I just completed Ironman Chattanooga last weekend. While being around the athlete village for three days and racing, I observed every body size and type imaginable in all age groups. That might come as a surprise given the magazines and TV coverage of endurance athletics. So one might conclude that it does not matter what your nutrition is in order to complete an endurance event. They even serve pizza, chips, and cookies at most finishes. As Cinderella says “just because it is what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.”
We live in a world where the perfect body is on display in every photo enhanced magazine, and we all strive in some way to live up to the standards set forth by the media. Most “diet” programs are focused on body weight and not health. They promise to achieve the perfect body in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of effort, and this is often done at the expense of health. Shots, pills and fad diets are things many people are willing to try to rid themselves of the the imperfect body. To confuse matters even more, some people insist that body size does not matter, and we should accept ourselves regardless of our size and avoid the frustration of chasing perfection. This philosophy also places acceptance and happiness around weight and size and not health.
The aim of our desires is off just enough to cause potential harm and certainly frustration. The majority of people aim at body size and image and not health. They are not the same. One can be very thin and unhealthy, normal weight and unhealthy, muscular and unhealthy, and overweight and unhealthy. Health is an internal measure of proper physiology and cellular immunity. It is freedom from lifestyle diseases. A person who chain smokes is amassing significant DNA damage, lung cell damage, and vascular damage while still having the ability to be thin. In reality, people who smoke often have an abnormal waist to hip ratio as a marker of abnormal fat distribution and inflammation. A body builder that eats a ketogenic diet may very well have high inflammatory markers and a high lipid profile raising the risk of vascular disease and cancer development. A person may be sedentary and portion control to the point of a normal body mass, and be glucose intolerant, severely lacking in antioxidants raising the risk of cancer.
Weight and BMI are the secondary effects of calorie intake and not much else. To have optimal health and a normal body composition, the focus must be on nutrition. It is not a short term goal but a lifelong focus and assessment. When one sustains trauma that causes a physical injury, one usually tries to avoid that trauma on a regular basis. Yet we are totally accepting and choose to ignore the trauma to our bodies associated with eating poorly. It affects our mentation, sense of wellbeing, bodily function, and longevity. We have been blindly led into believing that eating a known carcinogen such as bacon is actually something we enjoy and desire! There is no rational reason for this. It comes from the fatty muscle of a pig with the addition of chemicals and salt. It is fried in more oil and added to more oily, salty food. It increases the acidity of the stomach causing reflux and calcium extraction from the bones. It is associated with inflammation, cancer, diabetes, vascular disease. Yet it is eaten for the mere reason that for the one minute it is consumed it tastes good? Most regret the ingestion minutes after consumption. But if our size is ok, then it is ok to eat such carcinogens? It is implied that only the sick and overweight need to be concerned with nutrition. Athletes assume they are in good health regardless of what they eat as long as they can perform.
Eating a whole foods plant based diet allows the best of both worlds. Not only are energy needs met, but there is abundance of nutrients and antioxidants that help the body to heal and stay healthy. When you eat unprocessed foods, the body’s natural satiety mechanisms kick in to avoid overeating. The fiber content of fruits and vegetables help to support a healthy immune system. The high carbohydrate nutrient dense colorful vegetables provide clean energy to be used by the brain and muscles. There is no guilt and no need for boredom . Driving home from the Ironman we used the Happy Cow App and found a fabulous Jamaican restaurant that had wonderful spicy tempeh and tofu. We experienced a whole new combination of spice and flavors that we plan to try at home. There are over 20,000 vegetables to choose making the possibilities endless all without the guilt or ill health.
Focus on color and eat food that is unprocessed. Enjoy fruit and vegetables that are in season. Try a new recipe each week. Exercise your body and get your vitamin D from the sun. Your body will thank you, and I am willing to bet that what you see in the mirror will be pleasing as well.
If you would like an assessment of your nutritional health or like help devising a plan for optimal athletic performance or general wellbeing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.