We Need to Navigate Nutrition
Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco released a landmark study several years ago reporting 80% of fourth-grade girls had already tried dieting.
Read that one more time and let it sink in.
Girls are feeling the pressure to look a certain way and start manipulating their food intake as early as ages 9 and 10! Inadequate nutrition habits are common and start young. The further I have gotten into my career, the more I hear young female athletes in different sports share that they limit their eating to stay “light” or to look a specific way. Our young kids are hearing and seeing what their mothers, family members, coaches, and role models are doing and saying about their own relationships with food and diet. Nutritional concerns are not only any athlete or young person issue, but a cultural one. Habits, perspective, relationships, and opinions regarding food develop in our youth and can shape our outlook through the lifespan.
You don't have to have an eating disorder or be on a diet to have disordered eating.
You may be reading this and think these topics don’t relate to you. I would have felt the same way. However, now I look back at my athletic career and there were flags everywhere. As a swimmer, I was always walking around in a swimsuit, self-conscious about my “imperfect” body. The rest of the time, I wore the biggest and baggiest clothes I could find so I could feel small. I didn’t get my period until age 16, but never questioned if this was normal. Trails of injury, plateaus in performance, and lethargy followed me everywhere. Through injuries I feared the lack of working out would make me gain weight, a mindset that carried over into adulthood.
A dialogue and negative mentality around food developed. Food stopped being a source of fuel along the way and no longer served the purpose it meant to. However, at no point could I see this unfolding; I was too much in the thick of it. I couldn't put it all together until there was a reason to fix it as an adult. I thought by eating three meals a day, of relatively healthy food, and by never denying myself foods, that was I was doing the right thing. My eating was disordered, my health and performance suffered, and my self-confidence wavered.
Maybe you have never denied yourself food, but nutrition goes beyond the word, “diet.” Perhaps you use exercise to manage food intake? Or maybe you always plateau at the same point in a day? Do you consistently cramp in practice or exercise? Are you frequently getting sick or injured? Do you know the types and timing of food you need to best perform? The list of questions could go on.
Hydration & Energy Stores
Changes in Metabolism & Hormones
Development of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (Female Athlete Triad)
Attention, Cognition, & Mood
Fatigue & Recovery
Bone Health, Bone Stress, Osteopenia, & Osteoporosis
Hair and Nail Health
Inadequate nutrition does not mean you have an eating disorder, but you have eating patterns that need improvement or lack the knowledge or skills to apply concepts to your daily life. We don't always have the knowledge, understanding, or support to satisfy the demands of activities and our lives. Over extended periods of time, nutritional deficits can contribute to both short-term and long-term health consequences. Females need to feel supported in this area of health, across the lifespan, as our bodies change. It is never to late to change our relationship with food and we are never too young to develop an understanding around nutrition.
We hope to help make this topic a little easier to understand, to open discussions on the challenges faced with nutrition, and provide information to improve performance. Learning to fuel well is critical to optimal daily performance. What you eat or don't eat today has impact beyond tomorrow.