As a runner with a bit of a wonky stomach, I try to plan out my meals according to my running schedule. When the practice of “mindful eating” started becoming more prominent in the nutrition world, I liked the concept but had a hard time adopting it. This made me wonder if mindful eating is right for runners at all.
You may be wondering, “What the heck is mindful eating?” Derived from Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and meditation, mindful eating is about paying close attention to your food and desire to eat. The practice also teaches people to be aware of eating patterns and listen to hunger cues. “Being mindful about your meals may include an assessment of hunger and engagement of all the senses, while slowly consuming food without distractions, and stopping when you start to notice fullness,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Jones also adds that mindful eating is a large part of intuitive eating, or the ability to make meal and snack decisions without any scheduling or food rules. “Mindfulness is more about awareness, while intuition is more about feelings and instincts,” says Jones.
Can runners practice mindful eating?
While I’m skeptical of ditching my routine, Heather Caplan, RD says it’s totally doable.
“I think it’s possible for all runners and athletes to practice both mindful and intuitive eating. For both myself and the athletes I work with, I’ve found that being mindful of how foods make us feel, hunger levels, and satiety greatly improves running performance.”
Caplan warns that many athletes fall into the trap of eating a regimented number of calories per mile. Others turn to protein supplements after a workout. As a result, runners may not be actually assessing their satiety or appetite. With a little more mindfulness about hunger cues, some runners may find that they don’t actually need all of the fuel they are taking in.
“Even though you follow a schedule, you are already practicing intuitive eating more than you think,” says Jones. By thinking about what foods will affect your GI stomach and energy needs, you are already making mindful food choices. The key is to let go of keeping a strict eating regimen.
“The only missing piece is letting go of the scheduling a bit and consuming those meals and snacks when your body is truly ready for them,” Jones notes.
Tips For Mindful Eating
If you like the concept of letting go of food and fueling rules, you may want to try mindful eating. Here are some tips for seeing if this way of eating is right for you.
- The best way to try mindful eating is to consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in these practices. Jones and Caplan are experts, and they have teamed up to create the Intuitive Eating for Female Athletes course. This course provides an introduction to intuitive eating by focusing on hunger, appetite and satiety, in combination with the science sports nutrition.
- If you choose to try mindful eating on your own, “ditching the diet mentality is the first step,” says Caplan. In other words, let go of rigid food rules, like eating at certain times or sticking to set calorie ranges.
- Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. “Know that there may be a time commitment of a few weeks or months. Work on this slowly, starting to listen to the cues your body gives when you feel hunger, and learning to eat before you feel ravenous,” advises Caplan.
- Keep a Hunger and Satiety log. Write down your meal times, how hungry you feel, how full you feel after the meal and when you feel hungry again. You should be able to see if you eat for reasons other than hunger, like boredom or stress.