The emails and comments I’ve received in response to my CrossFit Journal article have brought up a lot of good thoughts, and questions. They have made me realize that there is so much more to discuss. Over the next week or two, I’m going to touch on a few of the things you’ve brought up, regarding CrossFit, diet and food.
The first idea for discussion came from an email I received from Jeanette, in New Brunswick, Canada. She wrote, in part:
“I have a very low tolerance for Competitive Dieters: How many blocks are you eating? What are you eating? I don’t eat that. Cheat meal this… sugar hangover that… extra fat here… less carbs there… JUST SHUT UP and LET ME EAT MY GODDAMN COOKIE!”
CrossFit is competitive, in lots of ways. We compare times, weights, workout results, body fat percentages. And yes, we are competitive in our eating as well. Not the kind of competitive eating that Gant Grimes used to do – was it hot dogs, or maybe chicken wings? And not necessarily the kind that Jeanette is referring to. Though she has a point about outside dietary pressures, I’ll argue that the majority of our competitive eating is far more subtle. We weigh, measure, track and report our diets in a very public manner, on message boards and in blog posts, thereby opening ourselves up to perceived criticisms. We read about OTHER people’s diets, and imagine a perceived pressure to also eat squeaky clean, to cut out grains – no, grains AND sugar – no, grains, sugar AND dairy. Note the word “perceived”… because I’ve never seen anyone outwardly, explicitly judge what I eat. No one has ever said to me, “You shouldn’t eat that french toast”, or “You eat too much protein”, or “Do you really want that martini?” No, the sad truth of the matter is that no one is putting this pressure of “competitive eating” on me… but ME.
Most of the time, if someone DID say to me, “You sure you want that martini?” I would simply pop a blue cheese stuffed olive in my mouth and direct them to my Healthy/Fuck Off Scale. I am usually confident enough in my diet, my athletic performance and the level of balance I have achieved in my life to brush off any kind of dietary peer pressure. But there are certain times – usually when I’m feeling a little insecure about my CrossFit-ness – that I do fall into the competitive eating trap.
This was never more evident than when I attended the first Science of Exercise Certification back in January. See, I’ve been to plenty of certs. And when you’re working out eight hours a day on Saturday AND Sunday, people tend to relax their diets a bit. It’s all about getting food in when you can, and if that means a wrap, a bagel or a cheeseburger, so be it. But at the Science Exercise Cert, we weren’t training. It was lecture, for two days straight. So people needed to eat, but there wasn’t that added factor of needing to hoover whatever food you could fit in between workouts. And the caliber of people in that room left me feeling… well, kind of like nobody. I’m sitting next to Jeff Martone and Coach Rip, behind Matt Lalonde and Tucker, in front of Eva T and Coach Glassman. I’m in a room full of fire-breathers, affiliate owners, coaches and subject matter experts. Aaannd… me. So yes, I was feeling a little CrossFit insecure.
During the day, it was straight-up Paleo Gone Wild. The room was full of jerky, almonds, organic smoked turkey breast and fresh fruit. We’d go out for lunch and the chips and salsa they set on the table might as well have been a plate full of rattlesnakes, the way I thought I saw people recoiling. Every order was special – no bread, hold the cheese, can I get extra broccoli and no salad dressing? It was INSANE… or maybe that was just my perception of the situation. Because certainly no one was flaunting their Paleo or Zone. No one questioned what I was eating, no one probably even noticed. And there were plenty of people drinking beer and eating cornbread, having a good old time at dinner on Saturday night (which is the only time I relaxed on MY diet). But because I was kind of nervous anyway, and wanted to do my best to fit in with all these awesome CrossFit people, I became a super-Nazi about my food choices. Way more than I would have been, had it been a normal weekend. (I did NOT get my french toast that Sunday, which is a travesty.)
