Throughout my life, I have spent more energy being consumed by negative and unproductive thoughts about food than I spent consuming it. My relationship with food has been an undulating evolution--but 2020 is the year I finally found a peaceful balance between diet, sports performance, and body image.
Back to the Beginning
During my childhood, food was a means to extinguish hunger, and I spent very little time considering my nutrition. However, right before college, food started to become an enemy. I was a standout local runner in high school, but I was just average on my Division I collegiate running team.
After arriving on campus for freshman year, I learned quickly that my teammates were leaner and significantly faster than me. My subconscious reasoning associated lower weight with higher performance and, as a result, I believed that losing weight would accelerate my running success. As training increased and my daily nutrient intake decreased, I started to look and feel like the fastest girls on my team. Food was no longer nourishment-- it was the enemy of strong running performance.
Time to Transition
A couple months into my freshman year, I broke my femur mid-run, and there’s no doubt my dietary adjustments were a contributing factor. My relationship with food became more fluid in the year-long recovery process. In this year, food was an enabler for distraction and a bandaid for despair.
I quit running in my Sophomore year and transitioned to collegiate road bike racing. This is the first time I discovered that food could impact performance in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to manipulate my fueling to achieve optimal performance. Typically, I felt fatigued and undernourished because my race weekend diet included many processed, sugary snacks. During this time, food was a valuable but mysterious friend.
Falling into Old Habits
After college, food became a dark enemy again as I was navigating the start of my engineering career and the end of a long-term relationship. I demonized the sweet foods I used to love because I believed they would make me gain weight. Food had become the enemy of self-worth and confidence.
I discovered mountain biking in 2015 and was riding almost every day, which left me feeling constantly hungry. I ate whatever my body wanted but fueling correctly was a mystery. During this time, food had become a way to keep me pedaling and connecting with new friends. Fast forward to 2018, and I was transitioning into elite mountain bike racing, but I still was clueless about how to fuel my new lifestyle.
With the increased pressure to perform well, I demonized sweet treats, alcohol, and even carbohydrates because I associated them with a non-professional lifestyle. My diet consisted mainly of fruits, vegetables, and chicken. Despite my “healthy diet”, I regularly looked in the mirror and believed I was still too heavy compared to my competitors. In those years, food was a necessary evil.
Food is Nourishment
Enter 2020. I recently met with a sports nutrition specialist who taught me the basics of macronutrients and how to embrace the value of each group while managing the balance between them. Now, I love carbs and I am the strongest I’ve ever been.
I’ve come to learn that food is nourishment. I love the word “nourishment” because it implies a meaning deeper than just powering muscles in my body. Nourishment provides fuel for the mind and the soul; it’s a celebration of ingredients, flavor, wholesomeness, and the power to keep me doing the things I love.
One of my favorite parts about eating wholesome food is being able to recognize individual ingredients within a single bite, which is one reason why I love Kate’s Real Food Bars. When I bite into a Kate’s Bar, I can taste each ingredient independently -- the sweetness of the honey, the richness of the chocolate, the fullness of the peanut butter -- and appreciate the harmony of flavor as a whole.
Positive Body Image
The last part of this journey is my body image. This is, by far, my most radical mental accomplishment. By fueling mindfully and correctly, I have accepted that my body is going to level out wherever it needs to be to power my adventures. So now, when I look in the mirror, I tell myself “this is what a strong body looks like.”
In 2020, I finally found the relationship with food that I’ve been craving. It’s a relationship that nourishes my soul, brings joy to my life, and fuels my adventures.