Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ironman gave me a gluten intolerance

I've been seeing some new health research coming out about wheat and wheat gluten and how our bodies can handle it.  I've also been fighting some personal demons recently that made me want to research this topic more.  So now I get to be honest about some not-so-glamorous aspects of Ironman recovery and the 7 months that have followed.

Since this year has had a heavy focus on yoga, I've started reading more yoga blogs.  I've seen enough people posting on both running, diet, and yoga blogs about gluten intolerance, gluten allergies, and I've had some friends declare a gluten allergy recently that it just made me want to dig in more and research.

Turns out there are three flavors of gluten problems; gluten intolerance, gluten allergy, and celiac disease.  Celiac disease can carry some serious lower bowel problems, and there are tests available for that.  Your doctor can also test for any number of allergens, including a gluten or wheat allergy.  But there is no test for an intolerance.  The only test is to go two or three weeks without eating any wheat products and see if the symptoms go away.

Since the Ironman on 11/5/11, I have experienced the following symptoms of gluten intolerance:
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • Gastro-intestinal problems
  • Aching joints
  • Depression
  • Eczema
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability and behavioral changes
and I have not had any problems with these symptoms
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Slow infant growth
So there is that.  Then I started finding book reviews on yoga blogs about Wheat Belly, a new book written by a doctor whose wife is a triathlon coach.  The doctor asks why do these triathletes, who are in prime physical condition aerobically, stick to strict training plans and dietary regimens -- why do they still have excess belly fat hanging out over the spandex shorts?  His theory is that modern wheat is the culprit.

Disclaimer: I purchased the book yesterday and have only read the introduction last night.  I'll share more Wheat Belly thoughts after I read the whole thing.  Any other information is what I've gleamed from other online reviews and blogs about the book.

In the two weeks after IMFL I put on 20 lbs.  That fits my definition of rapid weight gain.  It put my weight back up around 185 lbs, and the most disturbing part is that my bodyfat% went from 18.x% up to 22.x% depending on the week.  Since then I've been between 185 and 190, twice putting up MMNW's at exactly 189.6 lbs and over 23% bodyfat.  190 lbs is where I hit the absolute panic button and start thinking about amputation as a weight loss method.  My goal is to stay close to 175 lbs and keep my body fat in the teens.  At 11% bf is typically when the 6 pack abs start showing up.

Every winter I get these small patches of dry skin thanks to running the central heat in the house.  Usually I put some lotion on and the spots go away. This year they didn't go away entirely, but left a discoloration.  The dermatologist gave me some eczema medication that cleared up the spots.  Aching joints?  My back has been killing me for months now.  I'll go to the chiropractor when it gets bad, there's usually some migraine headache and heartburn problems kicking in by then too.  But the lower back pain is more of a constant aching thing that doesn't really clear up entirely.  Depression?  Exhaustion? yes and yes.  It comes and goes.  I can't imagine why running 4 full marathons in 4 months would leave me with exhaustion.  oh wait.  Still, a symptom is a symptom.  Irritability?  Behavioral changes?  What mood swings?  I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'll break your glass jaw if you question me again.  yea, it hasn't been a pretty couple of months for anyone in the household.   I've just felt out of balance for a long time now.

So my nutrition has been on point all year, and I still have some serious belly fat falling over my race belt.  Strangest Dunlaps Disease ever (my belly done lapped over my race belt).  I've run four full marathons, more 5k's, 10k's, and half marathons than I can count, and nothing I can do in training or traditional eating seems to shrink the belly.  Last Saturday was the FS 50 mile triathlon, last week's Monday Morning Naked Weight (MMNW) came in at 189.6 and 23.7% body fat.  Something has got to change.  Maybe I do have a gluten intolerance.

With the first Aquathon also being last Wednesday, it ended up being a recovery week.  Don't push the workouts super hard on Monday or Tuesday, race it up hard on Wednesday, then look into any real changes.  I decided to just go off of gluten for a while and see what happened.  So officially Thursday was my first day being gluten free.

The biggest change was in breakfast.  For the last 5 years I've had the same thing every day: oatmeal with raisins, a banana, honey and flax seed.  The new breakfast is scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage, or some other meat.  Gluten free doesn't mean low carb or no carb.  It means no wheat, which includes oats.  Rice, corn, potatoes, all fine.  It's just bread, pasta, oatmeal that are really off limits.  So my typical lunches are an omelet with toast or a sandwich have to become an omelet without toast or a sandwich without bread.  Or leftovers from last night's gluten free dinner.  The worst part about going gluten free is giving up beer.  That might not happen.  I don't drink much beer to begin with, maybe averaging one beer a month with one or two exceptions where I'll really tie one on.  I'll still have my one beer a month without guilt.

Saturday was a fun night.  An old friend of mine from high school moved from DC to Raleigh last week, so saturday we got to babysit her kid for a few hours while they were unpacking boxes, then they came over for dinner.  It was the first time I'd seen Jenny in almost 20 years and it was like no time had passed at all.  I'm really excited to have such good friends close by again.  I had a beer with the otherwise gluten free dinner of rice, marinated tomatoes, chicken, and black beans.  One of our favorite meals to begin with, easy to make into a vegetarian version, and they loved it.

