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What does food freedom look like?

Food freedom is the ability to eat whatever, whenever, wherever.

Food freedom is NOT the absence of eating for health.

A lot of gymnasts are afraid that if they allow themselves to have “sugar” or “carbs” or something “fried” that they’ll get “all the inflammation”, have poor performance, and potentially “get fat”.

None of these fears are rational and are fueled by #dietculture, misguided advice from parents, coaches, and other authority figures (doctors, trainers, etc). 

High Level Gymnasts Need to Nourish Their Bodies

High level gymnasts need to nourish their bodies. Nourishing your body does not mean starving it, overfeeding it, or punishing it for what you ate.

Nourishment includes the “healthy” foods, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Nourishment also includes the “fun foods” or “social foods” like birthday cake, a donut on Saturday morning, or the fresh baked banana bread your mom made.

So what exactly does food freedom look like? I like to think of this in a few different ways.

Intentional Eating

I want you to look at the “intention” behind why you eat what you eat, and what you buy at the store.

Does choosing the “healthier” food make sense in the moment? Most of the time, choosing a whole grain over highly refined, less sugar added or lower sugar, or healthier (anti-inflammatory/heart healthy) fats over fried would be the better choice. Choosing vegetables and fruits most always makes sense. Choosing lean proteins of high fat, processed versions of “meat” makes sense.

But, let’s say you’re going to the grocery store. Buying whole wheat bread lower in sugar, higher in fiber is not a crime. Buying low sugar, low sodium bread (cough cough Ezekial) that tastes like cardboard (TBH) is not OK. I’m not saying you’ll love everything you eat, but satisfaction is important and choosing a different whole grain bread that has 1 g of sugar versus none won’t make a lick of difference to your health. And, if your choice is motivated by fear or food rules (“I can’t have any sugar”), then that choice is not the best.

Let’s talk about pizza. Going to a restaurant and ordering the cauliflower pizza crust (which is more expensive and doesn’t taste as good) versus the regular crust may not be the better choice, especially when you *actually* compare the nutrition facts and find that the regular crust has 7 more calories per slice and a few grams of carbohydrate. Whoopie. Not enough to worry about, and if you’re actually satisfied with the pizza you may eat less (versus then going home and looking for something more to eat because you’re not satisfied).

Let’s talk about ice cream. Grabbing a pint of Halo Top because it’s “healthy”, “clean”, “low carb”, and “lower sugar” may not be the best choice. If were being really honest, you know you like the taste of “real ice cream” better. What if you had a normal serving of real ice cream instead of half or the whole pint of Halo Top (and then still looking for more to eat because you weren’t fully satisfied).

Now, on the flip side...

Let’s say you’re choosing between a whole wheat tortilla a white tortilla at the store. Yes, buying the whole wheat tortilla is one way to get more fiber and nutrients into your diet.

Unless you’re eating tortillas all day, every day, there isn’t enough of a difference for that small amount of extra nutrition to keep you from buying the white tortilla. But, the wheat tortilla would be one way to get more fiber in, especially if you want to enjoy some normal tortilla chips versus trying to find a “healthier” fake chip (yuck) or convince yourself that you like cucumber slices with guacamole instead of chips…

What about yogurt? I think a greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein at a meal or snack. I prefer the lower sugar versions as yogurt is one food where they tend to add a lot of sugar and you may add less yourself if sweetening. For athletes which high energy needs, the added sugar is not as big of a deal as the body will use this a fuel.

But, there’s a difference in sugar between a regular old Yoplait yogurt and a container of a Greek yogurt that’s been slightly sweetened. It may be just fine for you to choose the sweetened Greek yogurt versus plain, or add a little honey or maple syrup to your unsweetened version.

At the end of the day though, if the sweetened Yoplait was your only choice at the hotel on the morning of the meet, then you should chose this over not fueling yourself. Refusing to eat because your healthy foods aren’t available is not healthy. 

Do you see the difference here? A lot of us are privileged to choose healthful foods, local produce, organic if that’s your preference, etc. But, food is food at some point and you need to be able to nourish your body without food rules getting in the way of what is healthy for you. At some point you need to eat the food that’s in front of you, be grateful, and move on. No harm done. 

Let’s talk about situational eating

If your friends go out for pizza, refusing the pizza and making some excuse (ahem, lie) about how you’re “not hungry” or “don’t feel well” or “already ate” is not true nor is it food freedom. You should be able to enjoy a few slices of pizza, perhaps with a salad if it’s available, and move on. One more or snack won’t ruin your body, health, or performance. Don’t give food so much power.

Same thing for a birthday. Your family can’t be that big, so it’s not like you have birthday cake every night of the week. When someone’s birthday rolls around, there’s no reason you can’t have a normal serving of cake after dinner. Balance your plate, be mindful of your portions with respect to your needs, but totally avoiding the cake because it’s “high in sugar” or “fattening” is not food freedom (especially if you then go and pick at the cake while everyone is out of the kitchen or in bed…).

I’m not saying you should eat pizza every single day. I’m not saying you should eat cake every single day.

But, I am asking you to look at nutrition in the appropriate context and make choices that support your needs, goals, and mental/physical health.

If your “clean diet” is causing you anxiety/fear/shame/guilt or disordered eating, then the food rules aren’t serving you and for sure are not “healthy”.

If you are unable to fuel your workouts with carbohydrates because you’re terrified of them, that’s a problem.

If you feel out of control with your food portions because your diet is too restricted and you are stuck in the binge-restrict cycle…your “healthy” diet is not serving you.

If any of this sounds familiar....

If any of this at all sounds familiar, I invite you to join my FREE Live Training happening next Wednesday, August 5th at 5PM PST/8PM EST (there will be a replay for those who register). We’ll be talking about the Top 3 Mistakes Gymnasts Make with Their Nutrition (and what to do about them). This includes being chained to food rules and feeling guilty, shameful, or out of control with food. You deserve so much better, let me show you how you.