Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On achieving orthorexia

Most people who are a casual friend to me probably assume I am a healthy eater. I guess it tends to go with the territory of an underweight ultra runner. Not to mention that any good OCD sufferer should care a lot about their diet. The catch is I did care about my diet. I cared a heck of a lot about not eating more calories than I burned and I kept painful track of every calorie that went into my body, making sure it never exceeded what I perceived I had or would burn for that day. The easiest way to do this was to eat basically the same thing every day. And I care a lot about not eating meat because I believe it drains the earth or resources.

But it was a running joke on SR's side of the family that I didn't take care of myself, after my 6 year old niece, Rebecca said this to me while I was rolling around on the ground in pain from my heart burn. She was right.

All of this is in the past tense, though, because something happened. And my approach to eating has taken almost a 180 degree turn. (Granted I had flirted with quite healthy eating while pregnant, I inevitably fell back to my old habits when unpregnant)

So what happened? Well, the first thing was my astounding realisation that eating a chocolate bar for breakfast every morning left me tired during my workouts. One day I just said "enough!" and I bought gluten free granola and Hemp milk and ate that for breakfast instead. IT WAS AMAZING the difference in energy I experienced! Around the same time (two months ago) I decided to give up my proton pump inhibitor (Lansoprazole) prescription antacid mediation, hoping it would decrease the stomach bloating/pregnant-looking stomach I was experiencing. While it didn't take the bloating away, it made me more careful about what I ate. When I read the article about diet soda (presumably artificial sweeteners) causing stomach bloating, I was in just the right mind frame to give up those 5-7 cans a day. Initially I replaced the diet soda with Zevia (sweetened with Stevia, a plant which has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years in South America),but since I read it may lower blood pressure, I also drink La Croix and just plain water since my BP is like most other ultra runners. My waist has shrunk 3½ inches.

All this opened the flood gates. I gave up all artificial sweeteners (not only did this include that pack a day of gum, but those yucky sugar free chocolates I ate on a daily basis). I joked at dinner the other night that I don't even want articial sweeteners touching my skin, but it actually wasn't a joke. I started eating fresh fish with my vegetables almost every night. Instead of eating chocolate on my runs, I eat Clif Builders bars which consist of mostly soy protein isolate and beet juice, all natural ingredients and most organic. I have so much energy and feel so much more stable in my mood that I feel as though I truly have found the holy grail.

This past week following Afton I had two 3 hour runs and one 4½ hour run on trails, my fastest 8 x 1km interval session, 3 x 40+ mile bike rides, two with my new Team Velotek North girlfriends and one actually holding on to SR the entire distance as he went his hardest. Add to this long swims, core and yoga. And I don't have a speck of pain in my body. I feel as if I have been born again. And I basically never think about calories but only about the health benefits of what I eat- and of course my weight is the same or slightly less. And yet all I want is to have strength for my workouts.

And the acid reflux I used to have?? Well I do take probiotics daily now, but it is gone! It is better than it was when I was throwing the PPI at it every day. I have come to realise how effective diet is in controlling your body- and when I was observing in family medicine clinic the other day, I was extremely saddened by doctors still doing so much pill pushing for lifestyle illnesses, which SHOULD be treated with diet and exercise. This is 2012! Drugs are so passé.

 The bad part of this is I have become (even more) annoying and I am judging people. I tease SR that he lives the "80's American dream" with all of his soda and candy (this is so ironic, though, since he has had a healthier diet than me (I?) up until two months ago). And we have a friend visiting from Denmark now who tonight wanted to go buy Fruit Loops and diet soda - and I felt I needed to stop her "but what do you get out of eating like that??" (yet that was just like me coming from Denmark in December-- "wow!! Look at all of this cheap, yummy low-cal food!").

Edit: (I need to add this info so the above post makes slightly more sense!): This is a very complicated topic for me to explain. I love eating healthy and I know it makes me feel better and I have known that for as long as I can remember. But this odd belief that I need to eat exactly the same thing every day and limit my calories to a certain amount (otherwise aliens will kill me???) has trumped every ounce of good sense in the past. Interestingly, adding artificial sweetened things to my diet was the biggest health setback I have experienced.

 Running song of the day (for long trail runs or a cool down): With Just One Glance by Nicolas Jaar

(like a series of abstract paintings in deep, bright colours)


CP said...

I have followed in your footsteps and have given up soda for Zevia! I used to be addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper. I drank 2 cans a day (even while pregnant). It was my crack (it's so, so good though).

When you mentioned Zevia, I gave that I try. I've only had the Ginger Root Beer (love) and the Cola (not so love) and I haven't touched Diet Dr. Pepper since. I feel so less guilty on a daily basis!


mmmonyka said...

