Charles Allen: Building a healthy relationship with food and when we need it
Can you control your weight when you are not training?
A topic which often arises when a runner speaks to me about taking time off from training, be that through injury or otherwise is the fear of weight gain.
It tells me that we become over reliant on our activity level being the thing that determines what and how we eat that we forget how to use our appestat. So what exactly is that? Your appestat is the region of your brain that regulates the desire for and intake of food.
Before we had clocks or had created the notion of breakfast, lunch and dinner we relied on our appestat to decide when we ate. The simple signal would be your stomach rumbling and the urge to eat.
For many of you reading this, it may be the first time you have even heard of appestat.
It's not surprising as when I listen to people talk about diet, I rarely hear appestat mentioned. Yes, there is lots of information on what to eat, or more to the point what not to eat, but hardly anything regarding appestat and the desire to eat.
Now with modern approaches to advertising, food production and consumption we no longer rely on this. Instead we create habits and rituals.
Breakfast takes place before we go to work or at the same point every day to fit in with modern living patterns.
The same is repeated throughout the day, regardless of whether we feel truly hungry.
Now, we are more stimulated by learned behaviours and habits; fitting our meals into our free time and responding to these conscious cues rather than letting our body's natural guidance system help us.
So, the reality about what to do when you stop exercising is really about going back to using your appestat.
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Personally, I am always asking people to consider their habitual drivers when it comes to eating. I encourage people to build a healthy relationship with food rather than becoming obsessed or over reliant on using exercise to balance out overeating.
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To eat a balanced diet and build an awareness of their individual kcal and macro nutrient needs. And develop a clear understanding how much they roughly need to maintain weight on training and rest days alike. And, rather than worrying about if there really is good food and bad food learning instead how to develop strategies for regulating intake and 'stopping after one' when you do indulge in your treats.
I also suggest people research the different areas of science related to a carbohydrate diet and a fat-based diet.
Equipping yourself with these tools and strategies now stands you in good stead to deal with time out for injury and will also help you as you age.
After all, it's unlikely that in 20 years' time you will burn as much energy for each mile you run or for each repetition you do. Then factor in that it will take longer to recover so training sessions will reduce.
These changes will require adjustments to your energy intake.
Maybe you have decided "I will never train less" well, be cautious, if you ignore increased recovery needs you may not be able to ignore your increased need to see physios and/or other therapists later in life.
Crikey, we are even doing it to our pets. As animals get older in the wild, they have less strength and energy to hunt thus getting less of the meal.
The strongest who do the hunting get the main amounts of energy. But with our pets, rather than adopting this natural principle as a great way to regulate our animals' weight as they get less active, we humans have managed to distort the process.
Nowhere was this more apparent to me than whilst sitting in my vets the other day watching elderly fat dogs waddle in one after another.
As always, I like to think these articles just give you a push into thinking outside the box and maybe encourage you to investigate subjects a little deeper than you have before. And discover more than what is presented to us through the various social media platforms and influential advertising campaigns.
If you rely on others to tell you what and when to eat it may lead to you never really being at peace with food but more importantly it might be worth realising that over exercising may lead to its own set of problems at a later date.