How do you feel when someone comments negatively about your food?

Horrible. You feel judged, insecure, guilty, and ashamed. And on top of all those emotions, you may feel really bad about yourself.

In ALL my years as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve NEVER (yep, strong word) seen food or body comments change the way person eats. This includes all gymnasts.

For example, please tell me how many spouses actually change their diet, lose, weight, etc from their partner nagging them about their food? None. In fact, these comments are what we call “food policing” and only drives them to continue with the behaviors their spouse don’t like (and often in secret).

This is no different than a parent or coach commenting on a gymnast’s food.

I can’t even begin to describe how inappropriate (and unhelpful) it is for a gymnastics coach to dictate what their gymnasts should or shouldn’t eat. Haven’t they learned that this doesn’t work? Haven’t they heard the stories of Olympic gymnasts sneaking food into their hotel rooms during competitions or when away at camp? Have the never thought to themselves how these comments and

rules would make them personally feel? Horrible. It would make them feel judged, guilty/shameful, and for sure would not motivate them to eat better.

I want to think that our gymnastics culture is improving, but it’s not. Just yesterday I had two different clients tell me stories of “nutritionists” prescribing them “food rules” aka “Never Eat This” or coaches LITERALLY TAKING FOOD OFF GYMNASTS PLATES.

I cannot. There is no good or bad food. Anything can be “toxic” in excess, including water.

I’m sorry, not really, but it is not appropriate for ANY gymnastics coach to be reviewing a gymnast’s diet. No coach has the training nor authority to evaluate and prescribe nutrition advice to their gymnasts. There’s a reason that registered dietitians have to go through rigorous training, board examination (I’ve taken 3), and state medical board licensing to be able to give such nutrition advice.

I know that sounds territorial, but it comes from a place of deep concern. Not concern for myself or my business, but for the wellness of our gymnasts. I wanted to think that coaches could give advice, and perhaps sometimes they can, but more often than not it goes very, VERY wrong.

If your coach or “nutritionist” has given you absolutes like “Gymnast can never have: Gatorade, Sugar, Bread, Cereal, Fast Food, Etc” they are wrong. Anytime you hear these kinds of overgeneralized statements, you need to fully question them.

Clean Eating is a bunch of hogwash; I’m sorry, but let me just wash your food to make it clean…

Sugar, salt, and fat don’t make a food “dirty”. They add flavor, energy, and can absolutely be a part of ANYONE’S diet, especially the high level gymnast that is burning THOUSANDS of calories per day.

This all goes back to the 90/10 rule. Ninety percent of the time we should be honoring our bodies and nourishing them with nutritious foods like lean protein, healthy fats, high fiber fruits, veggies, and whole grains/starches. The other 10% can be devoted to “fun foods” or foods that are of less nutritional value yet give us pleasure and help us to stay sane and enjoy the other foods in our diet.

So what do you do when the “Food Police” are on patrol?

1. Remember that you can eat anything you want. 

“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful”.

Yes, you absolutely could eat a few cookies before your 4-5 hour gymnastics practice, but your body will feel better with something that has less fat since that delays how quickly the carbohydrates can get into your muscles and brain.

Yes, you can eat the roll with dinner, but depending on your energy needs you may be full from the starch (pasts, rice, etc) and the dessert.

Yes, you could drink the soda, but this is a very low-nutrition choice that may push you over your energy needs for the day in the context of everything else you’ve eaten.

We all have limits. We all have an amount of energy (calories) our body needs (resting needs, daily activity needs, exercise needs). This amount of energy varies based on age, gender, training status, etc. For a high-level gymnast, a 10 oz soda is a drop-in-the bucket from a caloric standpoint, even though it’s certainly not a nutrition powerhouse. For a retired gymnast who has a desk-job and workouts for 30-45 minutes a few days a week, a soda may not be the best choice (especially if you also want cookies, chocolate, etc).

But here’s the deal; you get to the make these informed decisions for yourself. It’s your body and your health; if you make changes for anyone else you’re likely going to resent the changes and they will be short-lived.

2. Set boundaries

I know, this is really hard, especially for people-pleasing perfectionist gymnasts who are CRUSHED when their coaches are disappointed in them. And, coaches disappointment may not just be emotional but also physical(i.e. forced to do extra conditioning, etc out of “punishment”). This kind of verbal and physical retaliation, especially in regards to food, is abuse. If your coaches are doing these kinds of things, you need to seriously consider moving gyms.

I asked my coach, Ken Hensley of Jenks Gymnastics, why there wasn’t a high rate of eating disorders of food issues in his gym. He told me it’s because he and his coaches didn’t make body comments of food comments. They had a difficult training program that kept the gymnasts in shape and thus there was no need to micromanage their nutrition.

If your parents are making the food comments, you could first just ignore them. They may continue to make comments, but possibly overtime they’ll stop since they’re not getting a reaction out of you.

“No food or body talk” is a great household rule to have. Don’t invite the food police in by asking your parents or coaches to “hold you accountable” with food.

Often times other peoples comments about your food or body is a projection of themselves. They themselves are insecure and wanting to put that on you as it’s easier that looking inside themselves.

Seek help from a professional experienced with pediatric/adolescent athletes AND aesthetic sports.

You can hire anyone you want to help you along your nutrition journey, but if they start with giving you a list of “good and bad” foods or give you macros to count and calories to track, you need to run away.

Just yesterday I had a client tell me the nutritionist they had hired not only put the high level athlete on a 1400 calorie diet (not enough for a young child much less a high level teen gymnast) AND told them they were bad for eating certain foods, etc. Both the athlete and parent felt like what they were doing just wasn’t “good enough” for this person.

Dieting is a slippery slope, and you can absolutely learn to nourish your body without weighing or measuring everything you put in your mouth.

I teach my athletes how to fuel their bodies by creating balanced meals/snacks that not only address their nutritional needs but leave them satisfied. Satisfaction is a huge part of eating that the sports realm like to ignore. Yet, satisfaction is a really important aspect to help you honor your hunger, fullness, and cravings and not feel like you’re over-restricted or out of control.

I will not judge what you eat. Nothing you can tell me about your food and behaviors will surprise me. I’ve either experience it with myself or another client. Guilt and shame do nothing to bring about behavior change. I want you to feel accepted and empowered to change when you are ready.

I used to be chained to MyMacros+ and secretly logged everything I ate, and at some point you just get burnt out. I thought I needed this tool to control my weight, but I didn’t and neither do you. When I stopped tracking, I gained mental freedom and better health. I was able to start listening to my body and use my hunger/fullness to dictate what I ate instead of a bunch of numbers.

If any of this sounds familiar, please reach out. Let’s schedule a 1:1 coaching session to address your specific concerns and nutrition needs.