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Published on December 23rd, 2011 | by Hot Quad

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The Pursuit of Derbyness: Why You Shouldn’t Diet for the New Year

It’s that time of year again. You know the one I mean. You’re innocently watching TV when an an annoyingly cheerful skinny person tells you that it’s only six months ‘till bikini season! Suddenly there are photos of a chubby version of this individual and promises that this pill or that diet plan are all you need to make your dreams of a banging’ body come true.

You look down at that disturbing bit of holiday pudge that seems to have accumulated during the past six weeks and think to yourself, “Yeah, I could use a diet about now. Losing weight would make me a better athlete anyway, right?” DO NOT PASS GO! DO NOT COLLECT $200! You have just fallen prey to the mountain of advertising money that the immensely profitable weight loss industry spends every year to convince you that weighing less is the best of all possible New Year’s resolutions. Turn off the TV and I’ll tell you why they’re wrong.

It’s no secret that losing weight kind of sucks. That’s because, in truth, there’s only one way to lose weight: eat fewer calories than you burn. This forces your body to draw on its fat reserves for its current caloric needs so that you’re literally consuming yourself. That’s all fine and good, but what it means for your day to day is that you’re running on fat, a thing that is difficult for your body to convert into energy. As a result, you will be tired a lot. Eating fewer calories than you require will also suppress your immune system, something I really don’t recommend in the middle of winter. Please ask yourself how much of an asset you will be to your team if you’re trying to skate while exhausted and sick.

Now, deciding not to lose weight does not let you off the hook as far as nutrition is concerned. Eating better will definitely help you to be a better athlete. The trouble is that there are so very many opinions on what exactly is meant by “eating better.” You could go vegan, low carb, high carb, paleo, gluten-free or whatever else is popular this year. My advice is as follows:

1.) If the plan you’re considering changes absolutely everything about the way you eat, don’t do it. Over the long term you’re very likely to revert to way you eat now. This has nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with human nature. Instead I recommend making one or two small changes. Even small changes will benefit you and they will be easier to maintain. You can always make more changes later.

2.) If you start on a plan and it gives you incredible cravings for a food you are no longer allowed to have, don’t do it. Cravings come in one of two forms. Either your brain tells you that you like that food and you still want it, or that that food contains some sort of nutrient that you now lack as a part of your eating plan. Either way you will learn to treat your body’s wants and needs as hostile and feel incredibly guilty when you give out and eat whatever it is you’re not supposed to have. Save yourself the emotional turmoil.

3.) If the plan you like best sounds crazy and unsustainable, it probably is both that and incredibly unhealthy.

If you’re asking me for a good place to start I highly recommend Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. It’s one of the best selling books on sports nutrition of all time for a reason. I like it because nothing she writes about sounds insane. She also addresses a lot of issues that are specific to women, although that is not the focus of the book. There are quite a few meal ideas and recipes as well. If you’re not a big reader start with this: EAT LESS CRAP. Want more? What you put into your own nutrition will be what you get out of it just like everything else. Pick up a book, make an effort.

So, are you ready to eat for better performance without losing weight? Great. Throw out your scale. I say that because I know there’s a little voice in the back of your head that’s saying, “Well, if I eat better I know I’ll probably lose a little and I want to know how much that is.” Before you know it you’ll be on the scale every morning scratching your head and wondering why that number hasn’t budged even though you feel great and you’re eating all the right things. Here are some reasons you may gain weight while eating well: You’re well hydrated. You’re gaining muscle mass. You had a tough workout and your body is retaining water to help itself recover. You’re menstruating. You ate something salty yesterday. Etc.

Why on earth would you want to mentally punish yourself doing things that either increase your athletic abilities, are acts of nature or are just occasional treats that have little to no long-term effect on your heath? We hear all the time that weight is just a number but that truism is hard to really believe when your number stares you in the face every morning or every week. If your weight does change, it’s not as if you won’t notice. Your pants will either be tighter or looser and you will either feel better or worse. Realistically, if you feel better and your pants are looser, do you really want to hear that the number has gone up or not gone down as much as you thought? Throw out your scale and you can walk through life focused on the things that actually affect your health and athleticism, rather than a more or less arbitrary number.

Finally, while good nutrition is a vitally important part of your training, be careful not to slide down the slippery slope from reasonably concerned to totally neurotic. Food is not poison and your body is not your enemy. There will be days when you eat bacon mac and cheese and it will be delicious. Some of our best memories as human beings are made around a delicious meal and a bottle of wine, and that’s the last time you should be counting calories in your head or refusing the handmade artisan bread before dinner. You are not a professional athlete and in any case I maintain that a little hedonism is good for the soul. Good luck, and happy New Year.

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