Holidays and vacations can become a great excuse to let good habits slide. Even the most disciplined and measured people can fall victim to this trap. Some say in the long run its a good thing to give yourself a break while others argue being too lenient is never good. This post is a check in about my struggles with regarding food sensitivities. I will not delve into hard science or nutrition theories in this post. The Holidays can be a balancing act between training, work and vacations. It has been interesting to allow myself to completely slip off of my regimens intermittently. This is a story about some of the things I have learned during this time
I spent 1 week in Nicaragua and another in the midwest. In both places my workouts came to a halt and my eating went off the rails. Recently my diet has primarily been low carb, gluten free with intermittent carbohydrate backloads after workouts. In both Nicaragua and the midwest, I ate carbs all day. I did not struggle to transition back into my normal routine. This deviation taught me a few things about my body. In particular, I learned new things about my reaction to carbs and gluten. In my life my gluten consumption habits have been at extreme ends of the spectrum. When I didn’t pay attention to food it was a free for all with wheat. I had no clue what gluten was. Eventually I developed symptoms I couldn’t explain or fix. These symptoms included chronic inflammation in my joints, skin issues and digestive issues. I became aware gluten intolerance may be a cause for symptoms.
Removing gluten presented some challenges. One challenge was virtually everything I ate contained gluten. A typical day for me included toast in the morning, a burrito for lunch, and at times more bread at night. The second challenge was to figure out what all the products that contained gluten. I read David Pearlmutter’s Grain Brain, and listened to many podcasts on the topic. To get a better picture of what is going on if a person does have a problem with Gluten. Pearlmutter argues everyone does and Gluten is essentially the cause for all health problems. I’m skeptical of that, but he does bring up some interesting points in the book.
After I took gluten out for extended periods of time I still experienced symptoms. Those symptoms get worse with Gluten in and the never get completely clear with it out. Is it possible that gluten wasn’t the problem in the first place? Recently I decided to create a goal to be able to handle gluten. I like donuts, pizza, beer and french toast. These don’t need to be mainstays in my diet, but I enjoy them on occasion.
Testing for Gluten intolerance or Celiac
A blood test confirmed I do not have celiac’s disease. I know it is safe to remove and reintroduce gluten and see what happens. Nothing I have tried so far has worked to prevent adverse reactions from gluten containing products. That may mean that I do indeed have a “gluten intolerance”. Still I am confident this is something I can fix. My new plan is to build a bionic gut. Focusing on subtraction does not seem to work. Now I will focus on what to add. My hope is that my gut will become massively strong. I have learned there are many factors beyond genetics that influence tolerance or intolerance to a food. “Gluten” as a protein per say, might have nothing to do with it. Or it could be the entire story. It’s really hard to tell.
I believe the true mark of health is resilience. A lack there of indicates there is a problem. I have found that simply avoiding the foods that seem to “cause” the problem, does not solve the problem. This has been proven by long periods of abstinence followed by reintroductions with the same result. My natural tendency as a person is to get massively out of balance. This includes intake and cessation. Removing and constantly avoiding food certainly does me no good. While I was in Nicaragua I enjoyed bread and beer and I paid for it. I felt pretty crappy for the next three weeks. Soon after I would be in the midwest for X-mas surrounded by cakes, cookies, pizza, beer. These foods have proven to trash my gut. I escaped relatively unscathed. I ate a few things that contained flour. The reaction was negligible. My new protocol involves soil based probiotics, resistant starch, bone broth, low protein and minimal raw foods and intermittent fasting. The thought here is to give my digestion a bit of a break while giving the cells in my colon the fuel they need to rebuild my intestinal wall. Afterwords I hope to become more resilient. That way I can eat a damn doughnut without having an adverse reaction!
Does Gluten Cause inflammation or are other unhealthy choices to blame?
I scheduled two trail races to keep me honest during these vacation periods. The first, three weeks removed from Nicaragua, was in Rodeo Beach located in the North San Francisco bay. This race included 2500 feet of elevation change over the distance of 20k kilometers. It turned out to be the best race I ever had. I was strong on the hills and placed 8th overall. My average pace was in the low 7 minute mile pace. The next race was a different story. The trails of Woodside 17k proved too challenging and caused me to completely fall apart. I can’t pinpoint exactly what caused this because so many factors were wrong leading up to that race. These included, but were not limited to the following: doing virtually nothing the week prior, eating like absolute shit all day everyday for one week, sitting on a plane accumulating at least 12 hours of flight time, sitting on a couch for more than I have in the last 6 months combined, eating a pre-race meal I had yet to try in training (I added black beans into my morning shake), not meditating prior, having a short workout and staying up slightly too late the night before the race.
It’s no wonder the 17k race took me 20 minutes longer than the 20k I had ran 2 weeks prior. It just goes to show that proper preparation is important if you wish to perform at the highest level. I also learned that I am not as young as I once was. I cant just hop off the plane and dominate an event. My body requires more oil these days I suppose. Either way the race served as a nice learning point and proved to me that when it comes to inflammation and decreased performance there is more to the story than just taking out gluten.