corresponding nutrition changes instead of just letting them happen.
Monitor your nutrition and eating habits and pay extra attention to how you feel after you eat something. Anything from a complete three-course dinner to a simple piece of candy can change the way your body feels about five to eight minutes after you eat it. But you won’t recognize and learn from these cause-and-effect relationships if you aren’t paying attention.
Also, try to tailor your eating habits to your goals. If you’re training for a marathon, properly balance your intake of protein and carbs at each stage of the training process. If you’re trying to lose weight, be prepared for a little extra hunger as your body looks for ways to replenish the calories burned through exercise. If you react by simply eating more, it will take far more time and more work to see real changes in your body weight.