Tuesday, January 21, 2014

GUT CHECK

This post - or at least the underlying impetus for it - has been a long time coming.

Since I my late-teens, I've had chronic stomach issues.  Attributed to heredity (my mother has a "nervous stomach"), I'd come to accept it as a permanent burden.  Granted, it's been a longtime nuisance, but never been quite bad enough to derail me from doing what I've wanted to do.  In more recent years, though, let's just say that it became severe enough that I knew the precise location of every port-a-pottie and shielded patch of roadside woods within a 10+-mile radius of my house.

Among the suspected culprits of my gastrointestinal woes have been Celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, lactose intolerance, and food allergies.  As a beer-loving aficionado of the carbohydrate-driven lifestyle, though, I embraced the traditional United States' government food pyramid (below) like a gospel.


But, despite my ostensibly "healthy" low-fat diet, I never felt quite right.  There's the obvious GI distress in the form of stomach aches and extended post-meal bathroom sessions (no one wants their kids to say "See you in two hours, Dad . . .").  My sleep patterns have been a mess since adolescence.  I have experienced daily energy spikes and crashes.  I needed to end every meal with a sweet dessert.  I couldn't sit in a movie theater without a box of Milk Duds or Twizzlers.  Oh, and there's was my much-beloved IPA life stage.  But, all along, I was at war with myself.  And, after years of constant training, racing, experimenting, it only seemed to get worse.  To this day, I think often about my fueling travails at the 2011 Boston Marathon, where I ran my PR of 3:08+ despite being unable to take any fuel after about Mile 14.  I know I was in shape to run faster.  But I didn't, so the marathoner I thought I'd become was tempered by the actual marathon I ran that day.  And, frankly, I haven't even been as good a runner, on any level, since.

So, I did what skeptics do.  I questioned myself, my beliefs, my behavior.  I consulted learned sources who have found a different way.  I shed that unquestioned orthodoxy and kept an open mind.

And, I'm rather glad that I did.

My first attempted foray into a full-scale diet modification came in the Fall of 2012, when I paid for a "Metabolic Typing" assessment.  The 25+-page report and analysis was enlightening, but the proscription for how to combine foods soon became unworkable for me.  The two main positive changes for me at that time were that I gave up soy and soda completely.  But, after feeling notably better for a few weeks, I went back to my old ways, where grains and sugars made up most of my daily caloric intake.

After another year of sub-par training, medication-assisted sleeping, and continued facially-okay-but-actually-fundamentally-poor nutrition, I decided to try something radically different.  Thanks to information received from accomplished runner/athlete friends (Abby, Tamy, Wes, Tim, Ernesto), as well as from experts such as Drs. Jeff S. Volek & Stephen D. Phinney, Dr. Tim Noakes, and the knowledgeable-but-occasionally-bloviating Vinnie Tortorich, I adopted a different dietary approach just before Halloween 2013.

The key resources for me have been Drs. Volek & Phinney's book, "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living"; a few select episodes of Vinnie Tortorich's "Angriest Trainer" podcast, and a cornucopia of excellent Paleo recipe sites, including PaleOMG, NomNomPaleo, and and the useful recipe compilation site Paleo Grubs.  Another unexpected benefit has been that I've discovered that I actually enjoy cooking and baking, and appreciate the challenge of preparing delicious dishes and treats within my newly discovered dietary parameters.


Since I despise labels, I call this new way of eating a low-carb/Paleo/NSNG (no-sugar-no-grain) approach.  It's not any one of those things exclusively.  I do consume some carbs, notably sweet potatoes and some honey/maple syrup.  I do consume dairy, but only whole-milk/full-fat.  I do eat peanuts, beans and some other legumes.  So none of the strictest labels fits me, and I'd have it no other way.  And, because a lot of folks ask, I most certainly DO NOT CALL IT A DIET.

The results since I started doing this have been - for me - nothing short of remarkable. I have managed to increase my running mileage from 25-30 miles per week to over 60, and have been playing soccer once a week, to boot.  I've run back-to-back long runs of 15 and 20 miles, with one small chia bar or a single nut butter packet to fuel me.  I am less sore after running longer than I could have imagined.

 Bear in mind that while I have been slowly ramping up my running mileage, I now eat more fat in a day than I used to consume in a week.  And I now eat fewer carbohydrates - especially sugar - in a week than I used to consume in a day (sometimes even in a single sitting, like breakfast).


But, more importantly, my mental focus and acuity have improved to the point that I don't know how I was getting by before.  My friend Ernesto addressed this quite well in his own recent blog post: http://www.ernestoburden.com/2013/12/low-carb-iq-boost-ketosis-and-cognitive-function/.

Also, despite because of consuming SO MUCH FAT, moderate protein and so little sugar/carbs, my weight and body composition seem to have found their own equilibrium.  Here's a self-consciously taken selfie from about three weeks into the new way of eating:


And here's the most recent, taken a couple of days ago (about 10 weeks in):


Of course, this remains an experiment, but the initial results and transformative feeling are so overpowering that I cannot imagine going back.  Have I cheated?  Of course.  In New York City.  In Italy.  During the holidays.  But every lapse reminds me in stark physiological terms just how much better suited I am to this new approach to eating. 

Much bigger tests are coming.  Stay tuned . . . :-)

Thanks for reading. -Ron

5 comments:

Rachel said...

Hooley dooley. I saw this on FB but only just got around to reading it. VERRY interesting indeed! I am always interested to hear how people manage gastrointestinal symptoms, since they are such a common problem and can definitely have both organic/physical and psychological drivers at the same time.

I particularly love what you wrote about your running and training right now - I'll be paying better attention to your FB from now on, especially since I now understand what all the paleo stuff is actually about!

Cheers Ron!
Rachel

Unknown said...

Ok Ron, I'm intrigued. Checking out the links, reading a few of the blogs... I'm always cautious of the "if it's too good to be true" factor, but I'll keep following.

Cheers,
Danny

Ron Abramson said...

Danny, there's nothing "too-good-to-be-true" about this. There is a lot of deliciousness that is now off-limits, and it takes a lot of effort to resist tendencies developed over a lifetime.

As a medical professional, you should be able to understand the science much better than some of us more feeble-minded liberal arts folks.

May you find the truth which works best for you . . . .

dcb said...

Great stuff. I adopted a paleo/primal diet about 18 months ago, with similar modifications (full fat dairy), and occasional lapses, due to factors like... I enjoy drinking beer occasionally. My wife thinks I've gone off the deep end, but I've never felt better, the body composition changes are dramatic, and everything I've read convinces me the science is solid.

Ron Abramson said...

dcb ... Glad to hear of your success ... I miss beer