Haven’t Got Long? Here’s what You Need to Know:
- Athletes and those really struggling with their weight share many of the same issues with their nutrition, exercise and lifestyle. Yet, because of their different lifestyle traits in my opinion, both groups can learn from each other.
- Adopting some of the athlete traits, such as loving your exercise regime, digging your heels in when things are tough and putting yourself first could help you reach your goals faster.
- Being flexible with your diet, prioritising rest if you train a lot and enriching your life outside of training are just some of the take-home messages my obese patients have taught me.
I love talking about my job, so chatting with people about nutrition is great. What’s even better is that since we all eat food, everyone has an opinion about nutrition.
A recent conversation I had was about working with sports people versus people who really struggle with their weight or are even clinically obese.
This particular person argued that they couldn’t be more different as patients, needing very different approaches both for nutrition and lifestyle.
On the face of it, a fair point, athletes are different from obese patients right?
Well if I could list just a few of the concerns that I get presented to me by top athletes and patients with obesity one by one it would look something like this:
- Not knowing how to cook
- Not knowing what a portion size for them is
- Not having any clue about different food groups
- Difficulty with choosing food on the go
- Energy levels fluctuating throughout the day
- Being overly restrictive with their diet
- Not tracking their nutrition or having an awareness of their intake
- Relying on eating nothing or training to exhaustion to lose weight
- Emphasising supplements over foods first
- Struggling with emotional eating
- Struggling with a medical concern
- Training too much
- Training too little
So really the two individuals share many of the same problems, some will have a few others many.
They are just at different ends of the same spectrum.
Having worked with both of these groups of people, I believe they have a lot to learn from each other.
What You Can Learn from Athletes.
Fall in Love with Being Active. Athletes’ biggest crush was being active from day one. Whether that was kicking a ball around a pitch, running for miles or lifting heavy things and putting them down again. Real athletes, live breathe and love the sport they play.
TIP: If you struggle with your weight you have to find something active that you love. Forget which one is optimal, the one you love is the one you’ll (literally) be running back to each day.
Giving Up is Not An Option. It is tough to get in shape, especially if you’ve been out of shape for a while. Willpower, tolerance or general ‘mental toughness’ levels for making nutrition, exercise or lifestyle changes is what separates the athletes from the rest of us. They accept that ‘elbow grease’ will be needed to get the job done and they don’t let fear stand in their way.
TIP: Wherever you are on your fitness journey, embrace the fact that you will be afraid, you will fall down and it will be tough but you can pick yourself up again and ‘get in the zone’ if you choose to.
Me First. I’ve heard it once that the most successful athletes have a bit of an ego. Yet, most people think that this is always a bad thing, that it’s selfish. However, a little ’me first’ at times can be actually be your best ally. Put everyone else before you and your health will suffer, then everyone else (including friends, family, work) will also suffers in some way. I like to call this the ‘ripple effect’. Whether that’s having no energy to work at your best, not feeling confident enough to attend social gatherings, feeling low or getting sick more often than you should.
Putting yourself last lands you where? In last place. If you need help, then take it.
TIP: If you want to make changes to your nutrition and lifestyle, they must come first. When you prioritise your own performance and health above all else, watch the other pieces fall into place.
So let’s look at the flip side of the coin, what can athletes learn from those who’ve struggled with their weight for a lifetime?
What You can Learn from the Obese
Dietary Flexibility. Of all the problems I see with some athletes one of the major concerns with their diet is that is often rigid, inflexible and orthorexic (has to be perfect). Put these people in front of a all-you-can-eat buffet and it’s a recipe for disaster. What I tend to see more often with people with obesity is that they often have no issue treating themselves, but perhaps they could do with doing it a little less often. The range of foods they eat is often better too but a little mindless at times.
TIP: Food is not just fuel. It’s a sensory, social as well as a gastronomic experience. Denying foods all the time to have the ‘optimal diet’ often doesn’t lead to better performance, it leads to disordered eating problems. A treat every now and then will not upset the apple cart.
It’s Ok to Rest. Resting is normally not a problem for those with a little excess weight, often it’s the opposite issue, getting active! However, the more you train, the more rest, recovery and rehabilitation become a critical factor in your regime. This includes what you eat and drink on your recovery days. You can’t ‘out-train’ a poor recovery regime, if anything, you’ll simply make it more likely an injury will take place.
TIP: Plan a full recovery day into your regime, do something else other than more training and make sure you eat well.
There’s More to Life. Those who are just starting out with exercise, often find prioritising it over other things very difficult. Yet if you’re an athlete, it’s the opposite issue. Pulling you away is the hardest part. The number of times I’ve spoken to athletes that feel ‘guilty’ if they don’t train is astounding. To stay healthy, the amount of exercise you need is less than you think. A minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week is recommended by the department of health and if your lifestyle is pretty active this could even be factored into your routine, such as walking to and from work, a short workout in lunch hour, a walk at night etc.
TIP: If you’re otherwise healthy and you’re not paid to train, then it is just that, a bit of fun. Exercise above and beyond the recommendations because you love it but family and friends should have an equal if not slightly greater part of your life. Don’t let training consume you.