Basic 4

Model a Positive Approach to Food

Listen to our bodies. Eat for enjoyment and satisfaction and resist pressures to diet or change our natural body size.

"We as a society need to acknowledge and honor diversity of body size and shape; one is not better than another. We also need to reinforce the message that the best-fueled athlete- not the thinnest- will be the better competitor."
–Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., Sport Nutritionist

As the new head coach for his gymnastics club’s top competitive group, Phillipe noticed that many of his athletes often talked about calories, fat content and how guilty they felt after eating certain foods. Phillipe was aware that these attitudes could lead to disordered eating. He decided to get in touch with a registered dietitian named Ginette. Ginette was very knowledgeable about sport nutrition and Phillipe felt he could trust her to look out for the well being of his athletes.

One night, Ginette came to the club and talked to the athletes, parents and coaches about taking a positive approach to eating and seeing food as fuel. Afterwards, Phillipe referred several of his athletes to meet with Ginette about personal nutrition. By the end of the season, Phillipe noticed changes in his athletes’ attitudes towards food. They were now eating a range of foods and were less worried about calories and fat. As well, they had fewer injuries and more energy for training.

BodySense Connection:

Taking a Positive Approach to Food

"We want to talk [to our athletes] about fueling the body to prevent injury, not to reach a certain body-fat percentage. We deal a lot with achieving a balance… you do need fat. We want [the athletes] to eat a normal diet and not count calories."
-Claudia Wilson, Sport Nutritionist and Clinical Dietician, University of Utah

The first thing to remember is that despite popular belief there are no rules about healthy eating that can be applied to everyone. We are naturally programmed to know what foods we need, how much of each food we need and how often we need to give our bodies food. (* Sometimes physical, psychological, medical and drug-related issues can inhibit our natural ability to recognize hunger.)

In an ideal world, we could rely on this intuition to know what, when and how much to eat. In reality, we are told what to eat, what not to eat, and when and how to eat it. Food is often categorized as 'good' or 'bad', which in turn, can make us feel 'good' or 'bad' about ourselves when we eat it.

We need to remember that food is fuel. There is no good or bad food. There is moderation and balance, and getting back in touch with our cravings, our natural hunger, and our sense of fullness when we eat. We all have different body needs. Here are a few simple tips for taking a positive approach to food:

  1. Eat when you are hungry (not tired, bored, anxious, stressed, lonely, etc.).
  2. Eat what you crave (without restricting or overeating any foods).
  3. Stop eating when you are comfortably full.

What coaches and parents can do:

Take a positive approach to food and your body. Eat when you are hungry, eat foods you crave, stop eating when you are full, live actively and exercise for a love of movement. Explain to athletes that food will help to maximize their performance in sport.

Demonstrate a positive relationship with food by eating well-balanced, non-restrictive meals and snacks. Help an athlete develop an understanding that all food is fuel that helps us lead an active lifestyle. Talk about how good food tastes and show athletes that eating is a normal and enjoyable thing to do.

Taking Action:

Fuel Tank Ideas: apples, granola bars, cereal bars, sports drinks, fig newtons, fruit cups, juice boxes, sesame snaps, trail mix, chocolate bars, dried fruit mixes, fruit bars, pumpkin seeds, almonds, apple sauce cups, gummy bears, corn nuts, pretzels, power bars, yogurt-covered raisins, chocolate macaroons, crackers and cheese.

  • Start a "fuel tank" box at your club to provide energy-packed, non-perishable snacks for your athletes that they can purchase at a low-cost. Have each athlete make a "fuel tank" to keep in their gym bag for busy workout days and traveling.
  • Make sure each athlete has a full water bottle and give ample time to refill them if necessary. Ensure that athletes are able to drink fluids before, during and after training.
  • During competitions, volunteer to be a "Fuel Manager" for the athletes (this is a great volunteer opportunity for a parent or group of parents). Get a cooler and stock it with healthful, energy-packed foods that an athlete can eat and enjoy during travel and competion. Take requests from the athletes before the trip to ensure that everyone gets to snack on foods they love so they will be well- fueled and ready to compete.