Sunday, February 14, 2016

Goodbye, Desserts!

Training for my Western States/Leadville double this summer is starting to heat up. I managed to get in 70.6 miles this week, capping it all off with a zippy 20-miler in which I paced a buddy, Mark T., on a Boston "simulation run" in the area of Chatfield Reservoir. I felt good pretty much the whole way. Being ski season, I'm getting in the miles when I can and trying to enjoy the slopes on ski weekends (without worrying about not running).

In the entire 20-miler with Mark, I had maybe 50 calories of Tailwind and nothing else (except plain water). For my pre-run fueling, I had a bowl of full-fat Greek yogurt with a banana and a little granola on top. That was about an hour before the run. My energy was stable and I got through the 20 miles without any lows. It didn't hurt that I was running with a friend.

I'm going on 12 days since implementing some tweaks to my diet. I hate to use that term "diet" because it's not really a diet--eating is a lifestyle whether it's healthy or unhealthy. But, alas, while I've always told myself my diet was pretty clean, it had its vices. Here are some examples of where it wasn't so clean. 
  • For the past few years, my lunch included a protein bar--usually a Zone peanut butter and chocolate-flavored bar. Zone bars may be marketed as "healthy" but, in the end, they're candy bars--not a whole lot different than a Snickers.
  • After dinner, I would have a graham cracker and a half with honey roasted peanut butter and (a lot of) dark chocolate chips on top.
These were my desserts on a daily basis, along with some sugar in my coffee (granted, I've never liked a lot of sugar in my java) plus a few other sweet concoctions here and there. That's a lot of sugar.

A few months ago, I started to notice how much sugar I was consuming and how I craved it at certain times of day--especially after lunch and dinner. I also started having problems sleeping. I realized that this was becoming unhealthy. An addiction? Yes. How addictive? Keep reading to find out.

Plus, I read a lot about sugar's impacts on our health on a daily basis (this is part of my job). At some point, I think I came to the conclusion that sugar is very bad for us. I'm not even sure moderation of sugar intake is healthy. I think sugar should be a rarity, and yet it's everywhere. Did you know Starbucks is one of the biggest sellers of sugary drinks?

But it's not just Starbucks. The problem is that sugar is in almost everything we buy at the store. It is no wonder our country faces an epidemic of diabetes (which usually accompanies obesity), and that the most common chronic disease of childhood is tooth decay. As sugar is in almost all processed foods (including "healthy" processed foods), you become addicted to it without even realizing it. It's kind of like how people got addicted to cigarettes before the whistle got blown on Big Tobacco for hooking people on purpose.

So, 12 days ago I implemented some changes to my "diet." I didn't make these changes to be a better runner. I don't need to lose weight so that wasn't a factor, either. I made them because I want to be healthier and to age well. A lot of this was inspired by my wife, who on January 1 cut out added sugars, including her beloved cereal and Dove chocolates. I watched her make these changes, and over time I started to realize that I, too, could and should do it. While I haven't taken it quite as far as she has, I feel that the changes I've made are making me a healthier person. For starters, I cut out desserts. Below are things I was deserting on that got bagged up and discarded for good.

No desserts wasn't easy! The first day was horrid. I endured horrendous withdrawal. I'm not even kidding. Day two was also tough (lingering sugar-withdrawal headache) but not as bad as day one. It's gotten easier every day and now, as I type this, I feel I've broken the "addiction." Addiction? Yes. Sugar is said to be as addictive as cocaine. I cannot imagine how hard it would be for folks who drink soda every day to break their addiction to sugar. Thank God I don't have that habit to break!

I've also made an effort to increase my consumption of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats (like eggs and avocado) while decreasing my consumption of meats (I do allow myself meat for dinner). In lieu of a turkey sandwich for lunch, I now eat hummus on a whole grain pita along with some cucumber and spinach. I'm also eating a lot of kale salad (usually with a hard-boiled egg, roasted peppers, etc. on top) and I'm finding that it's actually delicious. "Dessert" during lunch is an apple. I am still eating veggie chips. But more tweaks will come.

Since implementing these changes, I have found that my energy is more stable. My running hasn't suffered at all; if anything, it's improved. I sleep better, too. I still eat carbs--I've just cut down on how much of them I eat and I've really slashed my sugar intake.

It's a fact that, as we age, we become more and more insulin-resistant. This is usually because our bodies over time start to have issues dealing with all of the sugar (hidden and in plain sight) that we're consuming. So, as the years goes by, it's a good idea to start cutting back on the carbs. That's what I'm doing. It has nothing to do with running and everything to do with being healthier.

Here's to a low(er) carb life!

Check out this video to learn more sugar and its health impacts.