Curbing Food Cravings As Runners: Ways Women Can Change Their Relationship With Food

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Food cravings can have medical or emotional links that runners need to address in order to have a healthy relationship with food. Curbing Food Cravings As Runners: Ways Women Can Change Their Relationship With Food

We are sorry pizza and wine, it’s time to break up when it comes to living our healthiest life. And for the case of many, it’s not me it’s actually you. That is if we are suffering from a more serious underlining health issue like a gluten sensitivity or bacteria imbalance in our guts. But an ice cold beer with juicy bacon cheeseburger is among the most mouthwatering items this runner’s tastebuds crave post long run. And while we should “treat yo self” on occasion—especially after finishing a marathon—many women find themselves running high mileage and still don’t see changes on the scale in the way they wish to see. That’s because women need to change their relationship with food.

Just because we run often doesn’t mean we should indulge in every little craving we have. In fact, cravings might actually be a way our bodies are communicating with us to tell us what it needs. And it isn’t whispering chocolate cake.

We all get hungry post-run sometimes. That feeling where we are ravenous because we burned lots of calories. But then there are days we don’t run and are still eating like we are nine months pregnant. We then start to feel disappointed that all our hard work was done for nothing as we look down at our “food babies.”

We should be eating enough to replenish what is used during runs. But runners specifically should view food as fuel. This might be focusing on a more carbohydrate-rich diet in the weeks leading to a marathon. It also means eating clean and focusing on nutritious food to ensure we have a balanced diet. No runner wants to feel sluggish, tired or to suffer from stomach issues from too much caffeine and sugar. It’s time to start working on a healthier relationship with food.

Don’t Diet

The problem is that as women we tend to focus on a number on the scale or the size of the jeans we try on. Media (even social media) tell us we should look this way as a runner or as a woman. But the truth is runners bodies come in many shapes and sizes. We are also told to buy this shake or go on this cleanse to shed unwanted weight. Many women start running as a way to lose weight along with a diet. But diets simply don’t work.

“Diets fail because women have been brainwashed into hating our bodies no matter what,” NYC-based holistic health counselor Alex Jamieson told RunnerClick. “No matter how perfect we get, or how much weight we lose, we’re still never going to measure up, according to someone else’s standards. So food has simultaneously become a reward and a punishment.”

This leads to crash or fad diets that lead to a cycle of losing weight than gaining it back after being deprived. We shouldn’t diet and instead, think about our eating habits as a lifestyle change. This might mean cutting our dairy if we notice symptoms of a poor reaction to it like acne or belly bloat. It also means eliminating the afternoon designer coffee or cutting out the candy habit. Just because we went for a run does justify it. We need to learn to curb that craving and reach for something better for us.

And remember that your body doesn’t understand calories. Counting calories isn’t the best approach. 100 calories of a nutritious meal like salmon and broccoli feel different than the same amount of calories for soda and chips.

“The reason why most diets don’t work is because they only focus on restricting calories or finally now we are restricting the quality of food, which I think is a much better avenue than calories,” Jamieson said, “but we’re not talking about this whole other host of reasons why we eat.”

Listening To And Controlling Cravings

The Medical And Nutritional

In Jamieson’s book Women, Food and Desire: Embrace Your Cravings, Make Peace with Food, Reclaim Your Body, the author, chef and TV personality writes about what happens when we ignore a craving. This often leads to eating something else that is bad like swapping salty for sweet. But that initial craving is still there. So we then break down and indulge–after eating both— and then the vicious cycle continues.

Instead, we should listen to our cravings. They are a way for our bodies to tell us what we need.

“Rather than deny our cravings outright because we’ve been taught to deny ourselves so much, right don’t brag, don’t be sexual, don’t be too loud,” Jamieson said, “instead ask why? Why am I having this craving? What is this craving really mean?

Jamieson revealed there are four general root causes to any craving. It can be bacterial, nutritional, emotional or physical. Some people suffer from an overgrowth of candida yeast in the digestive tract. Left untreated, this can lead to leaky gut, choleric fatigue, and other gastrointestinal issues. A common cause of this overgrowth is a diet high in refined sugars in carbs. For these people, sugar cravings are real as the bacteria communicate with the nervous system to want more sugar to feed it. “ It’s really like the beast within or the puppet master,” Jamieson said. ”It’s another thing living us.”

Then there’s actually nutritional cravings. “Sometimes your body craves what you need, and it will crave the easiest known source,” she said. “A lot of women are magnesium deficient, and a lot of women need more magnesium around their period or to help with stress or insomnia. And the body just brilliantly knows that chocolate is an amazing magnesium source. So when women are serious chocolate cravers, especially around their menstrual cycles, I encourage them to look at their magnesium levels or just increase their magnesium-rich food.”

