How cycling solved my food ‘issues’
The more I’ve got into cycling, the more I’ve got into food. There’s a pretty obvious link between the two and I’m not just talking about stopping for cake on the club ride each Sunday. Naturally, exercise fires up my appetite no end, but my interest in food is about more than just hunger now that I spend so much time training on the bike and in the gym.
Back in the dim and distant past when I was a professional snowboarder and model concurrently, the necessity of fuelling my athletic endeavours were hampered by the need to stay thin enough to satisfy clients and agents. It was an awkward mix if I’m honest, neither job particularly helping with the other and one of my abiding memories from that time is being pretty obsessed with food, mainly because I was permanently starving.
Trying to snowboard about six hours a day on a couple of bits of toast and no lunch left me feeling permanently exhausted, grumpy and even dizzy. Along with the fact I was permanently on a diet, I was also really skint so the food that I did eat wasn’t really ticking many nutritional boxes. I remember we used to buy the cheapest economy frozen burgers, defrost them and then make spaghetti bolognaise. Ew.
Above: Baby me in Vogue Italia. Photo by Steven Meisel
I now feel sad that when I was living in America and Canada I never eased up on myself and allowed myself some of the foods that I craved. I spent so much time denying myself that I ended up with a pretty unhealthy relationship with food where the goal was minimising calories whilst saving money. I’d eat stuff such as ‘lite’ yoghurts, diet cokes, economy spaghetti with economy sauce, economy bread, economy noodles… you get the picture.
One of my housemates would only eat cereal. Another guy lived on porridge for an entire winter. And at fashion shoots, girls would eat just two tablespoons of lunch or even nothing at all. Looking back, I’m kind of amazed I didn’t develop a full blown eating disorder!
All Change Please
Nevertheless, I’d say I never really shrugged off a warped attitude to food until I started cycling. Older, wiser and out of the grip of model agents, this time around when my body demanded sustenance I finally delivered. Honestly, it took a little getting used to – after many years of trying to choose the lowest calorie options, allowing myself to eat the things I wanted seemed strange.
It started with cake. Previously something I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, when I started cycling a lot a slice of Victoria Sponge mid or post ride seemed like the perfect thing to eat. Out cycling for the day, I’d be surrounded by people who were happy, active and eating cake like it just didn’t matter. Because actually, it really doesn’t.
Luckily, I didn’t just start eating cake all day every day. Once a relaxed attitude to food infiltrated the rest of my life I began to see food as a friend, rather than an enemy and this has led me to where I am now. I still don’t make a lot of money but having educated myself on food, nutrition and vitally, cooking, I now realise that it’s possible to eat really well quite easily. I’ve channelled an obsession with food into cooking and eating really delicious meals; meals that make me feel good rather than foods that are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Eating in this way has resulted in me naturally choosing a good balance of foods, depending on my daily mood or nutritional needs. Over the last couple of years I’ve increased the amount of training that I do significantly, adding in ‘double days’ where I ride in the morning and hit the gym in the evening. If I were to restrict myself, either in calories or nutritionally by choosing foods empty of nutrients (such as those instant noodles!) I’d feel it straight away. As I don’t eat meat anymore, it’s a happy accident that many of the things I now base my meals around, such as lentils and beans, are cheap and really rich nutritionally.
So after too long spent eating rubbish food, my aim now is to pack in as many nutrients as I can but without getting all weird about it. It’s all about balance. Cake is necessary as it nourishes my mind and makes me feel good, vegetable, carbs and protein satisfy by grumbling stomach and give me the strength to train another day.
If you’d like to see what makes the basis of my simple diet, check out the video below.
I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not planning on telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t be eating but I’ve found ways of preparing lots of cheap, healthy meals so if that’s your thing, stay tuned for lots of recipes, tips and advice over the coming months as I share some of the things that work for me. You can subscribe to my channel for free and get notifications of all my new videos. Please do leave me any suggestions in the comments below.