Food: after college
Obviously my experience comes from being a retired swimmer, but I think all retired athletes can relate to this. When you’re training 20+ hours a week, dieting is of little to no importance to you. Sure, you’ve been told that eating all those whole grains will give you energy and ice cream will slow you down, but you’re burning 4,000 calories a day: you deserve to indulge a little bit. Eat that entire bag of Oreos, girlfriend—you’ve earned it.
When I think back to my collegiate swimming career, two things stick out in my mind: having to wake up before 5AM, and baking parties with my best friends. Pretty much every single one of our hangouts (that didn’t involve acting like drunk hot messes downtown) involved watching a movie, doing homework, and eating whatever someone had recently baked. It was not an uncommon thing for three of us to finish a pan of brownies in less than 5 minutes. It was not an uncommon thing for me to finish a pan of brownies in less than 5 minutes.
Regardless if I am hungry or not, I cannot control myself around food. I’m a garbage disposal. I have eaten myself into many a food coma over this lack of self control. I remember once in college my swim team was having a pancake breakfast, and people kept putting pancakes in front of me. So I kept eating them. And eating them. And eating them. The girls making the pancakes would look and say, “Oh, Maddie is still eating, so she must still be hungry. Let’s give her more pancakes.” And in high school, whenever we went out to eat and there were leftovers, my friends would push the plate in front of me for me to eat. I’ve been known to knock down 5 or 6 plates at a buffet with ease. And when I was training 5 hours a day, this was all well and good, because I didn’t gain any weight. I was incredibly fit and didn’t think twice about caloric intake at all.
And now I’m not a collegiate swimmer anymore. And all I do is count calories. Everyone told me that when I stopped swimming my appetite would decrease, but everyone LIED. “Oh, if you’re not working out as much you won’t be as hungry,” but damn it if I don’t think about food 24/7. The worst is when I have a dream that I’m at a buffet and I think, “I’m on a diet—I really shouldn’t be eating this,” and for some reason have the self control in dreams that I lack in real life.
See, here’s the problem that I think most retired athletes face: we want to look good and be able to eat whatever we want. That’s not too much to ask for, right? But now we’re working 40-60 hours a week and can’t commit to 20 hours of training if we want to keep our sanity/get enough sleep/spend time with our fiancé. So, we diet. And we’re miserable.
I’ve researched dieting tips—and they all suck:
- “When you’re hungry, just drink a big glass of water and that will fill you up.” WATER IS NOT FOOD. If I’m craving chili cheese fries, a bottle of Dasani is not going to help.
- “Eat several little meals throughout the day—this will keep your metabolism active and will keep you from getting hungry.” Sure, at first glance this might seem great: “I can eat all day! This is what I truly want!” but I think my definition of a meal differs
slightlydrastically from nutritionists. A fist sized piece of chicken and steamed broccoli is not a meal—it’s just sad.
- “Finish eating 3 hours before bedtime.” But I’m still hungry—how am I supposed to get a good night’s sleep when my growling stomach is keeping me awake?
- “Eat vegetables first to ensure you get enough, while also making you less hungry throughout the rest of the meal to avoid overeating foods you shouldn’t.” Has anyone ever turned down dessert with, “Oh, no thanks. I’m so full from all the spinach I ate.” ?
Long ago I accepted that I would not be able to diet like the average American. Also, I didn’t want to deny myself my favorite foods, so I reasoned that I would rather sacrifice my limited free time to exercise and be able to enjoy some ice cream without hating myself. My exercise plan now consists of: weights Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 45 minutes to an hour of cardio 6 days a week, 300 sit-ups every day, and yoga once a week. And, for some reason, everyone thinks that’s so impressive. No one cared at all when I was training 4-5 hours a day, but an HOUR of cardio? I’m the fittest person alive! And because of this, they’re all so quick to make justifications: “Didn’t you do yoga this morning? So why are you going for a run this afternoon?” BECAUSE I WANT THE GLUTEN FREE CUPCAKE! They just don’t get it.
And now, for my post-collegiate diet plan. I’m not recommending this for everyone, because it is by no means recommended by anyone who knows anything about nutrition. But it’s what I have to do to keep myself happy.
Monday-Friday afternoon, I am the epitome of a health nut. I’ll snack on bags of raw spinach for snacks, eat carrots until my skin turns orange, and not eat dessert at all (mainly because I just don’t buy it—out of sight, out of mind, sort of). But once Friday night rolls around, cheers to the freakin weekend: why, yes, I will order an appetizer, meal, dessert, and eat whatever my fiancé doesn’t finish. And then I will go home and eat some pudding and a bowl of cereal. And I WILL be at brunch Sunday morning, not ordering an egg white omelet.
I will never be the girl that is able to turn down dessert. I will never look like a Victoria’s Secret Model. But I can at least weigh close to the same I did in college.
Good luck to all you retired athletes. May God have mercy on your thighs.