This is not the article I intended to write. Initially, I was going to write about how a woman’s body changes after giving birth and how her nutritional needs are different when she starts running. Also, I was going to write about how food intolerances play into this. But something happened this past weekend to show me that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Let me explain.
After having my second child (8 years ago in July) my body went through a ton of changes. Foods that I used to be able to tolerate suddenly made my digestive system forget what to do. I was bloated each and every night for many years, with so much cramping and gas that I would lie in bed at night and cry from the pain. I was eating healthy foods, too; yogurt and granola for breakfast, whole grain sandwiches with hard-boiled eggs and goat cheese for lunch, salads with mixed greens and kale, organic veggies, and chicken or fish and dark chocolate for a treat. No soda, chips or junk food, ever. What was wrong?
In a nutshell: everything. Through lots of diagnostic tests I learned that I have intolerances to gluten, dairy, yeast, mushrooms, soy, rice, sesame, coffee and eggs. Not only could I not digest gluten, but I couldn’t eat the gluten-free substitutions either because they are typically made with rice flour. I’m down to veggies, fruits, nut-flour baked goods, quinoa and gluten-free oatmeal, and meat or fish proteins. To top it all off, I’m not hungry most of the time.
After exercising I know I should eat within 20-30 minutes, but it’s hard to get around to it when I don’t feel the hunger pangs. I typically never eat before I run, even if I’m heading out for 10-12 miles. My post-run breakfast is light and I move on with my day. No carb-replacing, goo’s, gels, gatorade, and never a big pasta dinner the night before a race. If I’m racing and the race starts at 9 AM, I’ll eat a light breakfast of a banana and juice, maybe some gluten-free oatmeal if I’m not in a hurry, but that’s it. I don’t have a “nutrition plan” for running, for re-fueling, racing… anything. If I can find something to eat, I’ll eat it, but otherwise I’ll skip it. The results seem to be the same.
No, I’m not anorexic. Not even close. I’m thin but not skinny, and I have more padding on me than some runners I know. I’m picky about my food because when it doesn’t agree with me, it REALLY doesn’t agree with me. I can count on one hand the number of days my belly has NOT hurt, bloated or distended in the last 8 years. I have a love-hate relationship with food; I love food, it hates me.
I went to Ashland last weekend for a get-away. I left the family in Colorado and visited two dear friends who work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While I was there, a funny thing happened; I started to get hungry. The first morning I was there I woke up hungry. Usually I get up and head out the door to run; I couldn’t even consider doing that in Oregon because I was famished. I wouldn’t have made it a mile. I ate big bowls of creamy buckwheat hot cereal (buckwheat is naturally gluten-free) topped with homemade granola, bananas, dried fruit and almond milk. A few hours later when Gwen and Michael rolled out of bed and round two started in the kitchen, I was trolling for food. Quinoa with stir-fried kale, zucchini, spinach and bits of diced chicken were good; so were the yam chips smeared with peanut butter, big glasses of orange juice, the buffalo burger and yam fries, and fish, potatoes and grilled Brussel Sprouts for dinner at Omar’s.
I slept well when I was there, and even took naps. Normally I never nap because going from a vertical to horizontal to vertical position again in the middle of the day ensures massive bloating and I lose my appetite for the rest of the day. Lying down will stop up my kidney and intestinal function like nothing else. In Oregon, I napped and woke up feeling great, so good that I could run in the evening and enjoy dinner a few hours later.
When I mentioned to Gwen that I’m not usually very hungry she looked me in the eye and said “You’re over-stressed. This is how your body has compensated for stress in your life. You’ve been carrying around so much stress for so many years that there was no room for nutrition. Now that you’re relaxing there’s room for you to nourish your body.”
I ate, slept, relaxed, ran, read, relaxed, ate, and slept a little more when I was in Oregon. I ran three out of the four days I was there; not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Because it felt good for my body to run in 80 degree weather on a trail in muggy conditions. Because it felt good to run 10 miles at a 8:06 pace on a clear morning. Because I wanted to.
I got home and haven’t run since. I’m too tired. I’m back to eating nibbles of this and that through-out the day, because I’m not hungry and that’s all my body will tolerate.
This past week taught me that I know nothing about proper nutrition for Momma runners. I know how to get my body through the day but it’s not in a “normal” way. My body has adapted to the stresses of my life by not allowing much nutrition, and this is not the way a healthy body functions.
I am utterly and truly aware that I need to make changes in my life. I am not happy living like this and can no longer stay on my current trajectory. Something’s gotta give. I am starting to figure out what needs to happen. This summer is going to be a time of digging really deep to see what I’m made of. Runners do this all the time in races; now, I’m in a race for my life. Bodies will only withstand so much wear and tear before they break down from chronic problems. I’m lucky that I’m still functioning, but don’t want to assume that this will be the case indefinitely.
I’m a runner, and I know I can do better. The training begins now.