What's with the Americans and soda? Seriously? And I do not think that it is a stereotype. Do people drink it so much because it is cheap in the US? Probably. How much does a 2l bottle cost in the US? It is around 2€ in Europe. And 24pack of 0.25l is around 12€, 0.33l around 16E. That is significantly higher than in the US, isn't it?
(I researched those prices, I do not buy soda so I do not know myself.)

My sister's husband (American) was in Slovakia with her last summer and my parents claim that they almost went bankrupt because of all the money they had to spend on sodas for him:) Because he would not drink anything else.

But you know what I am curious about? Whether your better eating habits are indeed contributing to your higher energy levels, or whether it is only psychological because you believe that it should make you feel better so you think you feel better.

sea legs girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sea legs girl said...

Yes, CP! So glad to hear you like Zevia and that it is working for you. I like the Ginger Root Beer, too, and also the Black Cherry, Lemon Lim and Orange. I would just caution against too much Zevia since the long term effects of Stevia are not really know, though they can't be too bad if it really has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years.

Marathon Mom said...

What a change and good for you for making these changes, I'm glad you feel better. I think that is the key to knowing our body is happy with the food we are giving it.

I agree, the typical American diet is awful, full of junk and that is the normal. Last weekend we were at a family picnic and O was the only kid not with a plate full of cookies, chips and soda and I got so many comments about her eating the veggies, fruit, whole grain stuff and how she needed other things :(

I also find it interesting that as a physician you made the comment about people being over medicated. I see this all the time, people want a quick fix and expect that pill fix everything!

sea legs girl said...

Mmmmonyka, I totally hear what you are saying about the new diet possibly only giving a psychological advantage. Yet there is no way I would go back to my old ways when I think of how I feel now. Plus I used to barely be able to go on a walk in the evenings with the family due to stomach problems and that is all gone now! There are certainly some changes that were higher yield than others.

sea legs girl said...

Marathon Mom, Thank you. You know, the ironic thing is my kids have always been forced to eat well by me, it is just now I feel I can be a true role model for them (and that is so important!)

mmmonyka said...

Gosh, and you have figured out that eating better will make you feel better only NOW?!?
Glad you did though:) Better late than never.

Btw, are you doing Challenge Copenhagen or not? Since you are biking quite a bit and doing long swims.

SteveQ said...

I am going to slap the next person who says that because an occasional stevia leaf was eaten two hundred years ago that it's safe! The Romans sweetened their foods for hundreds of years with a natural compound - lead.

There is absolutely no evidence that ingesting more than trace amounts of stevia is safe. None. Not one long-term study by anyone without a vested interest.

Danni said...

Plus Stevia tastes horrible. I hate it. We have unlimited free soda at work but I normally have a few a week at most. I figure that won't kill me. I love LaCroix though. I wish we had that here. Just Perrier.

Nice work cleaning up your diet. Are you also getting more calories? That would probably make you feel better as well.

You were eating a chocolate bar for breakfast?

Are you still obsessively counting calories? How many do you eat per day you think?

Alicia said...

Ha, I never realized you had such a bad diet before--that means you probably weren't psyched for the salads I brought when I came to your house the first time, were you! Sorry about that. Nice job on the diet turnaround. Enjoy the newfound energy!

sea legs girl said...

This is a very complicated topic for me to explain. I love salads and eating healthy and I know it makes me feel better and I have known that for as long as I can remember. But this odd belief that I need to eat exactly the same thing every day and limit my calories to a certain amount (otherwise aliens will kill me???) has trumped every ounce of good sense in the past.

Yes, Mmmonyka, Challenge Copenhagen ironman is my next race! I am beyond excited.

PiccolaPineCone said...

on a completely different note - i need to know how fast you ran your 8 X 1 km so i can have my usual moan about how you need to find a flat, fast 5 or 10 km race so you can destroy your pb.

@ monyka - i was SHOCKED when i lkived in europe at how cheaply i could buy bottled, fizzy water (or still). it was 19 euro cent for a 1.5 L bottle. i never buy the stuff here bc it is expensive and somewhat ridiculous given we have the safest water supply in the world but at 19 cent per bottle i couldn't resist. it would cost 10-15 times that in north america. so.... cheap soda, expensive water. all part of the pattern.

sea legs girl said...

Steve, I think you make an excellent point about Zevia. It was, however perfect for me for weaning off of diet soda. Now I am ok with water and La Croix, but I needed that bridge! It is kind of like heroine addicts who need methadone; it may not be healthy but it gets you off of something worse.

sea legs girl said...