This weeks MMNW?  185.0 lbs and 22.3% body fat.  That means I lost 4.6 lbs overall and 3.2 lbs of that was pure fat loss.  My pants are already fitting better.  My workouts over the long weekend have gone longer and harder than I was expecting, and they just seem more manageable.  This week is going to be more solid base and speed work, and I"m just going to keep letting this gluten free thing work its magic.  Stick to the plan.  Keep reading the book.  Let's just see what happens here.

So far I feel a lot better, more balanced, I rode 30 miles yesterday (on the stationary bike) with no back pain, ate good and felt good.  The joint pain seems to be gone, irritability is gone, depression is gone, and overall I just feel better than I did last week.  It may just be the perceived resolution to the problem, but I'll take whatever I can get.


Hugh Jass said...

I'm irritable and moody a lot, but I thought it was just because I'm a bitch.

My husband's niece and my sister in law are both 100% Gluten free. The niece has Celiac's so it's a must for her, but my sister in law cut the wheat out for the same reasons you have and swears she won't go back.

Theresa @ActiveEggplant said...

Wow - I really had no idea that could happen! I've always figured you either "were" or "weren't" gluten intolerant & that you'd always be that way. I'm glad you figured out what was going on though & that you're feeling better!

Karen said...

Interesting... Hope the diet change helps. SO GLAD your menstrual cycle and infant growth are still OK :)

Viper said...

My sister-in-law has Celiac disease, and it's not awesome. While seeing how restrictive she has to be makes me think people who willingly go gluten free are idiots, it's opened my eyes to just how bad an intolerance to it can be. I hope you're not truly allergic, but at least you've identified the problem if so.

And FYI, craft brewers are starting to catch on to the idea of gluten free beers, so you won't be totally SOL. Cheers!

Colleen said...

Hum... interesting stuff. I am looking forward to your updates. I have quite a few friends who are gluten free as well as my mother-in-law... all for the symptoms that you mention and they said that it changed their lives. Please let me know how the book it. I would like to read it and pass it along if it's worthwhile!

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

I am REALLY glad you don't have a irregular menstrual cycle. That would be weird.

I eat quinoa for breakfast a lot in place of oatmeal. It's just as good, especially if you put flax or chia or nuts or fruit (etc) in it. I make a big batch on Monday and reheat it in the microwave with milk, then add the extras in! It may be a good alternative to eggs every day.

Good luck!

Carly said...

I am also reading Wheat Belly and I think you are on to something. I hope the diet change helps in the long run.

I too am on the same path to see if it helps clear up some of my mysterious conditions that the doctors cannot diagnose.

Wes said...

beer? I think I'll keep my belly fat, thank you very much ;-)

Tryon Running Club said...

I think you're onto something. Ezekiel Bread / english muffins, etc. are great - think they are gluten free.

Rose @ Eat, Drink, and Be Meiri said...

If it were weight loss alone I'd partially attribute it to just having to eat more whole foods. But the joint pain and mood stuff does point to something else being off. Regardless of why it's working, it's good that you have something that is working. Hopefully you can reverse everything.

Plus, savory breakfasts are way better anyway.

raulgonemobile said...

It could be the stress/relief of all the hardcore racing you've done as of late, esp. with regard to mental outlook and weight gain. However, it's certainly worth looking at the gluten thing.

I have a buddy that was recently diagnosed with celiac. The gluten free beer, well, it leaves a bit to be desired. It is becoming more vogue, so some breweries are investing in it (Dogfish Head comes to mind), plus there are a couple of Canadian and European ones that are supposed to be good (or, at least better than the normal gluten free stuff).

It's made enough of a change with him that I've been debating doing some research of my own regarding the topic.

Sophie @ threetimesf said...

Until recently, I always thought you either did or didn't have a gluten intolerance, I didn't realise that things could trigger it or it could develop. Im glad you're starting to feel a it better - I really hope it carrys on going up from here :)

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I discovered that I have a gluten intolerance over 3 years ago, and have lived gluten free since then. It is actually not too bad of a diet change. It really forces you to eat, well, like a neanderthal (I eat a diet based on meat, veggies, fruit). Breakfast was my toughest meal, but I've gotten that down and I have eggs most days. I do still struggle to get enough carbs when training for races, but am working on figuring that out!

Fair Weather Runner said...

hmmm, this is really interesting. i got tested for all manner of things recently (with the infertility stuff) and we were thinking something was off with my thyroid as i had weight gain, mood swings, etc. i might do a wheat test and see what happens.

Complete Kitchens Colorado said...

You should check out marksdailyapple.com and primal blueprint. Grain-free and legume-free+good fats and protein = happy belly, stable energy, reduced body fat and more lean muscle (especially w/weights and intervals).

lawrence said...

I have to say Yoga is really good for me.
I was sick with back problems and aching joints for 3 years, thanks God recently my friend recommended to me to practice Yoga. After practicing for about six months, I feel much better, and it also improved my sex lives too, I feel stronger sex drive, and better orgasm.