My eating, diet, nutrition, time in the kitchen, whatever you want to call it, has been in a constant state of evolution, most of it tracked right here on these snarky purple pages.
When I first refocused my life on health way back in the dark ages of the blog, I started it by looking at labels and counting calories. I don't really advocate for this approach, but it was a very enlightening several months. I had no idea there were so many calories in bread! Yogurt! CHEESE! My precious Doritoes! It opened my eyes to how much I was eating. I don't remember a lot about my diet back then, other than when I finally decided to start eating breakfast for the first time in my life (except for in college when I drank a diet coke every morning), I started every day with a huge bowl of dry Cheerios and a large glass of chocolate soy milk. And I ate a lot of chicken alfredo and grilled cheese sandwiches.
As I turned the speeding bullet disaster train of my life around and chugged towards health, I tried to only make small changes. I had a lot of friends who were quite good at eating that were willing to help me learn how to cook things that I had avoided my entire life (mainly, vegetables). I will say it in public, until I was 27 years old, the only vegetables I ate were baby carrots, usually dipped in ranch dressing, or a bowl of microwaved frozen peas.
So I started experimenting with vegetables. Heather was a fun texting partner in the WTF is this vegetable and how do I cook it game. Kirstin introduced me to my first spaghetti squash. I ate a tomato and did not die. Spinach was a game-changer. Emily moved in for a few weeks and put butternut squash and eggplant on my precious pizza. I learned that strawberries are really really delicious in a salad (and any two ingredients, if one is green = salad). My friend Sarah cooked quinoa for me despite my high level of suspicion (it looks like tiny condoms!). I ate my first sweet potato not covered in melted marshmallows.
After a few months of skeptically tasting weird things that came out of the ground with a large glass of water to chase nearby, I decided I wanted to try and take meat out of my life. So I became a vegetarian, for a while, maybe a year? Maybe longer? It forced me to taste and cook the extremely weird white block of protein goo that I feared in the supermarket. It also forced me to try tempeh (still can't figure out how to cook it so it doesn't taste like a foot), as well as those weird protein crumbles that puff up and have an abbreviation that sounds like an STD or a heart condition.
Not everything was a success. The poet loves to tell the story of when the (gas) stove caught on fire and I threw water on it (who knew?) and then ran out into the front yard shrieking call the fire department! while the fire fizzled itself out. There were a few times when I plated a bizarre recipe and we looked at it, looked at each other, and called out for a pizza. I still offer the same prelude of doom before serving up a new recipe, I found this on the internet so it might taste awful but at least I was cooking. Eating. Exploring. Discovering that my adult palate was quite different from the one I had at age 6.
I gave up on the vegetarian diet after the poet started describing dreams he was having during marathon training about chewing on cows and I realized that he was probably becoming iron deficient since he wasn't binging on spinach like I was. We still only eat meat a few times a week but it's in there, I only gave it up to see if it made a big difference in my life and it didn't. There was the time I tried the carbohydrate depletion method while tapering for a major race, not recommended unless you are looking for an excuse to get divorced. I tried the "two smoothies and a square meal" method for a while but I decided I didn't like sloshing around all day with a headache and a stomach full of pureed fruit. Very recently, I decided to overcome one of my biggest food fears/dislikes, the EGG. The Facebook internet was quite eager and helpful to recommend ways to eat it that don't result in the yuk face and I've cooked and eaten a frittata (after learning what it is) twice now without barfing.
I've read a lot of books about nutrition, about nutrition for athletes, for regular humans, I am lucky to have plenty of people in my life who are experts or merely extremely well-read on nutrition, I have asked questions, I have experimented. For the past few years, I've adopted a "90% rule" that is quite common: I make sure that 90% of what goes in my body is healthy, quality calories that are balanced, and when I step outside that, I chalk it up under the other 10% and don't stress about it. I've done a lot of work to repair my relationship with food and my own body, I'm still a work in progress on all of this but yes, there has been progress.
I train and coach by the MAF method, and Dr. Phil has a lot to say about the inflammatory effects of food on the body. The first time I read the big yellow book, I discarded a lot of the information he presented about various foods with the I'm an athlete, I need to fuel my body, I burn it all off anyway so it doesn't matter what goes in mentality. That was hard for me to get over, still is hard to not chalk up treats to how much I am training. I was having some pretty serious breathing problems two summers ago and many people suggested that I try giving up dairy to see how my body reacted. I tried quite hard, many times, and I failed. I couldn't make it through more than a day or so without reaching for the cheese or the ice cream. And you know what? That failure is okay. I wasn't ready, and I accept that.
Last July we moved, just across town, but it was still a move, and it happened almost exactly 30 days out from ironman. And when you move, you eat through all your food so you don't have to pack it and then you are too busy unpacking and yelling at each other about who put the toilet paper in which box to get in the first major grocery shopping trip, especially when you are training your ass off for ironman. Those are excuses, yes, good ones but they are still excuses. So for the month before ironman, I fell into a pattern of not having any food in the house and coming home from a big training session and, finding that early-morning me had still not cooked anything while I was out riding, trotted down the street to Mad Greens (decent) or Noodles (no) or Qdoba (double no) just to satisfy the part of my brain that was DEMANDING calories at the top of its tired little depleted voice. The solution to this problem is preparation, but I chose to take the easy answer instead of taking the time to prepare healthy food to have when I needed it after training. Not a good choice, just the choice I made. And that's okay too, failure, lack of movement, stubborn refusal to continue evolving, those things are PART of evolution.
