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Nutrition: Fueling Your Brain and Your Body

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign that has been celebrated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 1973. National Nutrition Month® aims to raise public awareness about various nutrition-related topics. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table”, and while the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics describes the theme as connecting nutrition with how we get our food, how we eat, and sustainability, the phrase “Beyond the Table” resonated with me immediately as a registered dietitian, runner, and mental health advocate in regards to the relationship that food has with our physical and mental health.

Running demands energy and many runners view food solely as fuel. They consider the balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein needed to fuel their runs and provide recovery afterwards to be extremely important. When I was studying to become a registered dietitian, the impact of nutrition on athletic performance fascinated me. College was not only where I built the foundation for my career, but it was also where I began my journey as a runner. 

The pursuit of optimal nutrition for performance can sometimes lead to obsession, and I was no exception. In the quest for reaching personal bests by having a “perfect diet”, I engaged in restrictive eating habits and strict calorie counting, fearing that “overindulgence” may compromise my running goals. My relationship with food, my body, and running may have appeared to be healthy to an outside observer, but it was impacting my mental health. I wasn’t running for my mental health, I was running to ensure that I had the “right body” to be a registered dietitian, so that my future patients and clients would trust me.

It took many years for me to change my reason I ran from a purely physical one to a balanced “why” of both physical and mental health. I embraced mindfulness with both my relationship with food and my relationship with running. Running became a way for me to fight depression, clear my mind after a stressful day, and to connect with others. I also became okay with having days when running wasn’t the answer for my mental health, and instead my body and mind needed rest. I no longer felt the need to be a perfect eater

Just as no two runs are ever the same, no two runners are, either. Diversity and variety truly are the spice of life. There is no perfect way of eating, no ideal diet to follow. We all have our unique tastes and needs when it comes to fueling our bodies for running and having a healthy relationship with food that also nourishes our mental well-being. Each runner chooses how they balance nourishment and enjoyment, discipline and flexibility. For me, embracing mindfulness has helped me to foster a healthier, more harmonious relationship with food - one that fuels not only my miles but my mental health as well.

So to my fellow mental health running warriors: lace up your shoes, savor the journey, and remember to think “Beyond the Table”: food is not just fuel - it’s a celebration of life!

Are you looking for a registered dietitian to help you find balance between fueling your runs and having a healthy relationship with food? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a search tool on their website to help you connect with one who can help you reach your goals. 


By Megan Hammis

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