Women, exercise and food. These three things have a pretty complex relationship. Women seem to be the biggest target for anything relating to weight loss and fat loss. The best exercises being touted and the best fat busting diets being advocated. We tend to have a complex relationship with food. It is guilt, it is comfort, it is indulgence. Food can never be what it is: fuel. This is the same for women who exercise. Despite the effort we go to in trying to be healthy or in trying to challenge ourselves the question of what we should be eating hangs over us. Too much fat? Too many carbohydrates? Not enough protein? Too much sugar. Food, exercise and guilt become intertwined and it can become a minefield when all you want to do is eat the right thing.
I’m not talking about a balanced diet of vegetables carbohydrate and protein. The majority of women I know who exercise and run competitively are extremely sensible about what they put into their bodies. But a trend towards being lean and limiting our fat composition could be to our detriment. You could be the leanest runner, be the Cross Fitter with the lowest fat composition but do we know what we’re doing to our bodies in the long term? Not many of the women I have ever trained with do so to be thin, they just want to take part in their sport. But I think as women we all need to think about what we’re doing to our bodies in the short and long term.
So after waffling on for ages what I really wanted to talk about was Female Triad Syndrome. This is a condition that has been documented heavily in professional dancers but there are more and more studies that are looking at this syndrome in relation to other sports including recreational running. But what is Female Triad Syndrome you ask? Well the diagram below gives a pretty good visual explanation but basically it was the name coined to describe a syndrome of disordered eating, disturbed menstrual cycle and osteoporosis.
Now I don’t want anyone to panic or worry that they’ve got this syndrome but a recent blog post by Flake and Cake and Holly Avil’s story has had me thinking for a long time about us girls who exercise and the attitude we have towards food. For women food isn’t just about fuel for exercise but it also helps to regulate our hormones via fat composition. If we’re exercising heavily but not getting enough fuel other systems in the body start to suffer, namely our reproductive and skeletal systems. You may be thinking ‘But I’m not having a baby’ but a disruption to our menstrual cycle can have a detrimental effect on bone mass and long term can result in osteoporosis. Short term it means you may be more prone to injuries like stress fractures, not something any athlete wants to deal with.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is look after yourself. The menstrual cycle is a good indicator of a woman’s health and if you’re worried about your cycle than see your GP. Equally if you are having any injury problems or niggles then seek appropriate advice.
If you’re training for something then fuel yourself appropriately, eat well, hydrate yourself and you will feel the difference. Training for an endurance event and exercising to lose weight are completely different things and somewhere along the way the two have been confused. If you’re not sure if you’re eating enough for the amount of exercise you’re doing then speak to a dietician.
As runners we tend to think about the here and now, the next training session, the next race. But maybe we need to think about what’s happening to our bodies beyond our training schedules. A bit of cake from time to time really won’t do you any harm, restricting your food intake to a narrow group of foods probably will. Food for thought?
Diagram from http://www.natus-physiotherapy.co.uk
This is also a really interesting read http://www.femaleathletetriad.org/2013/03/dieting-gone-awry-when-food-is-foe/