Happy New Year dear readers. And as I am one of those guys, I stil say Merry Christmas until January 6, here’s an appropriate Christmas card from me:
And JOY is the appropriate word. My last post was a bit of a downer, but it was honest. The fact is, I have been adrift for some time, wondering why I lacked the power, the drive, the motivation, the will, the moral fortitude, whatever it was I was missing. So I put it out there. And thank you for the supportive comments. I am moving on.
I am in a moment right now, where I feel really good about moving forward. Why? I have a plan. I’ve done well when I have plans. But too much of my life has looked like this:
But the doughboy to ironman project was all about making plans and following them, right? Why did mine fail? It comes down to one hard truth that I skirted around for a long time.
I was still in my addiction while losing weight.
My OA sponsor tried to warn me. She knew about long distance running, and triathlon. She tried to tell me to not rely on clif bars and the like. But I was convinced it worked for me. And it did, but very temporarily. I was off heroin, but still going to the methodone clinic daily.
OK, I went over this before. So now what?
Now the scales have fallen from my eyes.
It Takes a Long Time to Become an Overnight Success
I say this because I know that to anyone watching my life right now, I could look a lot like one of those people who just latches on to the latest fad, or greatest gimmick, and tries that for a while. Based on my past, you’d have good reason to think that about me. So I am sure there will be many who will react to my new approach to food with eye rolling, and “yeah we’ll see how long that lasts.” You have my forgiveness already. Just stay out of the comments section. And I should note that this is not a new develpment for me, just the extension of the direction I have been heading for some time. I just finally took the leap forward to not just pray for the will to be abstinent, but seek the tools to make it a reality that wasn’t just a constant battle of will.
So on to the plan. Yes, I am hyped up and excited after hours upon hours of listening to the Angriest Trainer podcast. But I am not just clutching to one random tinfoil hat wearing nutjob that told me what I want to hear. Actually, I wish he told me to live on Crunch’N’Munch and Ben & Jerry’s. He does not. I have known for years that I reacted poorly to certain foods. I even found my way to OA and accepted the concept of abstinence, even if I didn’t embrace it fully. I was in denial about the depth of what I needed to be abstinent from. I kept that denial alive by the simple counundrum I placed myself in. I bought into the dominant dogma that endurance sport needs to be fueled by high levels of carbohydrates.
That dogma is not set in stone. It is being disproven from many many corners. I am finally finding those corners, and I credit Vinnie’s podcast with being the first source to show me where they are.
I will discuss the background sources on why I am sold on the ketogenic way of eating, in the months ahead. I will put a beginning reference section at the end of this post. But for now, I’ll use this space as a study of one.
No Sugar No Grains Week One
I began eating extremely low carb on December 28. I am beginning day six. The goal here is to eventually become completely keto-adapted. Once this happens, my body will burn fat as the primary fuel for living and training, as opposed to glycogen. Even if I did not have a problem with weight, insulin and blood sugar, this would be worth doing for long distance. The endless parade of sugar in an ironman is going to be replaced with olive oil and cream cheese. Sound crazy? Ask Tim Olson who just SMASHED the previously considered unbreakable Western States 100 record, on a ketogenic diet. Tim is a former addict, BTW. I think he knows a thing or two about how refined powders mess you up. I am at the point where I am treating sugar and flour like heroin, and while I may seem flippant when doing so, the research from biochemistry supports this.
So how have the last five days gone? Very well actually. There is one exception. I knew, and was warned, that in the period of becoming keto-adapted, I should not train hard. This is agreed by all proponents of low carb or full ketosis. You don’t switch your hormonal processes overnight. (Which is why sugar fails in long distance, you can only take in so much and can’t switch to fat burning fast.) Two weeks is average, but someone with longer history of problems should give it a month.
I have no plans for long runs in that time frame. But I still have some recreational running plans I wish to keep. Here’s what happened:
Day one low carb: usual 3.5 mile loop. Very slow going up the hills, slower than usual.
Day four low carb: Mid Penn Trailblazers Club run for New Year’s Eve. I knew this would probably be trouble for me, but if I keep saying “oh I’ll cut grains and sugars on X day,” I will always find a reason to delay. So the 28th, I just said “OK, keep reading and talking about it, but if you’re convinced, do it now, not later.” Well, this was a fun experiment.
The route was to be the Dandelion Run at Camp Mt Luther. There was heavy snow on the ground. OK, I just finished a half marathon, and I have run in the snow. But folks, that sluggishness at the beginning of low carb is no joke. I didn’t make it. I was crazy slow. I thought that I could take a slow jog like the days prior, but the deep snow made it like a constant stair master. It wasn’t anything like a regular road run or even a dry trail run. It was a whole other kind of high intensity workout. Well, I didn’t make it the whole way. I cut the course short and ended up doing just half of it. I was feeling the effects quickly.
