Finding Balance Between Running and Nutrition
The elusive runner’s high- you all know what I’m talking about. I think it’s safe to say that every runner has experienced this at some point.
For many, the runner’s high is what gets you hooked and keeps you coming back for more (not to mention the calorie burn, great running community, and bragging rights). The runner’s high is a different experience for everyone; an endorphin rush of accomplishment or even that first sip of a cold one at the beer tent. Then there’s that out-of-body experience: The feeling of complete effortlessness where you find that it’s almost easier to keep running rather than stop. For a brief moment you forget the discomforts of your body and feel completely free. Emotionally weightless.
The runner’s high can be addicting.
Finding My Balance
About six months ago I was balancing a stressful job, an eating disorder (yes, there’s my big secret), and various other burdening factors. I craved the stress-relief of a nice long run (even if I had already logged ten miles that morning) and the calorie deficit it left me with. In running so frequently I found myself completely neglecting the proper nutrition needed to accommodate my level of activity.
Related: Confessions of an Anorexic Runner
Eventually I reached a point where I pushed myself beyond my limits and needed help. Accepting that type of defeat- where I was no longer able to “fix” myself- was a huge challenge but also life changing. I had become underweight, incredibly weak, and unhappy. Turns out the term “hangry” is actually a thing.
I decided to seek help to get my exercise obsession and eating disorder under control in December of 2016 and while that isn’t long ago, I have come leaps and bounds. Learning to better understand the needs of my body and how to properly fuel has been essential in improving my running performance, energy levels, focus, and overall well-being. It turns out that it’s totally okay to crave carbs in the middle of the workday, treat yourself to dessert or a beer a few times a week, and even skip that second evening workout to hang out with friends.
Steps for Finding Your Balance
Finding a balance between nutrition and running is so incredibly important and something I cannot stress enough to all athletes, not just runners. Not only does it help eliminate health risks, but it improves overall physical performance, mood, mental clarity, you name it! Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure that out but I’m so glad that I did. Below are just a few of the tips I find most helpful in learning to find balance.
Listen to Your Body
While it seems like such a simple task, try to be more attentive and listen to your body. If you are craving something or having hunger pains it’s likely you need to eat something. I always like to drink some water and see if that does the trick. If not, I know it’s time for a small snack. Usually just something small to take the edge off (a handful of almonds, a couple pieces of dark chocolate, fruit). Not only will you be more focused but this can help prevent a binge from happening later. It is also beneficial to educate yourself on how different nutrients affect your body. If you’re feeling sluggish you probably need carbohydrates. It is essential to make sure you’re getting a good balance of carbs, proteins, and fats.
Just because you like to eat healthy doesn’t mean you need to eat healthy 100% of the time. One of my “homework” assignments while in treatment was to eat one dessert a day. Be flexible with your diet; you aren’t going to gain weight overnight by indulging in some ice cream or a cookie every so often, I promise. And this also doesn’t mean immediately hitting the pavement to burn off the extra calories. Be mindful and enjoy that dang cookie; every last crumb! Throw away the rules and restrictions. No more saying “I can’t have that” because yes, you CAN have that. When you create rules around certain types of food as a temporary fix, overtime they become normal behavior.
Same goes for exercise. While running may be a huge part of your life it is NOT your entire life. On days when you don’t really feel like running or you’re sore, take a day off! Plus your body needs time to recover. The second that I began forcing myself to run or exercise, I began to enjoy it less. Spend time with your friends and family: Make time to do other things that make you happy besides running. I missed out on so many things in fear of eating poorly or not being able to get my daily mileage. Don’t lose sight of what is important.
Take time to reflect on your feelings. Instead of avoiding certain emotions try and feel them out no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Whether you do that through journaling, going into deep thought, or screaming into a pillow. Facing them directly will often provide a release or sense of relief. It is also important to address your accomplishments and your defeats so you can learn from your experiences.
Love Yourself Back
Though I still have my good days and bad, I continue to have a positive outlook and respect for my body. I think something many of us often forget is how much your body loves you. Your body keeps you breathing while you sleep, helps fix broken bones, fights illness, stops wounds from bleeding. It literally loves you entirely and endlessly. It’s time to start loving it back!