How do you get your gymnast on board with nutrition coaching when they feel like they “know everything” or just roll their eyes at you when you bring up the subject?
Why does she shy away, argue, or get defensive when you suggest she make changes to her diet?
There’s a lot unpack here, but there are three main reasons your gymnast doesn’t want to talk about nutrition or work with a professional.
1. Your gymnast needs someone else besides mom or dad to give them nutrition advice
The biggest, general reason a gymnast may be resistant to talking about nutrition or working with a dietitian is because of wanting to be independent. This is a very normal part of adolescent development. Often times parents say that I tell their gymnasts the exact things they’ve been says for years, and yet when I say it a gymnast will comply (versus if mom says it).
It’s not impossible or unheard of for a parent to be able to give a gymnast nutrition advice, but for many the athlete just needs “someone else” and mom and dad need to remain just that.
I know this might seem annoying, but hey…we were all teenagers at one point and can identify with this fight for independence.
2. Your gymnast feels judged when it’s suggested she work with a dietitian nutritionist
There is a lot of stigma in our sport around gymnasts being referred to dietitians or nutritionists. Gymnastics has not had a proactive stance on nutrition, and in years past it was common for a gymnast to only be referred to a professional if she was considered “fat” or “needed to lose weight”.
A lot of gymnasts (and people) think that dietitians are the “food police”, and that is not our job or at least not the way that I practice as a non-diet dietitian.
When I work with a gymnast, it is a partnership. It’s my job to empower and equip the gymnast and the parents job to help put the plan into action by providing food.
It’s also not my job to tell a gymnast what she can and can’t eat. My main job is to make sure she is eating ENOUGH, and provide her the tools to figure out what best fuels her body and provides adequate nutrition for optimal performance and recovery.
3. Your gymnast may be actively struggling with food and her body
Many gymnasts are resistant to wanting to talk about nutrition or work with a dietitian because they are actively struggling with nutrition and they’re afraid working with someone is going to cause harm or “make them fat”.
This is a very normal aspect to the struggle with disordered eating or eating disorders, and when your gymnast is still a minor it’s really important that you step in as a parent and make her get help. This looks like engaging with a therapist, dietitian, and medical provider to go through the appropriate treatment to recover.
Other gymnasts have previously had really negative experiences with “nutritionists” or dietitians who are supposedly “gymnastics experts”. A lot of time this involves being put on diets, given lists of “good and bad foods” that then leads to binging/food sneaking/overeating, or just not “clicking” personality-wise with that individual.
Most sports dietitians do not have the training in gymnastics nor disordered eating/eating disorders to work with high level gymnasts. You cannot talk to a gymnast like you do a soccer or football player. There are a lot of cultural issues with the sport that you may not be aware of unless you are involved deeply in the sport.
My experience as a competitive gymnast and now developmental program and NCAA gymnastics judge helps me to “get” my high-level clients. We speak the same language. I understand their training, can tailor their nutrition plans to meet their needs, and I get the cultural issues and environment that they train in each day.
If you or your gymnast have had a negative experience before with nutrition counseling, you may need a second opinion. Sometimes it’s more of a personality issue. Not every client and I are a good fit, and that is why I do a free 20 min discovery call for potential clients so we BOTH can figure out if it’s going to be a good fit working together.
If your gymnast isn’t ready for nutrition coaching, but you want to help
If you don’t feel like your gymnast is ready to work with someone one on one, the best thing for you as a parent would be some solid education on fueling the gymnast.
My course for parents of competitive gymnasts- The Balanced Gymnast Method—is something that parents have loved and has allowed them to start implementing important nutrition changes for their gymnast without causing a big fuss.
This is a great way to get your gymnast involved from the “sidelines” and in a lower pressure environment compared to working directly with someone.
If you want to learn to fuel your gymnast for optimal performance, I invite you to join the waitlist to be notified when the doors open again for enrollment.