How often do we let competitive eating peer pressure get to us? And why do we do it? If our diets are clean, and we are happy with our performance, and our lives feel balanced, then why would we ever torture ourselves with trying to “keep up” with the next guy’s diet? It makes no sense, and yet I suspect we all fall into that trap once in a while. So here’s what I do to get myself back in check.
- Find a NORMAL and HEALTHY diet role model, and talk to them on a regular basis. Dallas is my go-to for that – he eats squeaky clean most of the time, but he’s also one of my Sunday morning french toast partners in crime. Gant Grimes is another one I turn to when I start to go off the diet deep end. Gant tries to set a Meat PR at least once a month, and thinks nothing of eating ice cream and drinking beer whenever he damn well pleases. His life is BALANCED, and his performance is continually improving, and most importantly, he is HAPPY. He brings me back to reality, and usually does the trick to snap me out of my diet madness.
- Stand up for yourself if someone is overtly pressuring you to eat more/less/better/cleaner. You know whether there is a point to the pressure. Have you spent the last two weeks eating nothing but donuts and pizza? Maybe Peer Pressure Guy has a point. But if your diet has been solid, and you’re excited about that chocolate chip cookie or that tall, frothy Guinness… stick up for yourself. Tell them to shove it, or point them to my H/FO Scale. Because as Jeanette says, “If ANYONE can afford to eat a piece of cake or drink a pint of beer, it’s us CrossFitters, right?”
- If you are feeling a lot of pressure, whether from the outside or internal, go cold turkey and take a break from CrossFit for 2-3 days. Take training rest days, eat whatever you like, take lots of naps, do fun stuff. And then get back into the gym, and TELL me that your performance isn’t just as good – if not better – than it was the week before. See for yourself that a few dietary “transgressions” here and there aren’t going to kill you. In fact, there’s a good chance that the extra calories and rest is EXACTLY what your body has been craving.
CrossFit isn’t for sissies. As the Black Box says, sometimes it’s a Hostile Workout Environment. But that doesn’t mean you need to bully yourself into health and fitness. Choose your course, find your balance, and be confident in your decisions. Don’t allow competitive eating to become a part of your daily routine. And Jeanette – go ahead and eat that cookie, girl.
Gant’s recovery meal from this weekend. In his own words, “8 oz. of steak, 8 oz. of chicken, and 8 oz. of sausage. That’s 24 Zone blocks of protein. Not anywhere near a PR- just a good meal. Not pictured: olive oil and Texas ale.“
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Good stuff Melissa. I completely agree, the competitive eating I encounter is subtle, and probably unintentional. It’s simply a pressure I internalize when I hear all the food talk. Chalk it up to 15yrs of obsessive eating. I know it’s up to me to keep it in check and not lash out at the unsuspecting CrossFitter who might just be trying to get some clarity on their own diet.
Well done sister, and don’t worry… I won’t think twice about eating that cookie.
Geez! That plate of flesh makes me want to set a Meat PR…
Kevin Daigle says
Well said Mox, as a continuation of our conversation on FB….I’ve been there before as well. Strangely enough, however, on the other side of the continuum. I’ve frequently been outright challenged to displays of eating that would make the avg CF’er/zoner/paleo person faint and perhaps vomit. I’ve tried to get away from that in recent years, much like my affinity for putting too much weight on the bar (which is helps me, but its not healthy to do every workout). I KNOW I can do it, I don’t need to prove it to everyone else at every turn.
I think a great analogy (although I might be the only one it makes sense to) is race fuel. People believe that higher octane race fuel makes more power…this is not true. However, you regularly hear and see the misguided using and talking about at length how they’re putting 118 octane race fuel in their Honda. Which not only costs about $14/gal if the engine doesn’t need it, it’ll make LESS power. It’s all about feeding YOUR engine what IT NEEDS.
Mmmmm, french toast….
