Running and Eating: Nutrition, Dieting, and Eating Disorders

Let’s get this out in the open right from the get go. The wonderful world of eating is not always so wonderful for runners. Whether you are an elite runner, a new runner looking to lose some pounds, or one of the many runners in between, making food decisions is difficult.

 Carbo-loading. Keto. Superfoods. Macronutrients. Intermittent fasting. Detox.

These are just a few of the phrases and words that have kept you on health blogs and Wikipedia pages for hours. Each one with its own purpose and promise. Deciding when, how much, and what to eat can be stressful for anyone and especially for those with specific physical goals. Choosing between all the competing voices on food is as an important decision as any and should be done with care. Our bodies deserve it.

Harvard nutritionist Meg Schrier and dietician Jessi Haggerty have been helping athletes make positive food choices for many years. They have experience working with a variety of elite athletes and non-athletes, including helping those with eating disorders. When it comes to answering the difficult food questions, they are some of the best. In this article and podcast, they provide us with some basic tips and clues in navigating the world of eating. 

Eating Disorders

Let’s begin with one of the most difficult topics. Even if you have never personally dealt with an eating disorder, this is a subject worth learning about. Eating disorders likely effect more people than you think. Understanding the early signs of eating disorders can help not only the people around you, it can help you. Maintaining a positive relationship with food is important to staying healthy and avoiding the dangerous diseases that are eating disorders.

How do I know if I have an eating disorder? What should I do?

You don’t need to be incredibly skinny or weak to have an eating disorder. And you don’t need to have an eating disorder to make a behavior change. To know if you need help Meg suggests asking yourself a few questions. “How much are you thinking about food throughout the day? [Is food] causing you not to go to events or be with friends and loved ones?” She continues by suggesting that if food is becoming everything, it’s something you should talk about. Jessi adds that if your behaviors no longer feel like a choice, it’s a good opportunity to seek a higher level of care. 

Finding a Support Team

If you have discovered that there is a behavior you want to change, having a support team is crucial to your success. If you can, confide in a friend, a family member, or a teammate. Having someone that you can always talk to and that you trust is very powerful. They can help you feel in control of your actions and give support when you need it. 

Next, find a therapist that you are comfortable with. “It’s important to find a therapist that specializes in eating disorders…and then do some trial and error,” says Jessi. “It is hard to parse out what is fear of going through the therapeutic process and what is [knowing] it’s not a good fit.” Therapy is great, but not all therapists match up with their clients perfectly. If you find yourself not agreeing with your therapist on matters that are important to you, it’s okay to switch. Stick with it. Find a good one.

In addition to a therapist and a trusted friend, it can be very beneficial to work with a nutritionist, dietician, psychiatrist, or endocrinologist. There are many options out there and depending on what city you live in, there will probably be a good handful of people you can choose to work with.

Listening to and Understanding Your Body

Whenever you make changes in your activity, your body has to adapt. If you are adding lots of miles to your runs, increasing speed, or adding new workouts, you are going to have to learn how your body reacts. Do your best to listen to your body and realize that you may not understand everything all at once. 

“It is hard to eat intuitively when you are training at a high-level,” says Meg. You may feel like a child when you can’t tell if you are hungry, but it is common when you train hard, especially when burning a lot of calories. How are you supposed to decide when to eat? One tip Meg gives is to rest. A little bit of rest can help you know if you are feeling like you should eat or not. In addition, working with a dietician can help you eat when you don’t think you are hungry and vice-versa.

Love Your Amazing Body

Your body is amazing. It allows you to move. It is strong. It deserves to be treated well because it gives you so much. Always be in touch with what it needs, and it will continue to let you have fun.


Jessi’s Website

The BodyLove Project Podcast

Jessi’s Instagram

Jessi’s Twitter

Meg’s Harvard Profile

Meg’s Harvard email

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Thank you to Run Angel and Bodyhealth for sponsoring this episode of Running for Real.

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