I wasn’t surprised. I did get grumpy for a short time, telling Joel to rip up my Snowfest application. But deep down I knew that the irritability would be temporary. Snowfest is 6 weeks away, so I should be adapted by then. In the meantime, there may be bi-weekly club snow runs that I can use to gauge progress.
The next step was what really became the most important part of this new plan.
Staying on Track
The club was going to gather at a house for after run snacks, before everyone went off to their regularly scheduled NYE plans. I kept saying we couldn’t go. I always describe the trail club as an eating club with a running problem. But I finally decided not to be anti-social, as the club members are some of the nicest people I know. I was about to find out that I made the right choice. But on the way, I had made up my mind in my head that I was going to forget keeping up with this low carb thing, it’s NYE, I’ll “start tomorrow.” The high heart rate spike of the snow run/jog/hike/trudge awakened the cravings in me I hadn’t felt yet. I even asked Meg “would you think less of me if I went to sheetz and got ice cream?” My mind was in that mode. So we went into Mifflinburg with my mind scrambling, and fully intending to go insane.
We walked into the kitchen and the first thing I saw was the collection of Christmas cookies. The one I love most, the peanut butter kiss blossom was there. I tried to think of this photo to mentally get away from it, but it didn’t work. I still wanted it.
But then something else happened. It turns out, our hosts had read my last blog. They wanted to know what I could eat. I was still slightly mentally unstable, so I went into the whole martyr-ish “oh no, don’t cater to me. Don’t worry about it. It’s new year’s eve, I feel terrible. I don’t expect people to have special food for me.” Blah blah blah.
And then a tiny voice in me got the idiot to shut up for a second and think about the kind hospitality. And I ate bologna. And cheese. And raw vegetables. And, I finally got to try what I had been hearing about from Vinnie and others: I ate the top off the pizza. The pizza the club gets is made at a local grocery store, and it’s by no means the best, but I love the cheese. It’s like a high end version of the old make at home Chef Boyardee pizza. Yeah, I’m part white trash, deal with it. So I had a bunch of cheese and pepperoni peeled off the top.
I am sure that I looked insane. I tried to casually toss the crusts away, but I am sure someone noticed. But as I said, I was among excellent, kind, hospitable people. I didn’t worry that anyone was going to roll their eyes and say “oh yeah fat guy, that pile of greasy pepperoni is a heck of a weight loss plan.”
I ate more than I was happy about, but in the end, I stayed very low carb. No cookies, no starches, nothing like it. At midnight, Meg and I were home, and had baked brie with some raspberries, a very low GI fruit.
It is supposed to get easier from here. Vigilance is needed, but planning and paying attention work. The only other questionable moment was when I found out that the pork and sauerkraut on Jan 1 had apple juice in it, after I ate it. It seemed very very sweet. But the meat should offset any risk of a sugar spike, which is the whole point of this: chemistry.
That’s really the best way to understand the shift in thinking. Too much of popular diet dogma relies on the simplistic evaluation of the laws of thermodynamics. But they ignore chemistry. I love physics as much as these guys:
but just as this photo is sadly missing the microbiologist, so is most diet advice.
OK, so enough about the first five days. I promise not to write a Tolkein level epic every week. I just have so much to put together right now. I won’t even talk about the actual weight loss for a few weeks.
If you are wondering how something as “radical” as low carbs will work long term for a guy like me, let’s just remember I am a self-identified addict. So I don’t really have a choice anyway. But if you want to see the how and why of mainstream grain based diet advice being a disaster, here’s your beginner bibliography.
Dr Lustig’s Lecture on sugar. – When a video goes viral on youtube, it’s usually less than a couple minutes and involves a cat falling off something. This video has gone viral, and is an hour and a half long. Sound like too long to hear “sugar is bad?” This will teach you some basic biochemistry and make you rethink what moderation looks like when considering sugar at all.
Gary Taubes’ book – Why We Get Fat and What to do About It. – hardback or kindle. All I need to tell you about this comes from an anecdote he told on Vinnie’s podcast. Taubes is a science writer for the New York Times. He had done a book on the disaster of cold fusion called Bad Science. He dove deep into what makes good science, and what makes bad. He got off the phone with a person he had shown to be one of the worst scientists in the world. At the end of the conversation, this person told him that he was single handedly responsible for getting America on the low fat diet. Since that became public policy, obesity has skyrocketed. There had to be a story there. He followed the science, and is rocking the world with this book.
And of course, if you don’t have ears sensitive to four letter words, the Angriest Trainer podcast. It can also be found through iTunes. It is free. Vinnie has many many episodes. I will recommend a couple as key for starting with: Episode 8, 17, 23, 25 and 31.
There is much much more I want to share. But I don’t want to throw out too much at once. Those three things alone will blow your mind.