The other evening, I spoke to a group of recovering addicts on the topic of nutrition therapy and the role of proper eating habits assisting in long term sobriety. For my presentation, I had to dig out some of my food props from when I was working as a clinical dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches in Jacksonville, FL. While I love specializing in nutrition for athletes, I learned a lot about the human body when I worked as an inpatient dietitian.
Speaking to the group of addicts was very rewarding and powerful. Although it was out of my comfort zone to speak to non-athletes, I always appreciate the opportunities where I can share my passion of healthy living with others. And as an athlete who embraces a healthy lifestyle, I can't stress it enough that athletes must establish great lifestyle habits in order to improve chances of athletic success. Without good health, you don't have a strong platform to support your fitness goals.
For individuals with a current or past substance abuse problem, drugs and alcohol are often used to cope, relax, escape or used as a reward. While we all need ways to cope, relax, escape and reward, it's important for addicts to develop daily habits that promote good physical and mental health and an improved sense of well-being. In other words, to replace bad habits with good habits, self care is critical. It's well researched that good restful sleep, stress management, healthy coping skills, a structured life routine, a healthy and balanced diet, surrounding yourself with positive individuals and daily exercise are powerful lifestyle habits that can improve mental and physical health for addicts in recovery but are essential healthy habits for every human being to embrace.
As a coach to an amazing team of Trimarni athletes and a sport dietitian to many runners and triathletes, every athlete that comes my way for help is reminded by me that overall good mental and physical health are key components to athletic success. Athletic success starts with great lifestyle habits. Although training for an event is rewarding and can fill your life with purpose, self-worth and well being, you can only get so far with your fitness if you live with unhealthy lifestyle habits that do not foster optimal health. Based on my philosophy, I don't believe that athletes should compromise their health while training for an athletic event. Therefore, I find it important to always encourage and remind my athletes that daily self-care is the foundation by which you can improve your athletic performance. Just like with addicts in recovery, for athletes, your body will function at its best when you have a healthy lifestyle and make your health a priority on a daily basis.
If you are an athlete struggling to make better choices in your life, like a better sleeping regime, consuming less alcohol, improved eating habits, better life/work balance or staying consistent with training, here are some tips for making a healthy change in your lifestyle:
- Good, better, best - When making a lifestyle change, it's normal to have big expectations for yourself and to make many radical changes all at once. Let's get rid of the all or nothing mentality. Unhealthy habits develop similar to healthy habits. When you repeat an action over and over, you form neural pathways that support the habit, without giving much thought to your actions. When the reward center in your brain is activated with the release of dopamine, the habit is reinforced, which causes you to crave more of it. Whereas the feeling of working out makes you feel good and it's good for you, some habits are not so good, like always craving ice cream in the evening or finding yourself wanting a glass of wine after a long day of work. It's important to train your brain to get comfortable with new habits. Change is a process. To help you make a change in your life, work on a good, better, best system. Set small goals for yourself and focus on accomplishing one goal at a time. For example, if you are always ordering/eating out for dinner, set your first goal of only ordering out 3 nights per week instead of 5. This is a good goal to force you to cook for yourself two nights per week. Once you meet that small "good" goal, move on to the next "better" goal, which could be only ordering out only once a week. Consistency is key when making changes so start slow and be realistic with your goals.
- Fix, don't overhaul - Athletes are known to be a little obsessive and extreme at times so it's no surprise when an athlete tries to completely overhaul his/her lifestyle with a black or white mentality. Change can be stressful to your body, mind and spirit. If you try to improve your sleep habits, your relationship, your work/life balance, your exercise routine and your diet all at once, you will feel overwhelmed and you will want to give up. You will feel more motivated by improving your habits if you focus on changing one bad habit at a time. Typically, habits have a way of snowballing so if you find yourself focusing first on improving your sleep regime, you may find yourself staying more consistent with exercising which also helps your cravings and appetite and your mood with your significant other.
- Get support - Lifestyle changes don't change in one day. It takes time to get out with the old and in with the new. And it's normal and expected that you will have some missteps along the way. To keep you on track, it's important to have a good support team to help you stay accountable to your changes but also to ensure that you are making changes in a healthy way (you don't want to create a new bad habit while fixing an old bad habit, like giving up candy in the afternoon but now addicted to diet sodas). Make sure that you never see your lifestyle change as punishing. Developing new good habits requires a lot of hard work but you must remind yourself that change is good when it improves your physical and mental health. Don't be afraid or ashamed to get help from a professional therapist or counselor. Asking for help shows strength. You are worthy of help and someone out there wants to be part of your team.