Sunday, February 7, 2021

Let's Talk About Food

On Instagram, my followers frequently ask me about my eating habits and nutrition. I have answered this question so many times that I figured I should write a blog post with all the details.

Why I rarely post about food
While I often write about my race nutrition strategy, I almost never talk about my typical "diet" or eating habits. This is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. It's not intentional because the topic of food is not all that interesting to me and I'd rather talk about my training. It is intentional because I don't really have a plan or guidelines I follow that I think are worthy of being shared.

In my early 20's, I developed anorexia. I restricted my calories down to about 800-1200 per day and then I also burned about 600 of those at the gym. It had nothing to do with being thin or my physical appearance. I was simply trying to eat more healthfully and all the articles I read in SHAPE and other magazines told me that the fewer calories the better. I received a free body fat assessment at my gym and even though I was at a healthy weight, I was told that my body fat was too high.

I could write many, many blog posts on eating disorders, but that is in my past and I have little interest in it now. I gradually recovered in my mid to late 20s as I got into long-distance running. This shifted my focus away from food and weight and towards training for a goal. Much of the anorexia was driven by perfectionism and the desire to achieve, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't bring that same mentality towards my running initially.

It wasn't until my mid 30s when I started working with a sports psychologist (which I have blogged about extensively and written a book about) that I truly freed myself from perfectionism and addressed the other issues that were fueling the eating disorder. The two therapists I saw when I was in the depths of my anorexia were not at all helpful and likely did more harm than good.

Because I was obsessed with food, nutrition, calories, and weight for many years, I no longer have an interest in it and so it's not something I talk about on my Instagram or in this blog. 

My mindset regarding food
It's pretty simple: I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full. I try to eat healthy foods by having them around the house, but not everything needs to be healthy. I obey my cravings, especially for sweets, so I am by no means the model of perfect nutrition. I snack frequently. I have breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sometimes eat out. I don't track/monitor/record my food intake like I did in my early 20s. I rarely weigh myself (maybe once a month). I don't try to gain weight or lose weight. I don't follow any specific diet or plan. 

Overall, I grade nutrition a "B". Some days a B+ and other days a B-.  It's pretty good but it definitely could be better. I could eat more fruits and vegetables. I could limit my sugar intake. But I'd rather have a healthy mindset about food instead of being super rigid. 

Dietary restrictions
While I don't have a ton of rules around food, there are plenty of foods I avoid for various reasons:

  • Beef and Pork. I eliminated these at the onset of my eating disorder and never added them back in because they simply don't appeal to me. 
  • "Impossible" meat. I once had one of those synthetic burgers and it tasted way too much like a normal burger, which grosses me out. And it did not sit well in my stomach for the following 3 hours.
  • Heavy cream sauces. I am slightly lactose intolerant and Alfredo sauces or mac 'n cheese cause me major digestive distress. I once had a whole milk latte by mistake and that was very painful. I eat ice cream in small portions and I'm generally ok, but not always.
  • Spicy foods + pepper. Yes, even table pepper burns my mouth. I have been trying to work on this. I can do horseradish but crushed red pepper makes me cough and I'm super sensitive to Asian spices. If a restaurant coats my fish in pepper (but I didn't ask them not to) I have to eat around the pepper. 
  • Hazelnut. Makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I must be the only person in the world who will not go near Nutella.
My eating schedule
I wakeup at around 5:00-5:30 and I am not hungry. I start running between 6:30-7:15 depending on the season, and I do not eat before I run. If I am running a workout that has 5 or more miles of speed, then I have half a scoop of UCAN energy powder. This usually only happens during marathon training. For long runs, the same holds true, although now I am experimenting with Maurten as opposed to UCAN. 

They say that you are supposed to have protein shortly after a hard workout but I typically am not hungry. Running suppresses my appetite and I usually don't want anything to eat until about an hour after I finish my run, which is about 9:00. If I run an extraordinarily hard workout and put a major strain on my body, I have some cottage cheese immediately afterward for a quick dose of protein to help in recovery.

I usually have a small snack between my 9:00 breakfast and my 12:00 lunch. Then I will snack once or twice after lunch before having dinner at around 6:30. I usually have some form of dessert at 7:30 and then I am done eating. 

