The Workout-Eat-Repeat Cycle

Nutrition
on February 9, 2011
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Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

QUESTION: I joined a fitness bootcamp about four months ago, and last weekend I ran a 10K. I feel great after I make it through a challenging workout or run a race, but I can’t seem to stick to a healthy diet. Even after I reach a fitness goal, I go back to eating terribly. How can I break this pattern? —Jackie
DEAR JACKIE: You aren’t the only one who gives into temptation after working out. I myself have tucked into many a platter of pancakes after a race. But if your post-race (or workout) indulgence becomes an everyday thing, that’s a problem. In fact, studies and surveys have shown that many people who work out feel like they have permission to eat what they want. No wonder I get so many letters from folks who are frustrated because all those hours at the gym aren’t paying off on the scale. Here are a few things that can help:

Re-write your “rules.” We all have a set of rules we live by, some of which work in our health’s favor, and some of which don’t. For instance, you may have a rule that says, “I work out every day” (or every other day), or “I refuse to miss a bootcamp workout.” Your fitness rules seem to be working for you, but your food rules aren’t. I’m guessing, but one of your rules looks like this: “It’s OK for me to binge after exercise.” Or “As long as I’m exercising, healthy eating doesn’t matter.” You’re allowing yourself to undo the good you’re doing your body by overeating after workouts. Take a minute and write down your rules regarding exercise and healthy diet—not as you want them to be, but as they are now. Then, write down a new set of rules, the rules you want to live by. Keep them handy, refer to them often, and know that you can make them work in your life.

Ditch the “special-occasion” thinking. To be healthy and maintain a healthy weight, fitness has to be a part of your life. It’s what you do; it’s part of who you are. What may be at work in your mind is that your fitness challenges are special things that have a beginning and an end, and deserve an extended celebration until you set yet another goal and hop back on that rollercoaster again. This is what people mean when they say it’s a lifestyle—it’s simply how you live, every day. Once you accept that, you may be less likely to play fast and loose with your diet.

Build treats into your everyday diet. Your idea of a “healthy diet” may be too restrictive, which could explain why your tastebuds are rebelling. Brainstorm a list of 150-200 calorie treats (a scoop of frozen yogurt, a few squares of rich, dark chocolate). Make sure your plan includes a treat regularly. For instance, I allow myself a treat once a day now that I’m focused on maintaining my weight, but when I was losing, I treated myself only on the weekends.

Get a plan. Speaking of the “p” word: You may benefit from following a healthy eating plan like Weight Watchers. Since you seem to enjoy training and setting goals, you may be able to use those same skills on your diet with great success.

Found in: Nutrition