After my last race of the 2015 season (Ironman Western Australia on December 6) I took a few days to indulge and celebrate my first Ironman win, and then promptly dove into a strict elimination diet.
I need to provide some background here. When I was 12 I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and since that time I have been on medicine to replace the hormone my body doesn’t produce. To be honest, I never really thought much about taking this medicine and frankly, I never felt like I even experienced the symptoms that are often associated with the disease. Throughout my teens and 20’s my parents were always harping on me to be consistent in taking my medication…and I did….and then I didn’t….and then I did. I didn’t take the time to really learn about and concern myself with what was going on with my body. Eventually though I did start taking it with regularity. For almost 6 years my thyroid levels didn’t change and I was on the same dosage – 75 mcg (micrograms).
Then in 2014 things changed. I broke my leg. And when that happened, Matt Dixon, my coach, suggested I go have some blood work done and have a bone density scan. The blood work showed my thyroid levels WAY off and my bone density scan showed osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis). It was THEN that I began to learn in detail about what the thyroid does and the implications of abnormal levels. For example – an underactive thyroid can cause osteopenia and other bone density problems. It can increase your chances of sickness as it lessens your immune system. It can cause severe inflammation, swelling and bloating. It can impact your sleep. It can make you feel constantly lethargic. It has a profound impact on metabolism and thus weight. It can make things like pregnancy difficult. The thyroid regulates so many functions in your body that when it doesn’t work properly it is actually pretty darn hard to function and feel like a normal human being.
In addition, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, which is a genetic disorder in which your body recognizes your thyroid gland as a foreign body and attacks it (hence why mine is under active). I had to made some sweeping changes to my diet as a result – removing things like gluten, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc as the chemical makeup of these foods actually worsens the condition vs improves it.
Over the course of the last year my thyroid dosage went up and up and up. And every time I went back to the doctor to get tested, it was still low. As it FINALLY started to regulate (at 150 mcg in August of 2015 – a full 16 months after I fractured my leg) I began noticing massive changes – my energy levels went way up, my body leaned out, my sleep improved. But one thing didn’t change – I was still struggling with inflammation and swelling. To the point that sometimes – if I ate something “off” – I would retain upwards for 10-12 pounds of fluid as my body reacted negatively to whatever I had consumed.
As I consulted with my nutritionist, Phil Goglia from Performance Fitness Concepts, we agreed that I needed to do some form of elimination diet to fully understand what foods were causing the swelling and inflammation for me. During the season it was extremely hard to implement a diet like this because the removal of things like sugar and grains can have a highly negative impact if done during periods of intense training. The only time to do it was right after my race when my training volume and intensity was low/non-existent.
Initially we removed grains, sugar, alcohol, legumes and dairy. I was allowed to eat protein, fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and potatoes.
And yes….this meant no holiday cookies or wine while sitting in front of a fire….tears!
We eventually ended up removing fruit too as that turned out to be a major source of bloating for me. Though restrictive, and definitely a bit annoying at times, the diet was fascinating. Quite quickly all inflammation from my body was gone and once we removed the fruit, the bloating left as well. I felt great. I was sleeping like a brick. I didn’t have huge energy fluctuations. And, I actually didn’t find the diet to be that hard. I realized that my eating plan I follow in-season isn’t dramatically different. Yes I have more grains and more sugar, but on the whole, I eat very very clean, and so eliminating things like processed foods wasn’t a struggle at all.
During this period, I had to be creative in what I ate, and THAT is where I discovered the power of egg whites. I had no idea that they could act as a wonderful binding agent for making things like bars, nut blends and protein pancakes. After doing a little research on the subject, I found some other great benefits:
– one of the highest quality proteins of any food available
– Protein packed! One egg has more than 6 grams of protein
– A great source of riboflavin (helps red blood cell production), selenium (fights cellular damage) and potassium (sodium-potassium pump people!!!…not to mention heart health, bone health and overall cell and organ function)
– No saturated fat
So….if you are looking for a quick and easy way to bake up some homemade goodness and keep things healthy, consider removing the flour and using egg whites as an option. Check out these two recipes that I love:
Protein pancakes (Thanks Holly Lawrence for the recipe):
- 4 ripe bananas (easily mashed)
- 4 egg whites
- 1/2 cup oats (but you can put in as many oats as your want to your preference)
- 1/4 cup chia seeds (again – adjust to your preference)
- 2 tbsp almond butter
- ground flax seed
You can also add things like chopped nuts!
Mash the bananas and then add the egg white and mix into a batter-like consistency; add oats, chia seeds, almond butter, ground flax seed and anything else you would like; mix well
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
On wax paper over a cookie sheet, place cookie-sized dollops of the mixture. Cook for ~20 minutes/until golden brown on top
Sugar Free Fruit and Nut Bars:
- 2 cups Pecans chopped
- 1 cup walnuts chopped
- 1 cup almonds chopped
- 20 dates finely chopped
- ¾ cup of eggs whites
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- a dash of vanilla.
I also add unsweetened cranberries and a few scoops of almond butter
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
mix well, place into a baking pan; cook 15-20 mins