I recently realized that this means I do not eat for about 14 hours, between 7:30pm and 9:00am, and this is what they tell you do in intermittent fasting. It's supposed to be good for you, but I don't know how much I believe that. My dinner is usually pretty big, I don't wake up hungry, and then running suppresses my appetite, so it's just a matter of not wanting food during that 14-hour stretch. I never get hungry while running, and I can't imagine wanting food while running. 

Rarely, I have to use the bathroom mid-run and I hate it when that happens. I won't need to go to the bathroom before the run, but suddenly my stomach will hurt and if I don't find a bathroom within 15 minutes I am in big trouble. Thankfully I know where they are around my most common routes. Thankfully this hasn't happened recently but it can happen as often as twice per month. Our track has porta-potties which I have definitely taken advantage of.

My most common breakfasts are:
  • Bagel with cream cheese or butter
  • Cottage cheese with nuts (Friendship brand lowfat cottage cheese)
  • Steel cut oats
  • Cream of wheat
  • Grits
  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit, soy milk and yogurt (in the summer)
  • Yogurt and granola (Siggi's brand of yogurt)
  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Kodiak Cakes pancakes (usually on the weekends)
My most common lunches are:
  • Turkey and cheese sandwich with tomato and avocado on whole wheat bread
  • Tuna melt on whole wheat bread
  • Pizza, usually topped with chicken and veggies
  • "Bowl" from Cava (mediterranean) or Moe's (Mexican)
  • Poke Bowl
  • Soup with a side of crackers or bread - I like chicken noodle and minestrone
  • Salad with some kind of protein (tofu, chicken, egg and/or turkey)
  • Leftovers from last night's dinner
Greg cooks dinner in our house and there are a few meals that we eat regularly, like 2-3 times per month. Typically we aim for a protein, a vegetable, and a carb. We love getting freshly baked bread and having that as an appetizer with a gourmet cheese. Here are the meals we eat frequently:
  • Turkey burgers with tomato and avocado
    Greg making eggplant parm
  • Chicken thighs: either baked or on the grill with a side of veggies
  • Baked fish: salmon, halibut, and rockfish are most common with a side of veggies
  • Scallops with a side of spinach and/or fennel
  • Chicken parm or eggplant parm
  • Pasta with ground turkey meat balls
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Oven-baked turkey or chicken, usually with a side of butternut squash
  • Chicken stir fry with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and broccoli
  • Chili made with ground turkey, topped with light sour cream and cheese
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup with veggies
  • Pasta with chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomato in pesto sauce (common before long runs)
  • Pasta with ground turkey and tomato basil sauce
  • Crab cakes or crab legs
Common vegetables accompanying our dinners are Cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, peppers, squash, fennel, leeks

Cottage cheese, mango, dolmas
I often have dessert after dinner which is typically something we bought from the grocery store like a pie or cake. Cookies and ice cream are also common.

As I mentioned above, I snack a lot. Common snacks that I keep in the house, or that I used to bring to work when I went into the office:
  • Trail mix
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pretzels, chips or crackers, sometimes with a dip
  • Granola
  • Fruit (apples, grapefruit, mangos, strawberries, grapes)
  • Olives
  • Cheese
  • Cookies
  • Dark chocolate bar (not the whole thing, just a few pieces) 
I mostly drink water because it's easily available and I need to stay hydrated for my runs. Here are some other things I drink:
  • Decaf latte made with soy milk or coconut milk, usually flavored. I probably have 3-4 of these per week with my breakfast. There is a Peet's and a Starbucks very close to my house and I alternate. I
    Lemon martini at a fancy restaurant
    don't want to become caffeine dependent so I make it decaf always. 
  • Caffeine-free tea, during the workday or at night before bed. I love lavender and camomile.
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice: I've really gotten into this over the past six months. I get it from the grocery store and it's a good way to replenish calories in a healthy and refreshing way.
  • Soda. I usually have 1 soda per week. I love a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper after my long run! When I worked in an office and soda was free, I had one almost every day. I'm glad I cut back.
  • Alcoholic beverages. If we go out to a nice dinner I typically order a mixed drink. One of the sugary ones! I rarely drink wine because I don't like the way it makes me feel. I drink beer more than any other alcoholic beverage. I like craft beers and I have one with dinner several times per week. Usually I have about 3/4 of the beer which is enough to satisfy me without making me tipsy.
Dining out & ordering in
Greg and I do not eat out nearly as much as we used to, but we still do on occasion. In an average week, we cook 5 meals, and the other two are takeout/delivery or going out. We have sushi a few times per month and have Thai food delivered about once a month. 