PPC - it would require a ton of calculation to tell you the exact times since I do these repeats on the treadmill - jog the first .37 miles, then interval the rest of the .62 mile. I start at 4 min/km pace exactly and then speed up by a couple/few seconds each interval. By the end of the 8th interval, I was at 3:42 pace/km. This was at 1% grade.

sea legs girl said...


I never knew exactly how many calories I ate per day, but I just had to eat the exact same as the day before. I still do this to a certain extent, but am just eating more healthy foods and switching things up more.

Kate said...

Good for you!

I'm with Danni - I kinda am in disbelief that you were eating a candy bar for breakfast. Yikes! No wonder you feel better.

Danni put me on to Mark's Daily Apple (website), and I'm becoming quite influenced by it. Might be worth checking out. Problem is, the "primal" diet is hard to do without meat involved, so not sure that would work for you.

sea legs girl said...

The "candy bar" was swemisweetened baking chocolate, and I dare anyone here to stop eating it once you've started!!! Bwahahaha.

sea legs girl said...

Thanks, Kate for the webiste recommendation! Is Mark the ripped guy sitting in the pool? I'm a little scared of him... and am I wrong to assume "primal" is just yet another dieting fad just like "paleo" or "Atkins"? I suppose I should read more before assuming!!

mmmonyka said...

If it makes you feel better I also eat chocolate for breakfast sometimes. Or dinner. Or both. Sometimes both on the same day. Just today I ate 500g of assorted cookies for breakfast. But shhh, do not tell anyone.

@PPC: Not only mineral water is cheap in Europe, but we have a lot of mineral water sources all over in Slovakia and you can go there and fill your own bottles with water coming from the ground. (Although the one we used to go to is very close to train station. My grandmother claims that it is probably not as pure as it should be but I always reason with her that all the rust from trains is just extra iron). Therefore I HATE paying 1+USD for 1l bottle in the NA.

Stationary Runner said...

I, too, used to have reallllllly bad acid reflux. Sometimes it was so bad that I was convinced I was having a heart attack (I'm 33). Giving up gluten remedied most of the problem, and I weaned myself off my prescription. (Greasy food still gets me, though.)

My husband LOVES La Croix! It's weird - in America sodas are SO cheap (especially if you buy the store brand) but fizzy water is kind of pricey.

SteveQ said...

Been meaning to give you a running song for a while: "Anna Sun" by Walk the Moon; it's not as spacy as the band and song title suggest.

sea legs girl said...

Thank you so much for your input on acid reflux, Stationary Runner! I too called 911 as a kid saying I was having a heart attack! It was just heart burn of course. There is a reason it got that name. I have also given up gluten. Not because I think I have gluten intolerance but because I think it can be rough on the gi tract.

sea legs girl said...

Thanks, Steve. I'm listening to it right now :).

Katherine said...

Hi Sea Legs Girl,

I mostly just read your blog, but I felt the need to echo what previous poster Kate mentioned. You may like to check out the primal way of eating ( It is very similar to paleo (I love If you don't have a moral problem with eating meat, you might start to get over the notion that it drains the Earth's resources by reading the book "The Vegetarian Myth" (basic premise- eating grains, vegetables, etc. from modern agricultural practices is much more damaging than eating pastured meat and dairy, which actually replenishes topsoil). Anyway, I don't believe these ways of eating are fads. You might want to read Taubes' "Good Calories Bad Calories" to start with for scientific bases to help get off the calorie counting and ditch carbohydrates in exchange for fat and protein. I am a long time runner and struggled for years with calorie counting. During that time, I ate majority carbohydrate diet. The switch to more fat and protein is liberating, filling, and does NOT make you gain weight. Good luck. I am enjoying reading your blog as I "run" (jog) through my second pregnancy.

maria said...

And as a counterpoint to the meat-pushers, here's an article I read last night:

It basically says that our digestive tracts evolved way earlier than the primal/paleo/caveman diet promoters seem to think so we should look at what monkeys are eating. And that we really don't know what paleolithic ancestors ate anyway.

re: environmental impact of our diets, I agree that modern factory ag is horrible for the environment (both vegetable farming and facotry animal farming); but isn't the issue that there isn't enough pasture in the world for everyone to be able to eat a meat-based diet? Low-impact, sustainable, organic vegetable growing is not harmful to the soil.

sea legs girl said...

Thank you so much, Katherine and Maria. I have read the links you guys suggested and think I will write a little in my next blog post about this. Very interesting stuff!

Kate said...

Ack! I can't believe I've been labeled a "meat pusher"! Ha! Never would've thought of myself that way. I am, like everyone else, still just learning and gathering information and trying to figure out what works best for me and the Earth.

Oh, and semisweet baking chocolate, while still not an ideal breakfast if that's the ONLY thing you were eating, is probably not that different than my tendency to find a little chocolate in the evening. Yum.