Know Thy Food – A Resolution Revisited

As Salty Running’s newest runner/foodie, I have so much to share about my perspective on the relationship between food and running!  So while it seems rather late in the year to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions, I feel like it sets the stage fairly well for my “food platform.” Plus, I am darn proud that I am thriving with my 2012 resolution!  It was twofold:

First, I wanted to clean up my diet. With 2012 being my highest mileage year in history, I had let some of my nutritional principles slide due to convenience and constant hunger.  I kept wondering, why was I training as hard as an elite runner but eating like a garbage disposal? Secondly, I wanted to test out potential food intolerances. I’d been struggling with frequent, near-daily GI discontent for far too long. I realize I am risking a complete overshare very early on in my relationship with you Salties, but in the interest of honesty, let’s just be clear. My GI anger included bloating, gas, constipation/diarrhea, nausea, and cramping/pain and affected me both during and in between runs.  I read Diet Wise by Keith Scott-Mumby  and decided to give the elimination “diet” a try with the goal of eliminating/reducing GI symptoms.

The book is pretty interesting for a non-fiction/self-help/nutrition/exercise nerd such as myself. At times I may have even called it a page-turner. Briefly, the book praises stories of people able to reverse chronic diseases ranging from auto-immune conditions to mental health conditions. I was skeptical, but figured if a diet change could “heal” disease, surely it could calm my gut. The biggest thing I learned was that my diet was affecting more than just my GI system.

When I was a child my parents suspected I was lactose intolerant. I drank Lactaid milk for a few years but I hated it, so my mom switched me to skim milk. Apparently, my symptoms didn’t seem too bad. I’m sure I put up less of a fuss drinking the latter than the former.  By the time I was a teenager, my post-ice cream aroma became a topic of family jest. Why did it take me 15 additional years to put two and two together? Denial. I loved milk, yogurt (I used to make my own), cheese and ICE CREAM. I felt like I was being pulled in this direction to take action. After talking to a few teammates with gluten/milk intolerance and reading this book, I asked myself, “what is the worst that could happen?”

Pre-overhaul dinner. I miss the cheesy deliciousness, but my gut does not!

So January 1, I embarked on the challenge of a lifetime. I started with just a few foods and added new foods each week. I loosely followed a plan outlined in Whole Living. I could not believe how quickly my GI symptoms subsided. Moreover, I had this new feeling of ENERGY. It was amazing.  I tried to reintroduce skim milk after week 4 or 5. I drank one 8 oz glass and immediately had GI symptoms. I’ve been dairy-free ever since, and while I miss the occasional quesadilla, eating dairy-free in our society is pretty darn easy.

Through the trial and error of foods, I also learned that my body responded to fructose in a similar manner to lactose: poorly. One day, after eating a whole bag of apple chips, I found myself clutching my abdomen as though I’d polished off a half-gallon of milk. I felt the same way if I ate pears, apples, grapes, pineapple, or raisins. I looked into it further and realized that all of these fruits have higher contents of fructose than other fruits (pineapple is in the middle, but still manages to anger my gut). I also discovered that fructose and lactose are metabolized similarly, so many people with intolerance to one type of sugar have an intolerance to the other.

Post-overhaul dinner. Chicken bratwurst with peppers and onions on a corn tortilla. Sweet potato tater tots, arugula with grilled radishes.

Without lactose and with only moderate to low-fructose fruits, 90% of my GI symptoms are resolved. Old-fashioned oats, if not cooked to mush, will crank up my gut. And if I eat too much gluten in a day/week/timeframe, everything in my gut just sits. But, I can get away with eating 1 or 2 servings of wheat per day and I don’t have to be as vigilant as someone with celiac’s disease when it comes to gluten in packaged foods/flavorings.

 

My fridge, post-overhaul. Non-dairy milk/yogurt (red), meat/tofu (yellow), nut butters /hummus (green), hydration (pink), vegetable drawer (not pictured)

So what does it all mean??

For me, it means I’ve survived perhaps the biggest diet overhaul in my life. A change that I cast off as “impossible” for so long has been my most successful New Year’s Resolution to date. Most importantly, my gut doesn’t give me daily grief, and I have energy to do more than just work and run. And, I’ve been able to find creative ways to fuel my body with the food it wants and needs to run.

For you, it can mean the same thing! Do you pay attention to how your body responds to foods?  Do you suspect that you may have an intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy to any particular foods? Are you tired, cranky, moody, bloated, irregular, or dealing with chronic pain? If so, ask yourself, if I change my diet, what is the worst thing that can happen?

I look forward to bringing you delicious dairy-free recipes for everything from on-the-go to post-run for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks!

I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day. Running mostly early am miles as I balance life as the mom of a toddler. With PR days in the past, my primary running goal is to be a lifelong runner. With 20+ years behind me, I still love the sport and I am truly grateful for every day I get to run.