When we go out to eat, we usually order an appetizer and/or dessert, plus the main course. I typically order fish, seafood, or chicken. I absolutely love French fries, so I treat myself when we go out! I'm a picky dessert eater in that I do not like tiramisu, anything hazelnut, whipped cream, or cheesecake. Nor do I like the chocolate/peanut butter combo. I go for ice cream, cakes, and pies. Greg and I always share the dessert. 

Post-race and post long-run
As I said above, I usually do not want to eat anything until at least an hour after I am done running. Sometimes as long as two hours. I always follow my cravings, and my most common cravings for after the run are:
  • Tacos
  • Pizza
  • Pepsi or Dr. Pepper
  • Chicken fingers/fried chicken sandwich
So. . . that's it! Nothing too complicated or fancy. I tend to think that I'm a generally healthy eater who enjoys her daily (or twice daily) dose of sweets. I will say that being married to Greg has helped a lot. I don't know how to cook most things, and when I was single I lived on boca burgers, veggie nuggets, and cereal. 


  1. You know I couldn't click on this post fast enough when it came up in my reader! When I try to figure out how runners are "supposed" to eat I get so frustrated when I see the endless loops of "acai bowl for breakfast. Salad with grilled chicken for lunch. Chicken and baked potato for dinner with one square of dark chocolate for dessert". No one that I know eats like that let alone any runner on earth! As it is I try to focus on eating in a way that gives me energy and makes me feel good but with plenty of treats. I love spicy foods but I'm with you 100% on Nutella, seriously what is that stuff and why does anyone eat it???

    1. This is the best comment ever! I'm dying over here with that square of dark chocolate for dessert! LOL. I have been known to get a salad with grilled chicken for lunch plus a side of fries. That salad alone would not put a dent in my hunger.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I'm imagining all the pain you went through in your 20s, and am so glad for you that you've gotten to the place you are now, with a healthy relationship to food. Do you know the term "orthorexia?" I went through a similar experience, which started with the best of intentions (to eat healthy) and then got way out of control. I couldn't stop losing weight and yet also kept restricting "unhealthy" foods... would you consider your experience a combination of orthorexia/anorexia? Anyway, thanks for sharing- I think this might really help people see what a "normal" athlete eats.

    1. Oh yes, very familiar with Orthorexia. That is how mine started, but I quickly became addicted to that number on the scale dropping so it turned into Anorexia. Sounds like you are very similar! And then as I was recovering, I was ED-NOS where my eating was abnormal but I was no longer underweight. I wonder if there was better information about healthy eating (instead of just calorie-cutting tips) back in the early 2000s if that would have made a difference. Thanks for reading and supporting.

  3. Well an interesting read and different twist from your usual running/racing posts! Your right, not complicated approach and you do make good, healthy choices. I figured your passion for zebras, you would be more like a "grazer" LOL. Your very lucky to have Greg...that eggplant parmesan looks and sounds fantastic!

  4. How interesting to hear about your history with anorexia. And how terrible that our culture promotes this unhealthy obsession with counting calories. Habits are so much more important for overall health! You seem to have completely recovered, which I know is rare: it's a hard disorder to break free from.
    Our eating habits are pretty similar! We also do all meals cooked at home except two: either lunch or dinner Saturday and Sunday dinner (traditionally take out in front of a documentary!). And I also don't eat before I run, even before I race unless it's a marathon. But our tastes do differ, because I love spicy food. We always ate our food hot at home growing up, I think because my mother was a bad cook and I smothered my food in hot sauce or salsa! So I got used to it and now it's my preference.

    1. Also, living in New Orleans, you are kind of screwed if you don't like spice!

  5. Great to see what fuels you, Elizabeth. I thought I was the only person on the face of the earth who doesn't like the chocolate and peanut butter combo. I also don't like hazelnut so Nutella is a no-go for me, too.

    1. The crazy thing is that I LOVED Reeses Peanut Butter cups as a kid and in college. But then my taste buds changed. Instead I now love toffee/heath bar.