I hear ya on this issue. I, too, have fallen into the trap of wanting to emulate the diet of people I see who kick-ass. But, remember, Caity Matter drinks beer and eats pizza. So, not all firebreathers eat totally clean. Would her performance be better if she didn’t eat pizza? Maybe, but she probably wouldn’t be as happy, so maybe not.
I often get down on myself for hearing about what others are eating – 100% paleo, etc. But, then I remember, that not only do I have the cleanest diet of anyone I know, but I feel, perform, and according to my boyfriend LOOK great, so there’s no reason to stop putting cream in my goddamn coffee. Or whatever.
Great job, sista.
This is my first time posting a comment here. I’ve only been doing Crossfit “for real” for about 2 weeks. I was doing a few bodyweight exercises on my own, but nothing more. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog.
Now, enough rambling, and back to the subject. I cannot agree with you more. One of the reasons it took me so long to commit to Crossfit was because of all the posts about having to eat Paleo or Zone to have great performance. Now I love meat as much as the next person, but when I heard there was no milk involved in Paleo, NO WAY JOSE!
I took 2 straight rest days this weekend, and didn’t really focus on my diet that much and I could tell my body needed it, by the fatigue, the soreness, and the cravings. So thank you for pointing out that you can eat something that actually tastes good occasionally and it won’t erase all of your hard work (or your PRs)…lol
I can’t say it will help my performance any, but it will at least keep me sane for the rest of the week.
If you need anymore rolemodels for going off the deep end, come hit a Faturday with Leslie, Bauer, and I… You will run screaming back to NH.
I think its just the type of person CF tends to attract. I use myself for example. I take everything to extremes. Don’t drink much, but when I do, stay out of my way because its going to get ugly. When Im watching what I eat? Its the same thing. Like Sunday for example. I went to the BBQ restaurant across the street from the BB in Manhattan and when they put sugery sauce on my chicken, it put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day because I refused to eat any part that had the sauce on it (and that means missing the skin that has all the yummy fat!!!). So do we need to be more “forgiving” of ourselves? Absolutely. But its hard to change what our nature is. But trying to change that obsessive/compulsive nature is one of the main reasons why I went from doing mainsite WODs to doing my own stength biased-CF training.
Frothy Guinness you say? You know I am a sucker for those…This was a great post Melissa. Sometimes I feel guilty about my “laissez-faire” diet, but really I am quite self-aware of my dietary limits. For one, I am not A-type enough to weigh and measure my food. That would drive me crazy. And for another, I am too self-indulgent to give up some of my favorites: peanut butter, beer, my sprouted grain english muffins in the morning…and pasta because damnit I am Italian! My focus has always been eating clean, but also enjoying life – which means a frothy Guinness at least once a week :)
“If ANYONE can afford to eat a piece of cake or drink a pint of beer, it’s us CrossFitters, right?”
Mmmmm I’m feelin’ Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough!?) on my birthday on Friday :) haha
Thanks for this post, Melissa :)
Jason Struck, RKC says
I compete with by way of how easy it is.
If i get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort, then I won. I can live with 13% BF to your 11% when I can eat (almost) whatever I want and love it.
I eat BBQ like 5-10 meals a week. My Boddhisatva vow includes not rejecting my own culture for the illusion that my new-found fanaticism is somehow superior.
Good article :) I’m laughing here but hey, it’s soooo serious sometimes.
you are right, we should try to find that balance, that happiness. Even CF is hard, life should not be suffering.
I love your article, because it brings up a valid point.
I am really only competitive with myself, and although I try to eat the way I NEED to (19 blocks, zone, 7 days a week, zzz) I consistently fail. But here’s the important part, failure is okay with me.
It’s the same reason I attempt muscle-ups almost every day in my gym, the same reason I try to get to unbroken sets of 10 kipping pullups. Failure is USEFUL, as long as you have the courage to use it, instead of moping around because of it.