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Emotional And Physical Eating

But Jamison further explores the other two links to cravings: emotional and physical, both which are generally overlooked by the field.

Ever have a stressful day, or feel down and lonely? Not even a run boosts spirits.  It’s as if the tub of Ben and Jerry’s is calling our name after. And each bite feels so good until we finish the pint, feeling worse than before. The problem isn’t that the woman has an out of control snacking problem. We know it’s not the best idea, but at the moment it feels like we need it. And plus we ran for it. It’s a reward in our minds, but this is just masking what we really need.

The real problem could be anything from sadness to loneliness to even what Jamieson calls “angry snacking.” She believes that since society doesn’t allow women to be mad, “we will instead start craving and gravitating towards crunchy food like nuts or chips, something we can break without teeth because it’s so satisfying,” she said. “It’s like a way to get out anger.”

Instead of eating your feelings, write down how you feel when wanting to run to the fridge. Then exchange whatever “bad” food for a healthy habit like a walk around the block, a soothing bath or a warm cup of tea.

Cravings can also be physical. It’s only natural that our body craves intimacy and seeks pleasure. And it “If we aren’t getting enough physical touch in a way that feels safe and soothing, then we will find a way to soothe ourselves physically—usually with food,” Jamieson said. “Food is our safe sex. It’s our way to practically orgasm via chocolate cake.”

The good news is that we can teach our bodies to crave healthy food. Jamison herself was a self-proclaimed sugar addict who lived off of candy bars and fast food.

Be conscious of cravings and change habits. This means instead of reaching for chips and a glass of wine after dinner for watching reality television, pick up a book and make a cup of warm tea.

“The first step is to look where the sugar lives in your regular food,” Jamieson said. She advises starting with unsweetened yogurt and adding half an apple or cutting the sugar in coffee to half the amount before cutting it completely.

Eat Right

Many of Jamieson’s clients wind up eating more calories and losing more weight because of the quality of what they are eating.

Slowing down to chew and savor each bite can be a world of difference. “We all know if you eat slower, the messages from your body to your brain catch up and your body can tell you when you’re actually full,” she said. “Most of us eat too fast, and don’t give ourselves the chance to really digest properly.”

Take the time to chew to digest carbs properly. This process starts with the saliva before enzymes in the gut further break food down.

“If you ate a beautiful plate of organic broccoli and fresh, wild salmon but you shoved it down with barely chewing, you’re still going to feel horrible afterward and it’s not going to an effective way and your body is going to feel bad,” Jamieson said. “If people really committed to really slowing down I think they would find their relationship with eating very different.”

This sounds simple, but we live in a fast food culture where we swallow our food whole on the go in between work and rushing around with the kids. Then on top of that add on all the distractions in our everyday life.

“If I could just get every woman in America to just to a lunch break and not be at her computer that could be a game changer because we are so disconnected to our body’s messages because we’re not really listening,” she said. “We aren’t really present.”

Eating right means focusing on the meal. Enjoy conversation when breaking bread with others, don’t sit at the restaurant glued to the phone.

“Cooking with our grandma, preparing a feast for our family, getting together with friends for a celebration; It’s just wonderful. It makes us who we are,” Jamieson said. “It gives us an added boost of oxytocin when we do these things, rituals, and celebrations with people we love. Food is awesome.”

Photo by Will Echols on Unsplash.

Love Food And Have Fun

Plan meals in advance by thinking about what foods will make the runner feel good. What foods give them energy and make them feel light and not bloated and tired. This can still consist of delicious, yet nutritious meals.

“Most of the women I work with are really driven professional but they don’t have the time, or they don’t make the time for their own personal creativity, play time, or downtime,” Jamieson said. “And if you don’t have those things which are also very fulfilling then food becomes your own source of joy. I say we have to expand our menu of pleasure and play so that food doesn’t become our only source of fun.”

Does this mean we should have an “everything in moderation” attitude? The wellness expert behind the documentary Supersize Me said yes and no. There are times when we need to be strict, especially when needing the time to heal the body from a gluten sensitivity or bacteria imbalance. But if the unhealthy relationship with food is not medical related, then the balance is the key to life.

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“Food can be wonderful. It can be joyful and it can be something that some days you are really free with and some days you’re not,” she said. What’s important is to be able to listen and unstained what the body is asking for.

“I think the first step is before changing your relationship with food, change your relationship with your body. Really listen to how you talk about ‘her,’ “ Jamieson said, explaining that she calls her body “her” to refer to it as more of a friend than an object. “Women know their bodies a lot more than they give themselves credit for. Your relationship with food will change when your relationship with your body becomes really loving.”