10/23/10

Plant-based diet

As a vegetarian, it would seem logical that I would choose a plant-based diet. However, as a vegetarian athlete, it is important that I have a variety of foods in my diet to fuel my workouts and my lifestyle. More importantly, as a wife, doggy and cat mommy, daughter and sister, it is important that I give my body the best source of foods possible in order to live a long, active and healthy life. For me personally, I don't buy organic but maybe I will in the future. I stick to a budget with my groceries and I like to shop around. We are all different and we all have different nutrient needs. More so, we all live in different areas of the US/World and we all have different habits based on our culture and upbringing.
Having said that, I have spent the last few years working with athletes and fitness enthusiast on the daily diet, training nutrition and racing nutrition. Alongside working with athletes, I have also spent many years trying to understand my own dietary needs in order to feel the best possible on a day-to-day basis. I believe that we should all eat the same diet throughout the year, regardless if it is during the training season or the off-season. It is very important to me that I understand how to eat to maintain my weight with "regular" exercise and that I also understand how to eat in an effort to fuel my IM training. Although we should all eat similar foods (male, female, fitness enthusiast, triathlete, runner, cyclist) we are all going to have different nutrient needs. Therefore, while our macronutrient distributions may differ (carbs, protein, fat) and we may prioritize nutrient timing, there is absolutely no reason why we all shouldn't emphasize fruits and veggies, as well as wholesome foods with little to no ingredients.

One of the best ways to increase satiety (the feeling of fullness) is to consume foods that promote fullness. However, it is first important that we recognize why we are eating and to identify the cues of hunger versus boredom or cravings. With myself included, I have worked with so many athletes on reducing their intake of processed foods (including "diet" and "sports" foods/drinks) and have noticed so many amazing results. I believe that there is a strong correlation with the increase in obesity as it relates to the increase of processed food. Considering that as a processed food becomes "healthier" (this is not my idea of healthy but according to the consumer, a well-marketed food with a fancy label may seem healthy), the calories may go down but the ingredients go up. My favorite example is the Special K protein bar which contains over 60 ingredients. Just thinking about your daily diet, wouldn't you rather eat 60 different types of foods than 60 ingredients in 1 bar?

As you work on developing a healthy relationship with food, I hope that we can all realize that a plant-based diet does not mean you have an eating disorder or that you are on a diet. Alongside a plant-based diet, it is important that you balance your fruits and veggies with fiber-rich grains, healthy fats and quality protein (low fat dairy, lean meats and vegetarian protein). Understanding that you don't "fail" if you eat a granola bar or that cookies, ice cream and cereal are "off limit" because they contain ingredients, it will be only a matter of weeks (or days) before there is a shift in blood, brain and body chemistry and you see food differently. Cravings go down (or away) and your food preferences shift to foods that are natural and fresh. Although I can't explain the exact science behind it, I strongly believe that the brain craves processed food and that the body doesn't recognize fullness or satisfaction from foods containing a hefty amount of ingredients.