You do things you can’t handle because you want to get better, every zone meal I eat is a victory, because of what I didn’t do as well as what I did. Justin does a great job of motivating me to perfect my diet without becoming a food nazi, and that’s the way it should be.
Us Crossfitters pride ourselves on our balance, and that should include a balanced diet, and a balanced life. Not a one-track mind for fitness 100% of the day, cut yourself some slack, you deserve it.
Rob Egan says
I know that I started zoning a couple of days before my Level 1 cert so I could try and understand how it worked out. Zoning completely killed me at times during the cert cause, like so many other first attempts, I was doing it wrong.
Since then I’ve tried zoning, paleo, and a combination of them but have found that I usually do well when:
1) I eat until I’m satisfied
2) Don’t overdo anything
3) Relax on the weekends
Am I cut? Nope, but I’m also not miserable.
Also, did you mention meet PRs?
Jay Ashman says
This is a fantastic blog. So truthful and full of common sense. We are slaves to our food when we allow ourselves to be. I have one “scheduled” cheat day per week, but lately I have been breaking it up into 2-3 cheat meals per week, just to keep me happy because I find that one day of gorging often leaves me with an 8-10 pound weight gain.
I’m training for performance, if I was training to look pretty, I would be more careful, but so far so good for me.
On rest days I tend to eat MORE than on the other days, and I am going to start to add a chocolate milk drink post workout to aid in recovery. I am pretty lean and it works for me so far.
I just hate to see people be slaves to food, its meant to be enjoyed not suffer through.
Great article girl. I can’t believe you went an entire post without saying “Kettle bell”!
I beat myself up constantly over my nutrition. (hangs head in shame) I believe I emailed you on one particularly rough day that involved a failed deadlift PR and lots of crying. I even almost kicked the chalk bucket. *almost*
Part of me wants to nail nutrition so I don’t have to THINK ABOUT IT SO MUCH. I don’t want to be a slave to a food scale, but I also want to regulate how much I’m eating so my goal pants fit. :-)
What I really need is balance. I allow myself to eat pizza and ice cream, but I always ALWAYS beat myself up over it.
I’m going to take your post, print it out, and read it at least 5 times. I see a lot of myself in this article…
Laney Peach Coyne says
Thanks for checking out my blog Melissa! This post was awesome and I’m so glad that you have sparked such an IMPORTANT conversation. Just in the last few days of changing my perspective on food I have felt better all around. It’s a bummer counting anything besides reps and minutes anyway! All of the points you bring up as well as the thoughts posted by others are not only helping me, but will also help me be a better trainer. Word up.
~Laney, your new kettlebell snatchin’, barbell tgu lovin’ sista:)
So true, so true. I am in a battle now because I’m on a seemingly endless plateau. But what do we do? Increase output? Eat like a rabbit?
I’m begging for an ounce of clarity in my life, or a paradigm shift of such drastic proportions that I can begin again to chase that extra hundred pounds away.
It’s there, I can see it, but it avoids my attacks. Moves around my body, taunting me, “Hey, look! I’m on your ass now!!!”
Another great post, Byers.
I really appreciate what you wrote here..I have just recently taken up crossfit but I am a newbie… what I am really into is trail running…and ultra running.
Food and I have a love hate relationship…due to intestinal issues and food allergies I can have some pretty intense intestinal reactions to healthy foods..I don’t crave junk food but what I do is sometimes eat WAY more than my body needs of a healthy food and this is just as bad as eating junk food once and awhile. By “bad” I mean my body reacts badly…not bad in terms of right or wrong…that is the issue I have with people placing judgement calls on what others do or don’t do in terms of diet. We are all so different and what works for one may not work for another person for a variety of reasons..thanks for what you wrote : )
I like what you wrote on eating Melissa. Any advice on being happy vs WAMing for good performance and getting leaner? I’m torn between the two.
Whatever you do, don't try to go low-carb paleo right before a cert. I did that and had my worst Fran in months and felt like hell on the second day WOD too!