Grateful for…food?

So far this week I have felt so much better than last week. My nutritionist had me bump up my meal plan because we would be starting practices on Monday, and I’m grateful she did. She had to give me a little kick in the butt – but sometimes I need that to keep chuggin’ along. To sum up, my restrictive thoughts have been all but ‘nil this week so far, which I’m sure has something to do with the food but also having my routine in place now. Swimming has started, classes are in full swing and I am a busy beaver once again.

But I love it.

The truth is, last year at this time I didn’t love it. I was scared of beginning swim practices again because (unconsciously) they had just become a way to burn calories and another opportunity for failure. I began the season restricting my intake and had to fight to survive practices day after day.

Just to kind of frame what we do swimming-wise, we do a two and a half hour workout Monday and Wednesday, double workouts morning and afternoon on Tuesday and Thursday, two hours on Friday and three hours and forty-five minutes on Saturday morning. Right now, I’ve had to significantly increase my meal plan to keep pace with those hours. Swimming is kind of masochistic – you have to constantly keep your body in a beat-up state in order to swim well during taper at the end of the season. But you also have to keep track of the variables – nutrition, sleep, stress – in order to reap the benefits of the workouts.

Last year at this time I was nowhere near the intake I should have been. I went through everyday sluggish, irritable, unable to focus on my academics when I needed to, and barely surviving practices. I lost a lot of muscle. It took me twice as long to walk to my classes. I had to wake up half an hour earlier before morning practices (read – at least 5:45) to get coffee in my system so I could make it through the first practice of the day. Then another large coffee to get through classes.

Before long, I wasn’t myself anymore. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t smile, I didn’t have fun. I tried my hardest at swimming but my times, at one point, were slower than my sophomore year of high school.

Now, I am so unbelievably grateful for my meal plan. I have been extremely busy so far (the semester definitely started off with a bang!) but the difference is I have space in my brain and energy in my body to keep up. I’m taking care of myself, and that is such a great feeling. I feel vibrant, strong, and more like me than I have in a very long time. I go to swim practice because it’s fun and don’t worry about my times or trying to “be the best.” At the same time, I’ve been swimming very well and can tell that my energy level has kicked up my practicing to where I’m not just trying to survive anymore. But the best part about my practices now is that I have been a much better friend and teammate – I care more about having fun and enjoying practices with people I love then I do about burning calories or scoring a first-place finish.

I know it is only the beginning of the season and I am going to have to be vigilant about my meal plan the whole time. However, feeling good and being part of my team again (fully – not just the halfway-style of last year) makes it almost easy to take care of my nutrition on a daily basis. I also realize that I’m fueling my mind and soul at the same time. I have more space in my head for school work but also more space for friends and family. On top of that, what I am glad to see most is that I have more space to feel.  It is so encouraging for me to look back to just a year ago and see how far I have come. It took a lot of effort and so much help, love, and support from others, but in this moment nothing else makes me happier.

So, today I am grateful. I am grateful for my treatment team for giving me kicks in the butt when I need them. I am grateful for my teammates and friends, and that I have found that I still love my sport (something I haven’t felt in many years). But most of all, I am grateful that food fueled me this week – body, mind, and soul. Because if I wasn’t taking care of the food, I wouldn’t be able to be true to myself and to enjoy what life is really all about.

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