Sunday, 4 September 2016

When ‘stress eating’ can be helpful.

Always training hard
What I talk about in this post comes with a lot of caveats and reasons not to do what I’m suggesting. There are many situations where this won’t be appropriate and many people who this won’t be appropriate for; but it did seem to work for me so I thought it would be good to post about.

Let’s start back at the beginning 3 years ago. I was going back to University to study to become a teacher (didn’t work out but that’s a story for another day). The university I got into was over an hour drive away in traffic so I was going to have to get up at 5:30 am (I’m not a morning person) to get to my morning classes, then turn around and drive to work, then study, write assignments or prep for classes in the evening. In short I was going to be long hours with a lot of life stresses: early starts, late night, money trouble, grades etc. All on top for quite a hard training schedule as I was aiming for about 10 hours of training per week.

In thinking about how I would get through this I remembered on one of the Paleo solution podcasts Rob talked about a guy going through BUDS who just ate his way through with sticks of butter. While everyone else was losing weight, this guy put on several pounds which was unheard of during BUDS. This made me think, if I was going through a lot of stress, including stress from my workouts I could just eat my way through it, so that at the very least I could recover from my workouts. So in a way I should be able to mitigate that stress (or at least some of it). It went along with the idea that there is no such thing as over training, just under eating.

Now this is defiantly not a good idea if you have any disordered eating, if you have any past or present eating issues I wouldn’t suggest this. I would include regular stress eating in this category, there is no need to make that situation worse, since I’m suggesting this strategy for when times are really stressful. This also isn’t for competitive athletes or weight class athletes, this suggestion isn’t for you, also don’t get your advice from me, find someone more qualified. Also I’m only suggesting this to people who are training hard, I was pushing 7-10 hours per week of weights, gymnastics and two martial arts at the time. If you do some push ups and pull ups and run 5km in the weekend this isn’t for you. Generally if you have to ask, it’s not for you.

Peanut butter and dark chocolate, a favorite of mine.
Now for the what and how. The idea isn’t to just go off the rails are eat everything because ‘gains’. The goal is to eat just a little above maintenance all the time so that a lack of calories is never part of your life stresses. You should also stick to a paleo/primal type diet and not go off the rails since extra inflammation isn’t going to help matters either. For me I added a protein shake in the morning, and always had something around for an afternoon snack if I needed it (tuna or dark chocolate mostly). I was only adding a few hundred calories per day. Never eating too much but making sure I never went hungry.

The outcome of a year of this was no more than 5kg of weight gain, I don’t know exactly what the weight gain was because I never kept track of it, but it was definitely less than 5kg. I also started squatting and deadlifting that year as was about to build up to a 150kg squat and 200kg deadlift having never done either before. The important thing is that the scale weight doing up wasn’t a problem for me, and getting a little bit softer wasn’t an issue either. Just relax about those, there are more important things to worry about (job, study, life etc).

So after this year I was loosely is a mass gain phase and got up to around 88kg, but after some ups and downs I balanced out fairly naturally at around the 85kg mark. I’m currently keeping at about 80kg, which requires some discipline for me, but nothing extreme.

I would say this is worth considering for up to a year, maybe 18 months, but really not more than that. Any longer is also way to long in such a stressful time. I also wouldn’t suggest doing this yearly with cuts for summer (or competition), unless you have things really dialled in. That’s fine for competitive athletes, with less other life stresses, but throw in all kind of other life stresses as well as cutting and you’re in for a bad time.