Sunday, April 01, 2012
As I experiment with eating low-carb, primal and wheat-free I'm discovering more and more connections.
In October of last year, after running a very good but very difficult trail half-marathon I started wondering about what I could do to improve both my cardiovascular fitness and running speed and my body composition (fat vs. muscle). At this point I knew that both were likely affected by hypothyroidism, primarily TSH levels that had been somewhere between 7 and 12 for years, that were due at least in part to having had part of my thyroid removed. I had other symptoms that are typical of mild hypothyroidism, including lack of energy in the afternoon, low body temperature (below 97) in the morning and frequent sleeplessness at night. Occasionally I also noticed what seemed like a reduced ability to deal with high stress levels, possibly due to sleep deprivation.
I already ate what I thought of as a thyroid-friendly diet, avoiding PUFA's (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and avoiding soy, raw cruciferous vegetables (cabbages, broccoli) and peanuts. This brought my T3 and T4 levels in the normal range and lowered my TSH to about 6 or 7.
I had already eliminated most sugar from my diet and all grain I ate was whole-grain. My weight has been in the normal range (BMI around 25) for many years now but I knew that I still qualified as "skinny fat", with a fairly low percentage of muscle and a fairly high percentage of belly fat for my size and weight in spite of exercising almost daily and consistently for 1-2 hours/day at low to moderate intensity.
So in October I decided to get a little more systematic in trying to improve my fitness and health. I started running according to the Maffetone method which recommends capping one's heart rate at about 180-age during all runs for at least several months to build a strong aerobic base and avoiding any speed workouts or other anaerobic workouts incl. strength training. For me this would have corresponded to about 70-75 % of maxium heart rate using the 220-age method.
The Maffetone method also includes nutrition recommendations and life style recommendations which I partly followed. I had some improvement in my running over several months and again assumed that the slowness of my progress was due primarily to thyroid issues. Overall I felt that I was still making progress both in my running and general well-being.
At the beginning of the year my husband decided to try gluten-free eating to improve his own health and we both did a fair amount of reading about gluten and grain. About a month later, after reading "Wheat Belly" I decided to go wheat-free. I noticed an increase in energy in the afternoon and evenings and better sleep at night within about a week. After reading Gary Taubes' book "Why we get fat" I decided about two weeks later (around the mid-February) to try to go low-carb by eliminating almost all grain, beans and sugar and limiting fruit to the less sweet varieties for a while. The "almost-all" is because I decided that there is no reason to worry about either small amounts of grain or sugar when they are served at social functions or when they are the only food available. My hope was to reduce body fat without paying much attention to calories eaten or to weight. It took about 2-3 weeks to lose an inch of belly fat which was a great start.
I have since experimented a little to see what happens if I eat some sugar but no grains and found that as my carbs increase to more than about 100grams/day my weight starts climbing up a little but all the other benefits of eating low-carb remained, especially not getting any food cravings and having higher energy levels.
So yesterday I pushed the envelope a little to see what would happen. In the early evening I ate a whole gluten-free brownie that was made with rice flour, butter and lots of sugar and must have had about 500 calories at least. I was expecting to get hungry a few hours later, which did not happen, probably because the brownie also contained a lot of fat in the form of butter.
But for the first time in quite a few weeks I woke up at 3 am and could not go back to sleep. After over an hour of lying awake I got up and decided to start writing this blog ( accompanied by a large cup of coffee)
I suspect eating brownies or other similarly high-sugar foods, even gluten-free, will be VERY rare from now on. Since I don't crave sugar or carbs any more this is going to be very easy.
Most of the sugar I get will come from raw whole milk products (lactose) and some fresh fruit and the total is still not going to be very much.
I will also continue running using the Maffetone method except I will start adding a little strength training back into the mix. I'm looking forward to seeing how this will go while eating low-carb.
Tomorrow I will report on the book by Mark Sisson "The Primal Blueprint".