It’s All About What We Eat

If I had a nickel for every time I had a conversation about body weight, body fat percentage or being lean which resulted in someone assuming that I look a certain way because I happen to race marathons and ironman and not almost completely because of what I eat…I’d have a lot of nickels!

It’s really not about the training, or the racing.

How one looks, I believe, comes down to what we put in our bodies, and if we were to attempt to break down into percentages how much of it is from how we move versus what we eat, I’d dare to suggest the scale weighs far more heavily on the latter.

Perhaps 80%?

It’s just a guess, of course.

I’ve written it and I’ve said it time and time again, but the moment a client or blog reader registers the phrase ‘ironman triathlete’ or ‘marathon runner’, the conversation about how and why they don’t look how they want to look versus why I happen to be lean takes a sharp turn from the realm of Paleo eating to endurance training.

The puzzled look about why they’re not eating any more than 1,600 calories each day yet still don’t fit into their skinny jeans or how it can be that they never eat more than a tablespoon of fat at each meal and the scale still won’t budge evaporates and it all becomes clear.

The reason, and the only reason, therefore, that I must be lean is because I train a lot and race long races.

But that’s not the case.

For this reason, I’ll often prefer to avoid bringing up the subject of ironman or marathoning, depending on whom my audience may be at a particular lecture or during any given client meeting.

It’s as if anything and everything said after the words ‘endurance training and racing’ falls on deaf ears.

Like finding out that this is the single missing link in one’s regime; that A-ha piece that clears up the real reason why someone isn’t getting to their goal weight or jeans size.

I’ve tried to explain that it’s really, really not about the training; one means to do this is to suggest that someone spectate and ironman or marathon event and to see for themselves that all body shapes and sizes will be present, as proof that someone may very well be fit enough to compete in such an event, yet their body may not happen to look a certain way.

But that doesn’t cut it; the ears are still closed off after learning about the training.

Then it occurred to me, that perhaps the best way to get the message across would be to use someone else as an example to illustrate that appearance is definitely not just about long hours of training.

A before and after, if you will; someone who might be able to demonstrate how the very same person, with a consistent training and racing regime, might look if they followed what would be considered a healthy, athlete’s diet compared to the very same person following a paleo diet.

Now…who would that person be?


I’ve shared in words that I found Paleo after a long, desperate search to figure out why I was sick all the time and I’ve also written exhaustively about how, along with feeling better in terms of the decades of GI distress I suffered from, I also experienced many positive side effects, including better sleep, better energy, becoming lean, sleeping better…yet it only recently occurred to me that perhaps all the words that aren’t doing the trick might well be substituted with something that would.

Don’t they say a photo is worth 1,000 words?

OK, then.

Here is it.

Me, right before I started following the Paleo diet.

Four years into racing Ironman.

Healthy, yes.

And unfortunately, sick, yes, that, too.

But lean?

Err… not exactly.

I was training upwards of 20 -hours per week.

I was eating plenty of starch to fuel my training.

I ate some veggies.

I followed a low-fat eating plan.

I drank skim milk.

I ate pretzels and protein bars for snacks and I constantly was trying to become leaner by counting calories, and then, when the scale would budge, it would only do so if I was also too hungry and grumpy and not fat adapted yet, so my training would suffer.

I was adhering to everything I learned during my studies in nutrition and Exercise Phys at USC, which was consistent with all the advice I’d get from the running and triathlon magazines. Eat carbs for endurance, and a lot of them!

I tried The Zone, Atkins, Blood Type and being vegan for two years.

And here’s what you’ve heard before: it was not until I learned what Paleo was all about, back in 2005 and began to follow it that I finally was able to achieve the lean body I’d been working so incredibly hard for so long to have.

And over the course of the next year, I finally found this beautiful balance of eating good food, not having horrible stomach issues and as a nice, surprising side effect, losing weight at a healthy rate, of perhaps ½ pound per week, until I reached the weight I remain at today, nearly ten years later.

I eat the foods I want.

All the foods I eat are vegetables, proteins a lot of fat and some fruit now and then.

It is Paleo.

It is high fat.

I feel great.

I am healthy.

I am lean.

I don’t need any extras for my training. I’ve trained my body to function on the high quality fuel which is what a real paleo diet is all about.

I do not have orthorexia (yes, I am asked that from time to time.)

Avoiding certain foods that make me ill, like gluten, for a start, is vastly different from a true eating disorder.

And there it is.

It’s not magic.

I do not have super human will power and I’m not secretly wishing I could eat cake and ice cream.

It is this simple: I figured out which foods make me feel like crap and prevented me from being lean.

They are the same foods.

I sorted out which ones make me feel good, give me energy and keep me at the weight I’m at now and I eat them.

You can do exactly the same thing and if you do, you will reach your lean weight and you will know you’re doing so in a healthy manner because you will not feel like you’re starving, counting calories or following another stupid diet.

The diet industry is a multi billion-dollar industry[1] whose success depends on your failure.

Your doctor is likely engulfed in lucrative business deals with his or her pharma rep. Surveys show that more than three-quarters of doctors had at least one type of financial relationship with a drug or medical device company[2] so when you go in for a visit and explain you are not losing that darned weight, it is not in his or her best interest to suggest to you that you cut out sugar and salt and begin eating real food. It is in his or her best interest, however, to suggest you take the latest and greatest diet pill or consider lap band surgery.

It doesn’t take someone trained in nutrition or physiology. It just takes common sense.

Recall what I’ve written and said thousands of times.

Eat Food. And Move.

Do that, and watch the ‘magic’ happen… and no one ever said anything about having to do a triathlon or marathon.

Just walk!



[1] Staff, Abc News. “100 Million Dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight-Loss Industry by the Numbers.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2015

[2] “How Much Are Drug Companies Paying Your Doctor?” Scientific American Global RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.