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by Michele Tuttle

May 13, 2020

The right internal cues can help you maintain a consistent body weight

Swimmers everywhere know the sinking feeling that happens whenever they find themselves out of water for an extended period of time. Whether it’s because of injury, an overly busy work or family schedule, or a worldwide pandemic, most athletes battle a tendency to gain weight when they’re less active.

Before you stop reading, let me say: This isn’t another article about portion management and low caloric density foods, although those do matter and can help when you know your caloric expenditure has plummeted because of missed laps.

Hunger Games

Everyone has an internal meter of sorts that monitors their activity level and nutrient intake and adjusts their hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin) accordingly. When you listen to your hunger and fullness signals carefully, you seek food when hungry, and stop eating when just barely full. Most people do this naturally as babies and young children. Somewhere along the way, many people learn to ignore these natural signals for all kinds of reasons, usually having to do with one or more of the following:

  • “It’s 12 p.m., so it’s time to eat lunch.”
  • “Clean your plate!”
  • “I don’t have time”
  • “I was so busy, I forgot to eat. Then I was STARVING!”
  • "It was there, so I ate it.”
  • “How can I say ‘no’ to birthday cake?”
  • “Just this once can’t hurt.”
  • “I’ve been so ‘good,’ I deserve this”
  • “I always serve myself the same amount.”

Eating on Autopilot

You’ll notice that these are all sorts of “autopilot” responses to eating. They’re not based on hunger or fullness, but rather on habit and routines. For many, swimming routine counteracts food habits and one can easily maintain body weight. But when your habits and routines get severely altered by things such as injury or pandemics, your food intake needs to adjust accordingly.

Deprivation Mindset = Disaster

Dieting or restricting is not the answer—these will simply lead to a deprivation mindset. Most people can handle deprivation for a few hours or days, but eventually it leads many people to binge or at least eat more than they know they should or want to. That cycle of deprivation/overeating is what leads most dieters to hate their scales.

So, what to do? Tune in to your hunger, tune out external cues. Consider these principles, adapted from Evelyn Tribole’s and Elyse Resch’s book “Intuitive Eating.”

  • Honor Your Hunger: Ensure you’re consuming adequate amounts of food for energy because fasting or restricting your diet leads to a primal drive to overeat. When you overeat, you might eat more than you should and eat junk.
  • Give Yourself Permission to Eat: Restricting your diet leads to cravings, and cravings lead to overeating.
  • Re-discover Satisfied and Enough: Eat what you want in an accommodating environment. The pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.
  • Feel Your Fullness: Pause in the middle of eating (perhaps every three bites) and ask how the food tastes and how hungry you still are.
  • Move as Often and in as Many Ways as Possible: Find ways to move around, even if you’re in a confined space.

These ideas may run counter to everything you’ve traditionally read about diet and weight. If you’ve ever struggled with diet, weight, or food, I encourage you to explore what intuitive eating might mean for your relationship with food. For many athletes, this approach is a complete game changer for their sport performance and their lives.


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Diets