Being an endurance athlete makes me feel *highly* susceptible fad diets that circulate among professional athletes. While the specificity in their diets is most likely necessary because of hightened energy expenditure, it doesn’t negate from the fact that these are highly influential people pushing weirdly specific agendas. Be it to accrue a larger social following or to make the biggest splash, what and how we eat is intriguing and influential; suddenly everyone is an expert on food.
The inspiration for my musings came from a long run over the weekend wherein my girlfriend and I chatted about some of the pressures we feel from other athletes in our sport. These influencers consequently have very regimented diets and more often than not very slim or toned bodies. I’ve opened up to her in the past about some of my own insecurities around food and it feel freeing to admit that I don’t love feeling inundated by constant messaging around needing to be vegan for performance, health, the environment, etc. #Unfollow
A journalist and writer who I respect very much, and writes for her own website titled, “Not Plant Based,” recently published an article that felt topical in light of the weekend’s topic of conversation. I’ve linked her article here with the hope contextualizing where my thoughts are coming from regarding the idea that being the best version of yourself does not mean you need to be vegan.
I am not a vegan. I fully respect vegans and I admire vegans who choose their lifestyle because of ethical standpoints. There are however a million and one other ways to take care of our planet that don’t have anything to do with our dietary habits. If you’re keen to learn a bit more, I would reccomend listenting to this podcast produced by The New York Times referencing some of the bigger picture actions we can take as citizens of planet earth to make real, actionable change. Spoiler alert, get out and vote!
As someone who has a history of disordered eating, labeling my diet has not, and will continue not to be good for my mental space. I’ve said it numerous times, admitted it on various podcasts, and yet I still feel as though I’m pouring salt in my wounds whenever I scroll through instagram and notice countless, #plantbasedathlete hashtags promoting a “safe” way of eating and disguising an unhealthy relationship to food. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve done that too. I’m ashamed to admit these things because I was formerly that person who captured every meal on social media.
Partaking in the over abundance of sharing on social media can lead to inherent ambiguity around what’s on our own plates. This age of transparency has begun to moralize food in a way that it ought not to be moralized. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to share meal ideas, recipes, a glimpse into just how many calories it takes to fuel these endurance endeavors, but what I put into my body is my business and if I can stress one thing it would be to stop worrying about the nutritional MIS-information that’s circulating the web.
Being a vegan or a vegetarian does not make you a better athlete (or human in general). It’s commendable to be a vegan athlete if you’re standing up against corrupt farming practices or taking a stand to raise awareness for environmental action. Rather than preaching about “optimal” recovery, speak instead about how to support businessess aimed at giving back, or better yet, show up to local elections and vote for climate protecting policy! What is optimal for your body may be detrimental to mine. Sure there are guidelines that exist around the types of energy sources that work best for our bodies, but nutrition is so nuanced and individualized that it’s all different.
Okay, pause here for a second. I’m not a registered dietician or nutritionist so I can’t speak with authority on what it is we should and shouldn’t be eating. But what I can do is advocate food freedom. I can encourage she/he who reads this blog to not be influenced by the professional athletes pushing plant powered agendas in favor of “saving the planet,” or because it’s “what our bodies thrive on.” A sweet friend of mine reminded me that when you buy meat from your local butcher, or take the time to invest your energy and resources into supporting small farms, you’re actually doing a world of good when it comes to maintaing suitable agricultural practices. You can enjoy legumes, kale, chickpeas and beetroot burgers like your vegetarian counterparts, but you should never feel guilt for ordering a cheeseburger at dinner if that’s feels right. You should never second guess scrambling up some eggs after a long run because it’s the perfect acoutrement to avocado on toast.
Smoked salmon on a salt and pepper bagel is a rite of passage on Sunday mornings. Half and half and dark roast coffee are about as perfect of a pairing as Jay-z and Beyonce. Crispy bacon, let’s not kid ourselves, both smells and tastes delicious. There is something primal about sizzling pork that is an immediate childhood regenerator and a form of self-care luxury that I adore. Snickers do a world of wonders when you’re hungry, and there is nothing more nourishing than a big bowl of pan-fried greens when I’m feeling a bit sluggish. Being a good athlete means maintaing balance. It means knowing the difference between fact and fiction in the nutrition space and being informed enough to choose food options that feel best for you.
I’ll admit, I rarely eat candy and I’m still working on taking the “badness” out of it. I don’t eat scones as much as I want to because I’ve been conditioned to believe that they’re “bad” for me. NO! Hard stop. I shouldn’t feel guilt if I eat a Reeses peanut butter cup; once upon a time my mom and I would sneak them out of the freezer and unwrap them together if we were ever feeling crummy. Let’s return to those moments of sweetness; let’s return to those memories of food as being soulful and delicious not just because of it’s nutritional merit.
Eat pizza with sausage and pepperoni and bacon. Eat a salad with hemp seeds and avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds. Devour a huge box of movie theatre popcorn, stop at your local bakery and pick up a seasonal scone. Dip that sucker in a fresh cup of coffee and lick your sticky fingers of the dried fruit and residual sugar crystals on top. Enjoy your food and be proud of your body for all the kick-ass accomplishments it achieves on a daily basis.
Eating meat does not make you a bad person. Eating a vegan diet does not make you a bad person. Killing your neighbor makes you a bad person.