Sweet Misery?

Last week following my marathon finish, I took a few steps back to evaluate some of the factors that may have contributed to my disappointing result.  There were a lot of components to be considered.  One of which was my diet for the past year.  I’ve always thought my diet was pretty clean, with some occassional treats.  I started off 2013 with the intention of trying to eat a mostly vegetarian/vegan-plant-based diet.  I had heard and read about many athletes who had positive results and improved recovery time through a plant-based diet.  When I ran the Rock-n-Roll New Orleans Marathon in February I shaved off almost 10 minutes from my previous best marathon time.  A few months later in June, I ran Grandmother’s Marathon finishing even faster, taking almost another 10 minutes off my best time.  From there, my times started to go increase again.  There are many, many elements that I believe have contributed to this, but I my diet/nutrition is the focus of this post.  While I had started the year off eating a mostly clean, plant-based diet, as the year progressed I started to get lazy.  It was small changes over a few months, but they really start to accumulate.  I still stuck to mostly vegetarian/vegan foods, but my busy schedule propagated the increase in convenient, processed foods.  This included high amounts of artificial sweeteners and sugar free products.  Foods like Nature Valley Crunch bars, Wheat Thins, Protein Powders, Walden Farms syrups, and sugar free gum, started to replace my sliced veggies or salads.  Along with this came uncontrollable cravings for sweets, mood swings, an upsurge in hunger, increased recovery times, and inevitably some weight/fat gain. 

So, I dedicated last week to cleaning my diet up again, focusing on plant-based foods free of “sugar-free” foods and artificial sweeteners.  I replaced the sugar free pancake syrup in my morning oats with real maple syrup, I made green smoothies for snacks, I brought back in a variety of greens such as kale, spinach, and spring mix lettuces.  Everything I ate or drank was fresh and required my work to prepare it. I won’t lie, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen blending smoothies and chopping vegetables and washing a TON of dishes!  My Vitamix was working overtime! 

Wondering how I feel a week later?  It’s too early to say how my running performance will be affected, since I spent most of last week resting and recovering from the Phoenix Marathon, but there were several changes I did notice:

  1. Sugar/sweet cravings – GONE!
  2. Hunger – under control! This is a huge step, especially the week following a marathon.  It usually takes me a few weeks to get my appetite back to a “normal” state after running a marathon.
  3. Weight – down 5.4 pounds!
  4. Stomach bloat – poof – all gone!
  5. GI distress – no more!
  6. Acne – my skin is looking clearer and brighter.
  7. Energy – even though I was spending the week recovering I definitely had more energy thoughout the day. 
  8. Food started tasting better.

Number one in that list was the biggest accomplishment in my mind.  Ask my husband, my family, anyone who knows me well.  I’ve struggled with sweets since I was a kid.  Yo-yo dieting and “diet-plans” didn’t help with this.  Looking back at my efforts to lose weight I can see how I replaced certain bad habits with new bad habits.  I learned how to reduce the calories of my favorite goodies by swapping out sugar for some type of artificial  or low/no calorie sweetener.  Little did I realize that damage I was doing.  Low cal/no calories sweeteners share the same problem as artificial sweeteners.  They are all highly refined and deliver the taste of sweet without satisfying the body’s physiological expectation of glucose delivery – which in turn perpetuates cravings and the desire for more. 

There is a lot of controversy about the side effects and potential dangers of artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and sugar free products.  I’m not here to dispute either side, but simply to express what I tried and how my body responded to it. 

What are your thoughts on artificial sweeteners and lo-cal sugar free products? Have you tried cutting back or eliminating them from your diet?  Share your comments or tips below!

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