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Staff Blog: The Elimination Experiment

Nutrition is such a crapshoot -- quite literally, sometimes.

Nutrition is such a crapshoot — quite literally, sometimes.

It’s no secret that eating the right things at the right times can change body composition for the better, improve performance and speed recovery. Sometimes, however, eating the “right” things at the “right” time can wreak havoc on your digestive system, ruin performance, not do squat for recovery and –pardon the bad joke — make you feel like poo. Long story short, the latter has been the case for me for quite some time now and recently it became time to experiment — even if not by my own initiative.

About two weeks ago my fiance began reading “It Starts With Food”, a book about a nutritional approach I’d never heard of called Whole30, and wanted for us to give it a shot. Before I go any further, I’m not writing this entry to promote the book (I haven’t even read it) or preach about another new magical fad diet. I’m just going to share my experiences experimenting with a few changes to my diet over the last 10 days or so to see if anyone else can relate. I’m more curious than anything else.

So what is the Whole30? Long story short, it’s a 30-day nutritional reset where you essentially eliminate all processed food, artificial sweeteners, additional sugar not naturally found in food, dairy, all grains, corn, legumes, alcohol and the list goes on. Basically, 95% of the things I would eat on a daily basis. Acceptable foods and beverages are lean meats and proteins, vegetables of any sort, some fruit (including juices), nuts, eggs and, thankfully, coffee. If all of this sounds pretty regimented and restricting, that’s because it is. The idea, according to the book’s website, is to improve your relationship with food, elevate mood, energy levels and self-esteem while also reducing inflammation and improving aches and pains. For us, aside from generally trying to “clean up” our diet, the physical effect of reducing inflammation (we’re both endurance athletes typically training between 8-18 hours a week) was a major motivator for trying out this approach.

Note: In my 30 years of existence I’ve never seriously attempted a radical overhaul of my diet, but given that I’ve been dealing with regular feelings of bloating for the better part of the last two years and go to the bathroom more than a horse with diabetes, I was willing to give it shot. 

Background information now out of the way, my better half and I started implementing the Whole30 approach last Monday. It took a lot of work on the planning side of things: every meal had to be thought out ahead of time, the refrigerator and cabinets needed to be restocked and labels were going to be scrutinized all the way down to the final ingredient — far more work than popping two slices of bread in the toaster for breakfast or picking up a pizza on the way home from work for dinner.

The first three days of our little experiment were the most challenging. Planning meals was a bit of a pain, but the end result always ended up being worth it. Aside from coming up with some tasty creations, my vegetable consumption has nearly quadrupled, grain intake has become non-existant while my daily dessert indulgences have been eliminated with the exception of a few pieces of frozen fruit after dinner. I still drink my standard two cups of coffee a day, minus the serving of Splenda I would typically add to sweeten things up a bit. My daily assortment of snacks including but not limited to pretzels, fruit snacks, energy bars, pastries and various candies have morphed into almonds, cashews, fruit and carrots with all-natural almond butter. Initially, my energy levels were all over the place and on one run in particular last weekend, I almost stopped and walked home because I was out of gas. I was ready to abandon ship on this experiment before I realized that my stomach hadn’t given me trouble in a few days and my trips to the bathroom weren’t nearly as frequent. Baffled, I decided to suck it up and soldier on for a little while longer.

Eventually, my energy levels started to stabilize and I started feeling like myself again while running. Aside from my stomach not giving me much trouble for the better part of the first week, it hit me last weekend that I hadn’t a “real” dessert since we started this sucker on July 9. After resisting the urge to tear open the bag of peanut m&m’s in the freezer during the first three days, the cravings just went away. In fact, I still haven’t dove back into eating dessert, and I’ve found that black coffee isn’t so bad, either.

I admit, however, that we haven’t followed the plan to an absolute tee. My fiance took some energy blocks with her on a long bike ride over the weekend and I broke down and had a beer at dinner the other night while she enjoyed a glass of wine. And this morning I munched on a couple pieces of toast with my frittata and fruit just to see if it upset my stomach. It did, albeit only slightly, but then I had a burrito with a flour tortilla for lunch and was bloated in a bad way for the rest of the day. After the experiences of the last 10 days I’m all but certain that I have a gluten sensitivity of some sort.

RELATED: Gluten-Free = Inflammation-Free?

So what do I make of all this? It’s hard to say for sure, but if nothing else cutting a lot of things out of my diet opened my eyes to how certain types of food make me feel and has made me more conscious of what I am eating every day. Aside from avoiding grains, my sugar intake has taken the biggest hit, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ll keep experimenting, and hopefully come to some sort of conclusion.

How about you? Have you ever had a similar experience cutting something out of your diet only to find it made you feel better? Share your story with us in the comments section below.