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3 Ways To Be More Flexible Around Food, Fuel Your Body, and Achieve Your Goals This Summer

Gymnasts: think about this for a second:

Your competition season is over! Finally!

Time to relax a bit. Ease up in the gym. Give your mind a break.

If you're like so many gymnasts out there, all competition season you were trying to eat "healthy". At some point, someone told you that you should only eat fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, (and other commonly-deemed "good" foods) to compete at your best. You buckled down - avoided "unhealthy" foods, turned down "bad" foods you were offered, and passed up on a cookie or other sweet after dinner because you believed these would hinder your performance in the gym and at meets...

But now, competition season is over! Time to relax! No more "diet" - you can now go crazy and eat all the "unhealthy" foods you avoided all season long. You can finally go for that cookie (or other dessert) after dinner. You can finally have cake at your friend's graduation party. You can finally go get ice cream after practice on a hot summer day.

But... now you now feel out of control around all these foods that you love. No matter what you do, you just can't seem to stop at just 1 cookie... Instead, you eat 5 as fast as you can and then feel guilty afterwards. Or you do manage to eat 1 cookie (to start...) but then those feelings of guilt begin to creep in... you feel like you've been "bad" and might as well just eat 4 more, even though you really don't want them....

Does any of this sound familiar?


Unfortunately, many gymnasts (including myself at times) fall into an all-or-nothing mindset - the mindset that in season they have to eat so "good" in order to look, feel, and compete their best, but out of season they can allow themselves to eat "bad" foods. So many of us gymnasts have a perfectionist mindset--we dedicate countless hours a week training to achieve perfection--that leads to an all-or-nothing, black-or-white mindset surrounding food. This mindset can cause way more harm to you (and your training) than enjoying a cookie (or a few) ever would!

Now, you may be wondering "Well then how am I supposed to be eating in and out of season?"

The answer: not that differently!!

Both in season and out of season, it is important to eat in the "gray area" of nutrition! What is this "gray area" of nutrition? It means including both nutritionally dense foods (like whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, etc.) and fun foods (cookies, donuts, ice cream, etc.) into your fueling plan. It's not "black" OR "white", "one" OR "the other" - both can happen AT THE SAME TIME! By including all types of foods into your fueling routine regularly, not only will you fuel your body to reach your goals, but you will feel much more in control (and much less guilty) when you do eat fun foods.

Think about this for a minute:

A few months ago, I had gotten some donuts (side note they were SO GOOD!). One day for lunch, I wanted to make myself a salad (because I also love salads), but I also wanted a donut... so I had some of BOTH! Eating just the donut or just the salad wouldn't have satisfied me, but eating both did.


If you ate ONLY donuts, you probably wouldn't feel that great: You'd probably be missing out on lots of vitamins and minerals you need and would not get enough protein (super important for recovery!). You'd probably feel pretty tired, weak, and nauseous.

On the other hand, if you ate ONLY salads, you probably also wouldn't feel that great (YES REALLY)! Eating only salads, you'd probably feel pretty tired, weak, and bloated. You'd likely be coming up short on your overall energy, on your major nutrients, as well as your vitamins and minerals. You'd also be restricting a lot of foods, which can lead to a cycle of restricting and binging that opens the flood gates of your cravings when you do let yourself eat that food.

It's easy to fall into the habit of labeling foods as "good" vs "bad" or "healthy" vs "unhealthy", when in truth, no food is inherently "good" or "bad" (or "healthy" or "unhealthy"). It's all about how we view these foods. Eating 1 food won't directly lead to 1 specific health outcome (whether it's a positive or negative outcome).

Instead, a balanced diet includes ALL foods (aside from those you have allergies or other diagnosed reactions to) - those you eat because they're nutrient dense AND those you eat for other reasons. To have a truly healthy relationship with food, you have to consciously and intentionally work to step away from the "all or nothing" mindset and learn to live in the gray area of nutrition.

This often looks like what many refer to as the 80/20 split, choosing the nutritionally dense foods because they fuel your body AND also including the fun foods that you enjoy regularly. It doesn’t have to be all vegetables and protein or only fun foods - It can be both!

Try these 3 ways to be more flexible around food:

  1. Include ALL Foods Regularly. Yes. All of them. Vegetables and chocolate. Whole grains and simple starches. By including all types of foods, you will be more likely to meet your body's nutrition needs AND begin to break down the walls of guilt, restriction, and binges.

  2. Set realistic expectations for yourself. Get rid of any preconceived ideas you have about what a gymnast "should" or "should not" eat. Instead, build your own picture of what "enough" food and a "gymnast's diet" really looks like for YOU as a high-level gymnast for YOUR own life. And give yourself permission slips at every opportunity you need - permission to not be perfect, to eat food, miss a workout, rest, WHATEVER.

  3. Have a plan! By putting a little thought into what, when, and how you fuel your body, you will build confidence and know that you are doing what's right for you and your body (and remember, this isn't something you have to do alone.)

If you're still unsure of how to achieve this balance or you feel locked in an all-or-nothing mindset, working with a Registered Dietitian can help you learn to incorporate all foods into a great fueling plan and free you from the myth of perfect nutrition!

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Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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