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Benefits of Mindful Eating for Athletes

By Megan Meyer, PhD, IFIC

Training and racing have always been a huge part of my life. After more than two decades of training for more races than I can count, I think I’ve fine-tuned my race day process – and more importantly, pre-race preparation.

My love of racing began when, in my teens and twenties, I was a competitive swimmer. After college, I decided to change things up and try running, which led me to sign up for my first half marathon. Naturally, soon after, I combined my running and swimming skills to become a triathlon junkie.

Somewhere in the middle of my evolution from triathlete to full marathon runner, I realized something. Not only were the things I was eating during race season affecting my race-day performance, they were fueling year-round food cravings that weren’t healthy.

After hearing about mindful eating, a practice that embodies many of the intuitive principles of eating, such as eating when you’re hungry and not observing food restrictions, I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t long before I noticed an improvement in my energy levels and an increase in my strength. More importantly, my mind was free from counting macros and daydreaming about food.

If you’re looking for a way out of restrictive eating habits with competitive sports, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore mindful eating in more detail, including the benefits of mindful eating and how you can get started.

What is mindful eating?

Although the concept of mindful eating can be difficult to grasp, in practice, it is relatively simple. Mindfulness, quite simply, is the practice of constantly bringing your attention back to the present moment, as opposed to living life on autopilot.

Practicing mindfulness can encompass more than just your eating habits. But for me, mindful eating looks like eating when I feel hungry, intentionally chewing my food, and allowing myself to eat foods I enjoy instead of aiming for a constant calorie deficit. .

Why Practice Mindfulness in Eating?

In addition to the physical health benefits of mindful eating—such as improved HDL cholesterol and lower BMI—the practice of mindful eating has a positive impact on mental health.

gave Diets and other restrictive eating practices Foods that athletes typically use to improve their physical appearance and performance can lead to obsessive thoughts about food.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met other athletes, and all we talk about is the food we’re going to eat after we finish our workout. Food is the main topic of our conversation 99.99% of the time.

Mindful eating can help moderate binge eating and the negative effects it can have on your psyche. Several studies show the efficacy of mindful eating in improving symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating.(1)(2)

Can you lose weight by eating mindfully?

In an effort to lose weight, many people turn to restrictive diets such as restricting calories or Running on an empty stomach. While these methods may work for some people, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, and in some cases, they do more harm than good.

Because smart eaters are encouraged not to track calories, eat whenever they’re hungry, and treat themselves to ‘unhealthy’ foods like pizza, you’d assume they’d gain weight. will go But studies are proving this school of thought wrong.

Research shows that athletes who follow mindful or intuitive eating principles such as eating when hungry and not following dietary restrictions have a lower BMI than those who are restrictive. Avoid. Best of all, these weight-conscious eating benefits come with the addition of improved psychological health. (3)

What are the steps to mindful eating?

If you want to start incorporating these principles into your life, it’s important to know what constitutes mindful eating. In this next section, you’ll find some simple steps you can take to eat more mindfully.

1. Pay attention to internal hunger cues.

When I focus on training, I find myself missing meals or skipping snacks. Although I feel hungry, I ignore important internal cues, leading to a habit of overeating during the day. My body desperately seeks calories and nutrients to replenish itself after my workout.

A simple change like eating when I’m hungry has helped me kick my binge eating habit, with studies supporting the efficacy of mindful eating in treating eating disorders. (4)

2. Get intentional about where you eat.

After the training session, I often find myself rushing to work with food in hand or standing in my kitchen eating a quick breakfast. Other times, I crash on the couch and watch TV while I eat whatever food is nearby. Both of these habits lead me to eat foods without thinking, without recognizing them, and how much of them I’m putting into my body.

If you’ve adopted a similar eating pattern, being intentional about where you eat is an easy way to develop a more conscious eating pattern. Make it a habit to divide your food into bowls or plates and sit down at your dining room table to eat.

3. Start with small portions.

It can take up to 20 minutes for the brain to get the signal that the stomach is full. Eating too quickly or starting with a large portion are two ways you set yourself up for overeating.

Instead, start with a smaller portion size than you normally would, perhaps 60% of your regular serving. After eating that first portion, you can focus on eating or just take a few minutes to catch your mind with your stomach.

After listening to your body, you’ll know better if you need the remaining 40% serving. You’d be surprised how often you don’t!

4. Eliminate distractions.

Before I became a conscious eater, I used the time I took to eat as an opportunity to watch TV or catch up on emails. This disconnection from food is a major cause of overeating, as we no longer pay attention to our level of satiety.

Slowing down and using my senses at mealtimes helped me become a more mindful eater. I used to pay attention to the aroma, texture, temperature and taste of my food so that I could be more present while eating. This level of presence allowed me to be more in tune with my body and helped me manage my eating habits.

5. Chew your food thoroughly.

When you think of digestion, you can imagine the process that takes place in your stomach after you eat. But chewing your food is a lesser but essential part of the digestive process.

For a long time, especially when I was under time constraints or eating standing up, I wasn’t chewing my food properly. Little did I know that chewing your food more thoroughly can improve nutrient absorption and reduce hunger between meals, making it easier to feel full longer after eating. becomes (5)

Some experts recommend chewing your food 32 times, while others recommend aiming for an oatmeal-like consistency before swallowing. Adopting one of these methods, or creating your own, is a great way to effect big change without much effort.

6. Remember, you don’t have to “earn” your food

When you come from a background of tracking macros and calories in and out, it can be easy to fall into bad eating habits. The most common feeling is that you have to earn your living through physical activity.

One of the biggest changes I noticed through practicing mindful eating was no longer feeling the need to use exercise as punishment for the food I ate. I started treating food as a form of self-care, and when I did, it was easy for my physical activity to follow suit.


If your food obsession is getting out of control, adopt mindfulness or Intuitive eating practices could help. Not only are they useful in improving your performance on race day, but they make everyday life between races more satisfying.

In this article, I share with you my favorite ways to eat mindfully, such as eliminating distractions and eating when I’m hungry. But they don’t stop there! With so many books and other online resources, you can find all the information you need to start your mind-eating journey.

Building a new relationship with food using these guidelines can take some time, and it’s important to remember that there is no rush. But bringing joy back to food as an end goal is a noble goal.

About Megan:

Megan Meyer, Ph.D., is the Program Manager for Health and Wellness Communications. International Food Information Council (IFIC). At IFIC, she is committed to communicating science-based information on nutrition and health topics to the media, health professionals, outside organizations and consumers.


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