So I stood at the line for LP a bit...bulkier... than I usually was, and then I went through the post-ironman binge and my habits never really straightened themselves out through Cozumel. I was eating healthy food, and a lot of it, but I was also eating plenty of other things that weren't healthy. It was hard to break the gas station junk food party habit on my long rides, so I didn't. I was tired (we're all tired!) and reached for the whiny answer, the easy one.
Once Cozumel was over and I couldn't do much, I gave myself the rest of December to enjoy the things I felt like I wanted to enjoy. But after a few days of margaritas and candy cane jo-jos, it just wasn't enjoyable anymore. I stood in the kitchen and whined to the poet, I have all these boxes of cookies to eat and I am supposed to want to eat them but I don't. So I put the cookies in the freezer, filled the fridge with vegetables and started to turn it all around. That is a really quite large picture of my face.
As I started training again in January, I started up again the practice of tracking my daily weight. Now, I don't believe this is essential, especially for those athletes who have emotional pasts attached to the scale, but I'm able to do it in a detached fashion, so I do. I don't think that weight is the be-all and end-all of health and nutrition and training, but I do like to see the ups and downs against the build and rest of my training, so I step on the scale, note the number, and then move on with my day without attachment. And in January, that number doesn't mean much. But as I started thinking about dietary health, I realized that my "90% rule" had become more of a "60%" rule. The past few years, I have eaten in a healthy fashion the majority of the time, I believe that. I have made good decisions when filling the piehole. The questions I started asking myself, though, were whether or not I could be making better choices. And could those better choices lead to a healthier life?
There has been a lot of buzz and chatter in the last year or so about sugar, grain, dairy, and the effects of those things in the diet, and I finally felt ready to listen, absorb, make changes around those things. I went back and read the yellow book sections on nutrition. I read the big red book. I read Eat Move Sleep, which was mostly a case of nodding along with every single page, yes I should be doing that, yes, that too, yes yes yes yes yes. One of the best pieces of information that I pulled out of that book was the fact that when your blood sugar drops because you haven't fueled correctly, your body craves high sugar, high glycemic foods because that's the fastest way to fix it. But if you can stall your body with something high in protein or healthy fat, that craving will drop away. How many times do we hear people say well my body was craving X so I ate it because obviously my body knows best? When what actually happened was I didn't plan well so my body got out of whack and called 911 to the pantry for the fastest fix. This was such an AHA moment for me, a big one. So how do I stop the 911 call from the liver? Preparation.
The poet and I, in the interest of both our tummies and our pocketbooks, have made the decision to stop eating out unless we are doing so as part of spending quality time with friends. And when we do go out, eat out, we aren't going to fuss about who or where or that bean sitting on my plate doesn't go with my [special name of current trend] diet. Eating out with friends is good for our social health. But since we've made this decision, we've eaten at home FAR more than we have in the eight months since we moved and created unhealthy patterns.
We've also decided that, as we toddle off to the grocery store each week, we aren't going to buy dairy or grain or sugar to replace what we've eaten. Now, that doesn't mean we are launching into a diet of none of those things, mostly because I'm not going to throw away my entire pantry and half the fridge, but as we use those things up, we aren't replacing them. The cheese and ice cream were some of the first things to go, and other than throwing the lingering bits of goat cheese into the crazy egg dish I made, I haven't reached for it or missed it. Does that mean I am never going to eat any of these things again for the rest of my life, or become the twitter sugar police? No, not at all. But if we are eating most of our meals at home, and I am trying to continue my evolution towards health, these are our next steps. I also realized in my own self-examination that my "7-10 fruits and vegetables a day" was generally "7 fruits and 2 servings of spinach" per day, and that high glycemic hit from all the fruit is part of why I feel hungry every few hours, so I'm working to bring the vegetable number up there and moderate the fruit. Another bit of an AHA moment for me.
My point is, I suppose, that I've been my own science experiment on nutrition for many years now, just like many of us are. I don't like putting labels on the way I eat, the most important factors in my diet are, in no particular order: tastes good, fuels training, is healthy for the body, and that I am never hungry. Because a hungry Katie is a convicted and jailed Katie.
Through all of this, I have learned a lot about myself. I know that I should not ever say, I am never eating X again! because I may very well decide to eat X again in a month. Two summers ago I wasn't ready to give up dairy, to even really try, and now I don't even notice it's gone. I've stopped putting sugar in my eight daily cups of tea and after the first strange cup, I haven't missed it. Small changes, baby steps. I am curious and I am ready. And none of this is because of how I look in the mirror. I am not mad at my body, I am not trying to punish my reflection. I care about how I look, sure, we all do. But the bigger question here is whether I can change how I FEEL day in and day out, how much energy I have, how well I sleep, how I can positively affect my mood and general state of being. So my evolution continues. Onwards.